Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to enter the debate and speak on Motion No. 397. I commend my colleague, the Liberal member for Etobicoke North, for his fine work in this area which is so important to so many Canadians and is currently the subject of many debates.
Finding a solution to the softwood lumber dispute has been and continues to be one of the Government of Canada's top trade priorities with the United States. The Government of Canada has defended and continues to defend the interests of Canadian industry since the United States department of commerce initiated investigations into allegations of dumped and subsidized softwood products in April 2001.
We have also consulted extensively with the provincial and territorial governments and industry to craft an approach that is best suited to meet our objectives and that will benefit both Canada and the United States. The past year and a half has not been easy for Canada's lumber and forest industries. As a result of the financial pressure of the U.S. imposed duties, we have experienced job loss, mill closures and uncertainty for our industry.
Canadians affected by this dispute understand that free trade in lumber means jobs in the mills and greater stability in our lumber communities. Canadian lumber producers and the people who depend on the lumber industry for their livelihoods understand the importance of finding a resolution to this feud.
They realize that the long term viability of the industry depends on our industry finding permanent resolutions of this longstanding trade conflict. They recognize the value of being able to export their lumber products to the United States unhindered by protectionist measures. We are relentlessly working toward a resolution with those goals and with those affected workers, producers and communities in mind.
To preserve our united front, various federal, provincial and private sector representatives are meeting on a regular basis regarding the latest developments with respect to the negotiations and litigation.
Federal and provincial officials have met in Ottawa to discuss provincial concerns over the manner in which quota would be allocated to the provinces if we were to achieve a settlement involving quota.
Industry for its part has been meeting to discuss their position with respect to a settlement.
The Minister of International Trade had numerous discussions with his provincial counterparts, both over the phone and in person, regarding a number of alternatives for their consideration. The minister has toured sawmills and remanufacturing operations and has met with representatives from all the major industry associations across the country.
It is the government's position that it is by maintaining close consultations with our provincial and industry counterparts that we will achieve a resolution to this dispute that represents the prevailing view of our stakeholders.
As I mentioned earlier, the centrepiece of any negotiated settlement to this dispute would involve the publication by the U.S. department of commerce of a policy bulletin that would guide the department of commerce in reviewing changes in the provincial forest management practices that could lead to the revocation of the countervailing duty order for a province.
The content of the policy bulletin, which is the result of numerous consultations with the provinces, represents the first time that the United States has defined in detail the kinds of reforms that would be required to achieve a long term resolution of the dispute. This represents an important step forward in our efforts thus far.
Forestry largely falls under provincial jurisdiction in the country. Should a negotiated settlement be reached, it will be up to the individual provinces to decide if they want to proceed with modifications to their forest management policies and timber pricing programs.
Critics of this approach would have some believe that these policy changes are being dictated to us by the United States. The provinces have their own domestically motivated reasons for making these policy changes, such as increasing the competitiveness of their industry.
Some provinces have already begun to undertake changes to their forest management practices for their own domestic reasons. For example, the province of British Columbia has recently announced a significant forestry revitalization plan for its forestry sector and market-based changes to its pricing practices on the coast.
In view of the importance of getting Canada's message out in the United States with respect to our forestry practices, the government is contributing toward an extensive industry-government advocacy campaign under the direction of the Forest Products Association of Canada.
With the support of a grant from the Government of Canada, the Forest Products Association of Canada, whose membership accounts for nearly all the wood products and paper and pulp produced in Canada, has been responsible for coordinating an industry-led advocacy campaign aimed at creating political conditions in the United States conducive to a resolution of the softwood lumber dispute.
The primary message of the campaign is that the economic relationship between Canada and the United States is absolutely vital to both countries and that it is in their mutual interest to amicably resolve the issue of U.S. duties on Canadian softwood lumber before it causes real harm to this larger relationship.
The U.S. duties are punitive and unfair. Thanks in part to our advocacy efforts, the Canadian position in this dispute enjoys the support of various lobby groups in the United States who are also of the view that the U.S. imposed duties not only hurt Canadian producers and workers, but hurt small American producers as well. These groups include U.S. producers who purchase Canadian softwood lumber for their manufacturing activities and who now have to pay more for their inputs.
We are also benefiting from the support of housing and consumer groups, notably the American Consumers for Affordable Homes, who are lobbying for a return to free trade in lumber between the United States and Canada in order to promote affordable housing for consumers in the United States. It is extremely important for our industry to have this type of support internally in the United States. Support from these various groups goes a long way toward applying pressure on the relevant decision makers in Washington.
It is the government's priority to engage partners from across the spectrum of stakeholders with interests in the Canada-U.S. economic relationship in trade advocacy in the United States.
We should not have to continue to do battle with the United States over the same trade issue year after year and decade after decade. We should not have to face a cycle of protectionist U.S. duties and litigation at the WTO and under the NAFTA. The reality of the situation is that both Canada and the United States require a long term solution to a problem that has confronted us for too long.
We are committed to continuing to work with the provinces and industry toward a long term resolution. Along with provincial governments and industry, we are agreed that a durable policy based resolution is our goal. This united front has strengthened our position in our dealings with the United States. Maintaining this united approach will help us find a fair resolution to the softwood lumber dispute.