MISSOULA - U.S. Commerce Undersecretary Grant Aldonis will be here Friday for a hearing on harm to Montana from the softwood lumber dispute between the United States and Canada, said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

Baucus said he invited Aldonis because the undersecretary will have oversight of a lawsuit, backed by the U.S. lumber industry, that alleges Canada violated trade laws by subsidizing its timber industry and allowing Canadian mills to dump below-cost softwood lumber into the U.S. market.

Aldonis needs to hear firsthand how cheap Canadian softwood hurts Montana's economy, Baucus said.

"I want to share with him some of our personal accounts of mills closing and folks losing their jobs because they can't compete against these subsidized imports," he said.

Softwood lumber is derived from cone-bearing trees and is used to make boards and other milled products, such as fence posts. Competition from Canadian lumber was cited by several Montana mill operators when they shut down recently.

"Clearly we need a level playing field," Baucus said. "Fair trade is fair trade. But this hurts Montana's economy."

The Canadian Softwood Lumber Agreement that expired March 31 was a five-year trade measure that allowed only a limited amount of duty-free softwood lumber to be sold in the United States. Baucus wants negotiation of a new deal.

A format of three panel discussions is planned for the hearing Friday at the University of Montana.

In addition to Aldonis, scheduled panelists include mill owner Jim Hurst of Eureka; Rusty Wood, chairman of the Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports, the leading supporter of the pending lawsuit against Canada; Rob Luce of Idaho Timber of Montana in Whitefish; Don Serba of the Pulp and Paperworkers Resource Council; Bruce Morris of the carpenters union; and Joe Scott of the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance.

If you're interested

The field hearing on the U.S.-Canada softwood lumber dispute takes place at the University of Montana Gallagher Business Building, Room 106 on Friday, June 1, from 10 a.m. - noon.

Panel1: Administration - Grant Aldonis.

Panel 2: Industry - Rusty Wood, Jim Hurst and Rob Luce.

Panel 3: Workers and Environmental Concerns - Don Serba, Bruce Morris and Joe Scott.

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