WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is weighing lumber producers’ complaints that Canada is not living up to its end of a softwood lumber trade deal, and will announce its decision on what to do in the next month, Trade Representative Ron Kirk said on Friday.
After touring a Maine paper mill and meeting with state labor leaders, Kirk told reporters he is “acutely aware of the concerns” with competition from Canadian lumber companies, something he said he discussed with Canada’s Trade Minister Peter Van Loan two weeks ago.
“We have spent the last eight months or so digging into this, doing our fact-finding to make a determination (on) exactly the right way forward,” Kirk said during a conference call.
“We do expect to make some announcement on our intentions within the next 30 days or so on that,” said Kirk.
Softwood lumber trade has been a thorn in the relationship between the United States and Canada for decades.
The fight stems from different timber ownership structures: in the United States, much land is privately held, while in Canada, provincial governments own most timber and charge fees to log it.
A 2006 deal designed to last at least seven years brought some peace, but last year the Obama administration made lumber its first target for trade enforcement with a duty on imports from some provinces.
Maine Senator Olympia Snowe has pressed Kirk to initiate another case based on fees charged by the province of British Columbia to its loggers, which she argues are far below market value.
“British Columbia has continued to flagrantly skirt the rules and reduce public timber prices,” Snowe said in a statement last month after speaking with Kirk about the issue.
The province is home to lumber giants Canfor Corp and West Fraser Timber Co.
On his Maine trip, Kirk also said he heard concerns about Chinese subsidies for paper producers, which U.S. mills have said hurt their production.
“We have been working with industries and others to get a better understanding and make a determination whether we have a case to go forward on the coated paper matter as well,” Kirk said.
Last month, a bipartisan group of more than 100 U.S. lawmakers from 30 states urged the Obama administration to investigate the subsidies.
Editing by Jerry Norton