U.S., Canadian Negotiators Agree On Softwood Lumber Dispute Draft

By Agence France-Presse Canadian and U.S. negotiators have reached an agreement on a draft softwood lumber proposal, the details of which have yet to be discussed at the ministerial level, a spokesman for Canada's trade minister said July 29. "We've got what you can call a bridging agreement with the U.S., a draft agreement between the negotiators. The ministers have not been involved at this point, because there also needs to be a political discussion about it," said Sebastien Theberge, spokesman for Canadian Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew. Even so, Theberge, who said the agreement was reached late last week in Washington, classified it as "a positive step forward." Further talks were scheduled between U.S. and Canadian trade officials at a three-day World Trade Organization meeting centered on giving a boost to stalled global trade talks. The two-decade-long trade dispute stems from U.S. claims that some Canadian provinces subsidize exported softwood lumber by charging producers artificially low stumpage fees on provincially controlled lands. Ottawa has complained to NAFTA and the World Trade Organization that U.S. anti-dumping measures and countervailing duties on Canadian softwood violate the trading rules of both groups. Ottawa demands that the United States drop duties of roughly 27% and repay one billion dollars (US$720 million) in bonds already paid by Canadian exporters, who have continued selling softwood lumber in the U.S. market. Canada has agreed, at different times, to export quotas and even to tax its own exports of softwood. The last such agreement expired in 2001. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2003

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