B.C. trade representative David Emerson and Ambassador to the U.S. David MacNaughton speak to reporters at the B.C. legislature Thursday. (Photo: Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

U.S. ambassador ‘optimistic’ about softwood talks

Canada’s diplomat in Washington reports good cooperation on trade so far from Trump adminstration

Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. says it’s too early to say how the Donald Trump administration will approach lumber trade, but he’s optimistic about the general approach to Canada so far.

U.S. Ambassador David MacNaughton visited the B.C. legislature Thursday to brief Premier Christy Clark and David Emerson, the former federal cabinet minister retained as B.C.’s new trade envoy in Washington D.C.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, MacNaughton said there won’t be clarity until a new commerce secretary is appointed to the Trump cabinet, but he has had good cooperation from U.S. officials including Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus, senior advisor Steve Bannon and others.

“They see it as being a small, regional issue, and I think the most important thing we did was to impress on them how important it is to Canada,” MacNaughton said. “It’s a national issue that affects hundreds of communities right across the country. I think they got the message.”

The U.S. International Trade Commission has made a preliminary finding of “injury’ due to alleged subsidies to Canadian wood products, and the U.S. Department of Commerce is continuing its investigation.

Clark said the previous Barack Obama administration was preoccupied with the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, which Trump has since rejected. Repeated offers from Canadian lumber negotiators were ignored by the previous government.

“The change in the United States could signal we have an opportunity for a change in attitude about how important getting a softwood lumber agreement,” Clark said.

Emerson, whose experience with lumber trade goes back to his time as B.C. deputy finance minister in the 1980s and later CEO of Canfor Corp., said the U.S. industry has changed since he was last involved in negotiations 10 years ago, and a “whole new assessment” of the political scene is needed.

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