A United States decision to slap duties of up to 24 per cent on Canadian lumber is "very disappointing," says Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier.
"It's too bad that we're going to have to put up with this fight," Carlier told a news conference Tuesday at the Alberta legislature.
Carlier said all options are on the table as the province coordinates its response with the federal government. Canada has prevailed in tribunals in the past, but the tariffs will remain in place while the issue is resolved through litigation, doing damage to Canada's lumber industry in the meantime.
Paul Whittaker, CEO of the Alberta Forest Products Association, called the U.S. accusation about Canadian lumber subsidies "baseless and unfounded."
"We are fearful this will have an impact on jobs, but it's difficult to quantify at this point," said Whittaker.
The true impact of the U.S. tariffs will be difficult to measure because the industry is also affected by the ebbs and flows of the market, but past experience has shown that these kinds of measure have caused job losses in the past, said Whittaker.
Canadian lumber companies have been paying a lot of attention to Asian markets recently, with British Columbia increasing exports to China 10-fold over the last 10 years. Alberta's exports to China are four times higher in that time and Premier Rachel Notley is currently on a trade mission to China and Japan. That won't come anywhere close to replacing the U.S. market, but "it's a long game," said Whittaker.
Carlier said the tariffs were not unexpected and are just one more salvo in a long-running trade dispute. The Softwood Lumber Agreement, which was signed in 2006 and provided relative trade peace since then, expired in 2015. In February, the federal government assembled a task force with affected provinces to deal with the issue
This is the fifth time the issue has been disputed and Canada has prevailed in all four previous cases.
"This actually feels a bit like Groundhog Day," said Whittaker.
Carlier said he's already received good input from the industry and he expects to have a better idea of how the government will respond after the task force examines its options Thursday.
"At the end of the day, there's 70 communities out there that rely on the forest industry and we need to do what we can to support those workers," he said.
About 70 per cent of exports from Canada's $8.6-billion softwood lumber industry went to the United States in 2015. About 40 per cent of Albertan exports go south of the border, with a larger portion staying in Canada.