moved that Bill C-24, An Act to impose a charge on the export of certain softwood lumber products to the United States and a charge on refunds of certain duty deposits paid to the United States, to authorize certain payments, to amend the Export and Import Permits Act and to amend other Acts as a consequence, be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, judging by last night's 12 votes on softwood lumber related matters, all members of this House are starting to suffer a little bit of softwood lumber fatigue. Hopefully, they are beginning to understand the kind of fatigue that the softwood lumber industry is experiencing after the better part of two decades of protectionist attacks and trade disputes dealing with softwood lumber.
It is a great pleasure for me to rise in the House today to begin deliberations on third reading of Bill C-24, an act to implement Canada's commitments under the softwood lumber agreement. Once again, I ask that all members of the House support this bill.
To begin, I would like to thank all members of the House and particularly those members of the House Standing Committee on International Trade for their close study of the bill and their proposed amendments.
Much has happened since this bill was first introduced in the House on September 20. On October 12, the softwood lumber agreement officially came into force. Three weeks after that Export Development Canada commenced refunds of duties to sawmills and producers in many of the more than 300 communities in Canada that are dependent on the forest industry.
This has been a much needed infusion of cash for this sector at a time of very weak lumber markets. Thanks to the accelerated process we developed through Export Development Canada, over 93% of lumber companies participating in the accelerated refund mechanism have now received their refunds.
That is more than $3 billion disbursed ahead of schedule and Export Development Canada will clean up the balance of those refunds in the next few weeks. Considering what this money represents for forestry workers and communities, this is a critical period because this industry is facing some very tough times. Lumber prices are in a cyclical low as a result of weaknesses in the U.S. housing market. Energy costs are up and the exchange rate advantage enjoyed a few years ago has now been erased by the strong Canadian dollar.
Cash provided by the agreement will help lumber producers reinvest in their enterprises, improving efficiency and helping to weather that downturn in lumber prices. What is more important, it will let them do so in a more stable, more predictable trade environment, an environment where the rules are clear and where for the first time in years we are not dragging the dead weight of litigation and the crippling attacks of U.S. protectionists.
We cannot overestimate the importance of a stable environment to our lumber industry and now Canadian companies are investing again. They are buying U.S. companies. They are investing in technology. They are assuming the mantle of global leadership in an industry where Canada has historically been a world leader.
What do I mean by stability and certainty? We are talking about seven to nine years, the life of this agreement, during which Canadian forest policies are going to be protected from further protectionist attacks by U.S. interests. If there is a moratorium on trade actions, it would give our industry a sustained period to begin to rebuild and to plan their future.
We have an agreement which provides mechanisms for improving and strengthening the trade framework. We will be improving it through improved operating rules. There is an opportunity to examine exit ramps for further regions in Canada to come out from under some of the remaining restrictions in the softwood lumber agreement.
We have a provision for an examination of the coastal industry in British Columbia which, as members will know, has been in decline for 10 to 15 years now. We will now work with the province of B.C., with the industry, and with our U.S. counterparts to ensure that the softwood lumber agreement evolves and provincial policy and Canadian policy evolves in such a way as to breathe new life into the coastal industry in British Columbia.
We will have an opportunity through this agreement to look at the value added sector and what we can do to improve conditions for the growth of the value added sector here in Canada.
We have a dispute resolution mechanism which is a non-NAFTA dispute resolution mechanism. It will provide for quick, clear, transparent and fairly immediate resolution of disputes arising from this agreement.
In weak markets, which occur regularly in the lumber business, as anyone familiar with this industry knows, we do have a framework which is flexible. We have opportunities for provinces to choose how they wish to manage and react to markets when prices are below certain threshold levels. We have retention of revenues. When we have an export tax in place, those moneys stay here in Canada and the largest portion will be returned to the provinces from where the tax was collected.
When we think about the agreement and members of the House make a decision on how to vote on the agreement, we should think long and hard about the alternative. Our lumber producers have spent the better part of the last two decades engaged in costly and drawn out legal battles with the United States. They know that winning the battle is not the same as winning the war. Our victories in a number of trade courts, both with the NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, were helpful in setting the stage for a negotiated settlement.
However, litigation was never intended to be an end game. The government has not seen it that way. The last government did not see it that way, and the vast majority in the industry never saw litigation as a route to the final solution in softwood lumber. It was always intended to give Canada a strong basis for negotiations. Taken to the limit, litigation has proven to be a sinkhole into which we can pour hundreds of millions of Canadian dollars. It is a ticket to affluence and opulence for U.S. trade lawyers, but it is not a ticket to full free trade in lumber.
Some have suggested that Canada should have held out for the ultimate win in litigation, which they claimed would come some time in 2007 or beyond. Every member in the House must recognize that legal victory is never certain. On any given case, it is never certain. Every member must recognize that the United States, or its softwood lumber lobby, could simply file a new case the very next day.
There is little to prevent the U.S. from changing its laws to erase the basis for our legal victories. Only an agreement, such as the one we have reached, can prevent new cases and a new dispute from erupting immediately. In weak lumber markets, such as we have now, that is the time when Canada is most vulnerable to the most egregious, painful and destructive attacks by U.S. protectionists.
The NAFTA is a good trade agreement, but it was never devised to avoid trade disputes and trade litigation, whether originating on the U.S. side or the Canadian side. Those who reject a negotiated softwood lumber agreement are basically arguing for a sustained attack on U.S. trade law. That would be a war of attrition and I do not think it would be a war that we could win with the emerging and growing protectionist sentiments in the U.S. It is a war that would be fought on the backs of Canadian companies and Canadian workers. In the end, the legal victories would be empiric victories, the pain would far exceed the gain.
That is why the government took action, and it started right at the top. When our Prime Minister met with President Bush in Cancun earlier this year, they decided that resolving this dispute was fundamental to the Canada-U.S. trade relationship overall.
Together with the active involvement of industry and the provinces, we negotiated an agreement that is good for lumber communities and good for Canada. This agreement eliminates punitive U.S. duties. It ends costly litigation. It takes our lumber producers out of the courts and puts them back where they belong, growing their businesses and contributing to their communities.
For the next seven to nine years no border measures will be imposed when lumber prices are above $355 U.S. for a thousand board feet. When prices drop below this threshold level, the agreement provides provinces with flexibility to choose the border measures most beneficial to their economic situation. All export charge revenues collected by the Government of Canada through these border measures will stay in Canada. The agreement returns more than $5 billion Canadian to the industry. That is a much needed infusion of capital for an industry and the workers who rely on the lumber industry.
Make no mistake about it, if we turn our backs on this negotiated softwood lumber agreement, that some members continue to advocate, that would mean a return to the courts. It would mean greater job losses for the people and communities that depend on softwood lumber.
Ask the major lumber producing provinces that joined the overwhelming majority in industry in supporting this agreement, ask the producing companies, and ask the workers, if they really want to continue with a softwood lumber trade war at a time like this when markets are weak and protectionist pressures are strong and growing in the United States. Ask them if they would like to go back to paying U.S. duties. Ask them if they want to take on new legal attacks, new cases, and new duties, and further fill the pockets and the coffers of U.S. law firms. Ask them if they want to follow the opponents of a negotiated settlement like lemmings off another cliff in an act of collective economic suicide.
Our lumber communities have suffered long enough. They need the stability and the resources that this agreement provides. This agreement is the best way forward for our softwood lumber industry and the over 300,000 Canadians who rely on it. It does not solve every problem, but it does provide the framework for resolving outstanding problems. We will work with provinces, with industry, and with communities to build a great future for a great industry. I ask members to support Bill C-24.