Canada sees US lumber deal finalized in weeks

Tuesday, June 6, 2006; 2:31 PM

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The United States and Canada are close to finalizing an agreement that will end their dispute over the softwood lumber trade, Trade Minister David Emerson said on Tuesday.

"I think we're closing in on it. My sense is that people are getting more and more comfortable. But it'll take us a few more weeks," he told Reuters. "People still have some lingering concerns but, at this stage, I don't see anything that's hugely, fundamentally wrong or that's going to stop it."

An agreement to settle the trade dispute was announced on April 27 in Washington and Ottawa, though it was recognized that some details remained to be settled.

The two sides have been at odds for decades, with Washington slapping duties on Canadian wood, claiming it was subsidized and dumped in the U.S. market.

Canada denied having subsidized the wood but agreed to a settlement which included the refund of about $4 billion in duties.

Under the agreement, Canadian exports would be allowed to continue at the present level of about 34 percent of the U.S. market. Volumes above that could be subject to taxes or market caps if the price of lumber drops below certain target levels.

The two sides were still finalizing the details of how the deal will work.

Industry Minister Maxime Bernier told a parliamentary committee that it shouldn't be necessary to offer loans to the lumber industry as he didn't believe the deal would implode.

"I trust that the agreement will be signed as Washington has said it wanted to a few months ago," Bernier said. "There will be no guarantees for the forestry industry because we have reached an agreement."

"Ninety percent of players from Quebec approved it and a huge majority industry in Canada also supports the deal."

Despite the general optimism, Emerson was cautious: "You never quite know because the American side, as we know from history, they can surprise you at the last minute. It ain't done till it's done."

(Additional reporting by Louise Egan)

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