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Softwood shell game

Posted by bchristensen at May 01, 2008 01:03 PM |

In a brain- and law-spinning sleight of hand to help timber industry buddies, the administration evaded the public process once again with their backwards arrangement with Canada on more than $5 billion in lumber tariffs. Conservation Northwest, other conservation groups, and the Senate want to know what happened and who benefited from the deal.

Softwood shell game

Canadian old-growth wood shipped by train south through Bellingham to supply US markets.

Once again, the Bush administration tries to bypass the law to help big timber buddies. A Seattle Times feature Tuesday highlighted a lawsuit–of which Conservation Northwest is a plaintiff–and Senate inquiry into a backroom deal by the White House and Canadian politicos wishing to win favor with the US.

Here's the scat... Since, 2002, the US has been imposing tariffs on Canadian lumber imports after the US timber industry claimed Canadian government subsidies were harming their profit margins. In 2003, Canada appealed the tariffs using the rules set by NAFTA, and over the next three years multiple NAFTA panels, the WTO, and the US Court of International Trade ruled against the US, saying that the US could not prove any ill effects from Canada's less than 1% subsidy to its timber industry and had no authority to impose tariffs in the first place. This left more than $5 billion in collected tariffs and interest in US coffers that belonged in some part to Canada.

So, the US and Canada reached an agreement: the US would return 80% of the $5 billion if Canada promised not to increase its share of the US market. The US Court of International Trade, however, disagreed and ruled they should return 100%. Bush and his Canadian cronies ignored this, and this is where the shell game started. They arranged for Canada to receive all of the money as ordered, but wire back $1 billion to timber industry interest groups and non-profits, including one which seems to have been hastily created just for this deal.

When conservation groups and Senator Cantwell tried to track who decided how the money was spent, they were stonewalled by the Administration. Now a US court and Senate members want to know why the 20% wasn't returned to public coffers–which per the Constitution's checks and balance are controlled by Congress–and how it was decided who would get the money.

And we want to know why the groups set up to accept the Administration's largess with someone else's money did not include the real players in sustainable forestry or anyone from any of the environmental groups who have been tracking this issue for over a decade.  By supporting the true sustainable forestry folks, we could improve the US certified sustainable timber market, and draw market-share away from those timber interests in Canada that still log for the US market in BC's remaining old-growth and mountain caribou habitat.

Evading public process, cooking the books, and favors for big industry buddies may be everyday activities for the Administration, but we think our government should be accountable to the people. What do you think?

More coverage on NPR, including our very own international conservation director, Joe Scott.
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