Steelworkers applaud Layton's strong stand on Harper-Bush lumber deal



    BURNABY, BC, Sept. 25 /CNW/ - The United Steelworkers union (USW) has
applauded federal New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton's courageous
position on the Canada-US Softwood Lumber Agreement.
    At a campaign appearance, Layton said the NDP would scrap the 2006
softwood lumber agreement signed with the US and create a new investment plan
for Canada's forestry industry.
    "We agree and we're glad that someone is standing up for forest-sector
workers, their families and their communities," said USW Wood Council Chair
Bob Matters. "Since the deal was announced in April 2006 and signed that
October, workers in our sector have been punished by a deal designed to help
US lumber producers at our expense."
    Matters said Stephen Harper's Conservatives negotiated and supported the
deal in spite of warnings from industry advocates, unions and community
leaders. Some Liberals, meanwhile, supported it in the House of Commons. While
Liberal senators could have stopped the deal, they chose to vote against it.
    "Jack Layton is the only federal party leader consistently opposed to
this," said Matters. "The Conservatives supported it in spite of the obvious
impacts on Canada and Canadian workers; the Liberals are all over the map."
    Matters said the deal's unfairness to Canadian wood-manufacturing and
resource-based communities was apparent from the start. By signing the
agreement, Canada gave away a series of clear wins at World Trade Organization
and North America Free Trade Agreement tribunals. As well, the agreement
throws away a clear victory in the US Court of International Trade, which
actually ruled US duties and tariffs on US lumber illegal and ordered the US
administration to pay back all of Canada's $5 billion in illegally-taken
duties.
    Instead, the Harper-Bush deal swapped a combined US duty rate of 10.8 per
cent for a 15-per-cent border tax which increased as the price of lumber fell.
It also implemented a so-called "surge mechanism" that discourages investment
in Canadian sawmills and encourages the export of Canadian raw logs to US
sawmills. While logs enter the US duty free, lumber is subject to the duty.
Companies therefore used the cash payments they received from the US
government to invest heavily in US mills rather than upgrade their Canadian
operations.
    Matters says the Canadian government gave the ultra-protectionist US
Coalition for Fair Lumber Exports, the powerful lobby group that started the
trade dispute, half a billion dollars, which the coalition has used to pursue
more trade harassment. It also handed an equal amount to George Bush for what
one trade lawyer has called a "political slush fund" in advance of the US
elections this year.
    As a result, with the recent slump in US lumber demand and home
construction, Canadian mills have been much more severely hammered than their
US counterparts. From January to May this year, while US lumber output was
down 15.8 per cent compared to 2007, Canadian production fell by 23 per cent;
US West output fell 20.5 per cent but BC production was down by 24 per cent.
    "It's about time a politician said what most Canadians are thinking,"
says Matters: "This deal is bad for Canada and it's about time we pulled the
plug on it. And it's about time, too, that workers, their families and their
communities thanked those politicians who stood with them and gave those who
didn't four years in the penalty box to think it over."





For further information:

For further information: BOB MATTERS, (604) 683-1117


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