Can’t See the Forest for the Trees (Guest Post)

I have to admit, I am not smart enough to totally understand all the concepts within the softwood lumber dispute. It is beyond me how a small group of people (U.S. Lumber Coalition) can continually try to hold a whole country hostage in spite of the fact that International Courts have proven them wrong time and time again.

It is also beyond me how the U.S. Department of Commerce can not only continue to support what seems to be a money grab but also seem to be able to differentiate the amount of alleged damage each company has contributed to the U.S. Lumber Coalition through mysterious, arbitrary numbers and selective testimony.

Be all that as it may, everyone both inside and outside of the industry understands that the only real damage being done is to the little guy. It is not a shock that this continued dispute only drives up the price of lumber to both U.S. and Canadian consumers and all the while the rich guys on both sides of the border get richer.

What my simple mind does find shocking is that with all the smart people involved in this process, nobody is talking about the “unintended” consequence of the anti-dumping and countervailing duties (AD/CVD) as it is applied.

In March of this year, I had a long conversation with Wendy Frankel, Director, U.S. Customs & Border Protection Liaison Unit, International Trade Administration (ITA), U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC). I took great pains to explain to her that by applying the AD/CVD on the selling (border) price, the DOC is actually subsidizing the U.S. Secondary Remanufacturers as opposed to creating a level playing field. Applying the AD/CVD to the first mill price would be far more appropriate as that is where the alleged damage exists and it would not affect the competitiveness of the secondary market. Ms Frankel was clear that subsidizing the U.S. remanners was not the intent and I will try to take her at her word.

The math is simple:
A Canadian independent remanner buys 2×8-20’ SPF on the open market from a mill in B.C. at $639/M delivered Vancouver. This remanner turns that wood into 2×8-20’ Fascia Combtex Prime and sells it to a U.S. customer for $1000/M. At the rates announced November 2nd in the final determination, the Canadian company will pay approximately $208/M in duties (calculation simplified for presentation) thus “grossing” $153/M before processing costs. A U.S. remanner buying the same lumber and selling to the same customer at the same price would pay $133/M in duties thus “grossing” $228/M before processing.

It seems undeniable to me that this significant difference is a clear subsidy.. a subsidy that would not exist if the duties were applied to the first mill price.

Since my conversation with Ms Frankel in March, I have approached fellow remanners (too expensive to fight), industry associations, and Government officials and nobody will take the time to have the conversation with me (although one individual did offer to meet me in the parking lot for suggesting he was not doing his job).

After all of that, I am left with a few questions:

1. Is this dispute legitimately about levelling the playing field – or just a recurring disguise for greed?
2. If somebody like me who admittedly is not the sharpest knife in the drawer can see this so clearly, why can’t the smart people?
3. Do the negotiators actually see the consequence – but both sides are holding ‘first mill’ as a negotiating point in spite of the fact that it was the basis of taxes in the previous agreement?
4. Do politicians just accept that there will be collateral damage in disputes like this and are willing to potentially sacrifice the small independent remanufacturers?
5. Am I missing something?

I guess only time will tell.

Roy Falletta, VP Finance & Administration
Dakeryn Group of Companies

Hijacking Lumber

It happened this week. A semi-trailer transporting product en route from Alberta to Dakeryn’s wood specialties manufacturing plant in Abbotsford, B.C. was hijacked. According to reports, the suspect faces a number of charges, including kidnapping and use of a firearm in the commission of an offence.

He came to my window (waving a handgun).. I had no doubt that he wouldn’t have had a problem shooting me to get out of there.. I was thinking as long as I was doing what he wanted and driving, he was no great threat to me – but it was a long three-hour drive to Kamloops.

Those are the words of one cool trucker, Robert Price. No doubt there will be a full investigation into the suspect’s motive. In the light of ongoing tragedies involving firearms, it seems insensitive to characterize the incident as anything other than another very serious situation. We couldn’t help wondering though, what would drive somebody to undertake such extreme measures aimed at securing Dakeryn’s lumber? And if the kidnapper had arrived at eventual destination, would our fine finished products have also become a subject of ransom? That question was reportedly in our truck driver’s mind too, when he wondered aloud: “How does this end?” Fortunately, the RCMP intervened at a truck stop 175 miles from our specialties plant and, from early reporting, their gunshots were aimed at the truck’s front tires.

