Recently, the International Trade Commission heard about the very real harm that subsidized Canadian softwood lumber does to U.S. industry. As vice president and general manager of the oldest privately owned lumber company in Montana, I joined others to share my firsthand account of how the unfair trade has impacted Montanans and our local industry and economy. I want to especially thank U.s. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines for taking the time out of their hectic schedules to provide testimony on behalf of Montana’s forest products industry.
At the core of the softwood lumber issue is the fact that the U.S. and Canada operate under very different systems. U.S. producers purchase timber in a free market that constantly fluctuates in terms of availability and price, while Canadian producers rely on their government for subsidies and access to cheap timber. The lack of a level playing field is the sole reason Canadian mills can invest and encroach on American market share while the U.S. industry weathers market ups and downs.
Our neighbors north of the border do not have to constantly worry about procuring sufficient timber to operate their mills, but that very concern is what keeps me up at night. Located just 40 miles from the Canadian border, we at F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Company have seen significant volumes of lumber pour across our border on a daily basis, for decades. While we work exponentially harder to sustain our own operation, I watch as more than 30 carloads per day of Canadian lumber pass our sawmill on the railroad.
At Stoltze we have not been able to run our mills at capacity production for a number of years now; I do not know anymore what it is like to run our mill at two full shifts for 12 months a year. Given a level playing field with Canada, we could operate our U.S. mills at capacity and easily provide a much larger share of the U.S. lumber market demand.
How do we know this? Because we’ve done it before. The 2005 level of U.S. production would satisfy 85 percent of today’s lumber demand.
Except for the unfair trade, the United States has the resources to grow production to meet much more of our country’s lumber demand and serve as an economic engine for many of America’s rural communities. Our domestic industry is one of the most competitive and efficient in the world, utilizing cutting-edge technology in scanning and optimization and 3D imaging to provide the lumber for your home or your garden shed.
The United States and Canada have been fighting about this issue for over 30 years and I continually hear a lot of publicity about how Canadian jobs, Canadian communities and Canadian producers will be impacted by fair trade in lumber. However, as Americans, we must recognize that this issue hugely impacts our employees, our jobs, our companies and our small towns in a negative manner.
We, the U.S. industry, are not asking for a handout or a leg up; we simply want to earn our business — fairly. We cannot allow Canada to continue to operate under very different rules and distort the market to their advantage without leveling the playing field. The administration, our trade representatives and Congress must enforce current trade laws in order to revitalize the U.S. lumber industry and restore the strength of manufacturing in America.
By supporting the U.S. softwood lumber industry’s ask to enforce our trade laws, you support more than 350,000 jobs across America, you support a level-playing field for U.S. companies, and you help a U.S. manufacturing industry grow — hopefully here in Montana too.