Green groups push tariffs
By Jen Ross
--John Werring, a staff scientist with the Sierra Legal Defence Fund.
OTTAWA -- A group of five environmental groups plan to ask the U.S. Trade Department to reduce import duties on Canadian softwood lumber by 3.5 per cent, if Canada agrees to enforce its own environmental laws.
New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of five environmental groups, has calculated that 3.5 per cent of U.S.-bound B.C. softwood comes from lands that are logged in violation of the Fisheries Act.
Their proposed reduction would bring the 19.3-per-cent retroactive duty slapped on softwood by the U.S. Department of Commerce down to 15.8 per cent if Canada agrees to respect the Fisheries Act.
The groups originally went to the Commission for Environmental Co-operation (CEC) in March alleging that Canada is failing to uphold laws that would help end widespread, logging-related damage to B.C. salmon streams.
A day before the U.S. imposed the 19.3-per-cent duty on Aug. 10, the CEC ruled that a full investigation is warranted in the environmental groups' submission that Canada's failure to enforce the Fisheries Act (by allowing clear-cutting to the banks of small fish-bearing streams) was the equivalent of a subsidy to the logging industry.
The environmental groups now have decided to change tactics and argue for a reduction to the high duty, if Canada can clean up its act.
But Oussamah Tamim, spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, said although a lower duty would be "less of an evil," Canada does not think the U.S. has a right to impose a duty at all.
He said Canada is considering various avenues, including the courts and either a NAFTA or World Trade Organization review. A final determination of the dispute will be made by the U.S. Trade Representative in December. That's when the NRDC plans to make its plea.
The U.S. Trade Department can negotiate quotas (as it did the last time the softwood lumber dispute arose in 1996), or reduce import duties in exchange for reforms in Canada.
CEC director of submissions Geoffrey Garver said he was encouraged to see the public using their submission to try to alter government responses.
"Our goal is to develop sound, neutral, objective information for other people to use," said Garver.
The CEC is an international organization created by Canada, Mexico and the United States as part of NAFTA. It was established to help prevent potential trade and environmental conflicts, and to monitor the enforcement of environmental law. The CEC, based in Montreal, has a quasi-judicial role of reviewing submissions from the public on enforcement matters.
In the six years since the CEC was created, it has received 31 submissions, nine of which it has recommended for a full investigation.
Once the commission has done so, at least two of the environment ministers from the three NAFTA countries must authorize an investigation. They have authorized three and rejected one so far. The other five are awaiting authorization, including the logging submission.
John Werring, a staff scientist with the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, which has been involved in three public submissions, said the CEC is an important tool.
"It's a way of getting the issue into a public forum," he said. "It puts pressure on our government to take action."