- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2005

Canada’s complaint

Canadian Ambassador Frank McKenna wants American consumers to oppose U.S. tariffs on Canadian lumber used widely in the construction of homes because the fees drive up the price of houses.

The softwood lumber dispute with the United States is the longest-running and most contentious trade battle between two countries that otherwise have the most extensive bilateral economic ties in the world.

Canadian exports of pine, spruce and fir face U.S. tariffs of 27 percent and boost the cost of the average home by about $1,000, Mr. McKenna told reporters this week at the Washington headquarters of United Press International.

“The sad thing is that American consumers are being gouged,” he said. “We should hear from every trade group, every energy group, every consumer group.”

Mr. McKenna blamed the U.S. timber lobby for the dispute that dates back about 20 years and complained that the Bush administration is ignoring international rulings against the U.S. tariffs.

Dispute panels of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization generally have ruled in favor of Canada. The United States claims that the Canadian government unfairly subsidizes its lumber industry through low charges for cutting on public land.

Mr. McKenna, Canada’s first politician to serve as ambassador here, said he understands the politics of the dispute in Washington.

“In this city, I see all the time how small numbers highly motivated can defeat large numbers less organized,” he said.

Canadian negotiators broke off talks last month after the U.S. lumber industry blocked a proposed settlement to the dispute.

“Canada will go back to the negotiating table when the U.S. respects the rules,” he said.

Canada supplies more than one-third of the softwood lumber used in U.S. construction, exporting about $7 billion worth of wood per year.

Despite the dispute, the U.S.-Canadian relationship is “deep, rich, robust and personal,” he said.

Mr. McKenna cited dramatic figures to underscore the depth of U.S.-Canadian ties: $1.5 billion in goods and services traded every day; 300,000 Americans and Canadians cross the border every day; a truck crosses the border every two seconds.

“More business crosses one bridge into Canada than you do with Japan,” he said. “We do more business with Home Depot than we do with France.”

Canada is also America’s biggest supplier of oil, Mr. McKenna said, adding, “We have displaced Saudi Arabia.”

The United States imports 17 percent of its oil needs from Canada, while Saudi Arabia supplies about 14 percent.

On security issues, Mr. McKenna said Canada is a reliable partner with the United States in the global war on terrorism, providing the second-largest contingent of troops in Afghanistan. Canada has no troops in Iraq but has spent $300 million in Iraqi reconstruction efforts.

Despite the strong relationship, Canada rarely gets recognized in the media, Mr. McKenna said.

“We face the challenge of getting air time here in America,” he said.

Hanoi’s intolerance

The U.S. ambassador to Vietnam this week denounced the regime in Hanoi for trampling political dissent and religious freedom.

“The United States remains concerned that the government of Vietnam is intolerant of political dissent and limits its people’s enjoyment of the freedoms of religion, speech, press and assembly,” Ambassador Michael Marine told the American Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi on Wednesday.

Yesterday, he called on the government to release five political prisoners: journalist Nguyen Vu Binh; democracy activists Nguyen Khac Toan and Tran Van Luon; former South Vietnamese police officer Phan Van Ban; and Dr. Pham Hong Son, a physician sentenced to 13 years in prison for downloading a State Department article on democracy. His sentence later was reduced to five years in prison and three years under house arrest.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

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