Final AD/CVD Rates

Hard to rationalize. Where does the characterization of ‘dumping’ come in as a rationale in the prevailing supply-demand scenario?
Here is today’s report from Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online (2 Nov 2017):

With the U.S. and Canada unable to reach a long-term settlement, the Commerce Department on Thursday announced affirmative final determinations in antidumping and countervailing duty investigations of softwood lumber imports from Canada.

The announcement prompted Canada to threaten litigation through the North American Free Trade Agreement or the World Trade Organization.

“While significant efforts were made by the United States and Canada, and the respective softwood lumber industries, to reach a long-term settlement to this on-going trade dispute, the parties were unable to agree upon terms that were mutually acceptable,” Commerce said in a statement. “As a result, the investigations were continued and Commerce reached its final determinations.”

Commerce said it determined that exporters from Canada have sold softwood lumber in the U.S. at 3.20 percent to 8.89 percent less than fair value. It also said Canada was providing unfair subsidies to its softwood lumber producers at rates from 3.34 percent to 18.19 percent.

The department will instruct Customs and Border Protection to collect cash deposits from lumber importers based on those final rates.

A fact sheet issued by the department noted that it found “critical circumstances” in the AD investigation for certain Canadian exporters but not others. “Consequently, Commerce will instruct CBP to impose provisional measures retroactively on entries of softwood lumber from Canada, effective 90 days prior to publication of the preliminary determination in the Federal Register, for the affected producers and exporters,” the fact sheet states.

It also notes that certain softwood lumber products “certified by the Atlantic Lumber Board (ALB) as being first produced in the Provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, or Prince Edward Island (the Atlantic Provinces) from logs harvested in these three provinces should be excluded from the scope of the AD and CVD investigations.”

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that while he was “disappointed that a negotiated agreement could not be made between domestic and Canadian softwood producers, the United States is committed to free, fair and reciprocal trade with Canada.” He said the U.S. decision was “based on a full and unbiased review of the facts in an open and transparent process that defends American workers and businesses from unfair trade practices.”

Ross had been negotiating with Canada in the hopes of reaching a suspension agreement and pushed the final determination deadline from late August to November.

“I remain hopeful that we can reach a negotiated solution that satisfies the concerns of all parties,” Ross said on Aug. 29, announcing the extension through Nov. 14, which he said “could provide the time needed to address the complex issues at hand and to reach an equitable and durable suspension agreement.”

But Ross in June received criticism from the U.S. lumber industry when he tried to negotiate with the Canadians because, sources said then, the positions he outlined ran counter to the longstanding U.S. demand for a quota-only approach and would therefore undermine the U.S. negotiating position.

One source told Inside U.S. Trade in June that Ross “would like to get it off the table one way or the other,” before NAFTA renegotiation talks began in August. But, the source said, “Ross doesn’t know how complicated this is.”

Industry and government sources claimed Ross’s department was lacking the expertise needed in dealing with the file and doubted that Ross would be able to reach an agreement before the final determinations were set to be made.

Softwood lumber from Canada were estimated to be worth $5.66 billion in 2016, Commerce said.

The U.S. Lumber Coalition, which kicked off the case in November 2016, lauded the Commerce determinations. “We are pleased the U.S. government is enforcing our trade laws so that the U.S. lumber industry can compete on a level playing field,” the group’s co-chair, Jason Brochu, said in a statement. “The massive subsidies the Canadian government provides to their lumber industries have caused real harm to U.S. producers and their workers. With a fair-trade environment, the U.S. industry, and the 350,000 hardworking men and women who support it, have the ability to grow production to meet much more of our country’s softwood lumber demand.”

Canada, meanwhile, blasted the move in a statement issued by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr.

“The Government of Canada will continue to vigorously defend our industry against protectionist trade measures,” they said, calling the duties “unfair, unwarranted and deeply troubling.”

“We will forcefully defend Canada’s softwood lumber industry, including through litigation, and we expect to prevail as we have in the past,” they added. “We are reviewing our options, including legal action through the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization, and we will not delay in taking action.”

Carr and Freeland also said they would “continue to engage our American counterparts to encourage them to come to a durable negotiated agreement on softwood lumber.”

If the U.S. International Trade Commission makes affirmative final injury determinations in the softwood lumber case, Commerce said, the department will issue AD and CVD orders. A negative final injury determination will terminate the investigation with no duties assessed.

The ITC is set to make its final determinations by Dec. 18