New Trump tariff on lumber will raise costs for U.S. homeowners, Canadians say

Logs at the Evergreen Forest Products in Tamarack, a few miles south of New Meadows.
Logs at the Evergreen Forest Products in Tamarack, a few miles south of New Meadows. Idaho Statesman file

The Trump administration has ordered tariffs on imported Canadian softwood lumber, a move Canadian government and timber-industry officials said is a protectionist step that will drive up costs for U.S. consumers buying and renovating homes.

President Donald Trump announced the new tariff Monday night at a White House gathering of conservative journalists, shortly before the Commerce Department said it would impose duties ranging from 3 percent to 24 percent, depending on the company.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said Canadian lumber companies were being unfairly subsidized, forcing the U.S. to react. Canada called that accusation “baseless and unfounded.”

The tariffs are the latest step in the Trump administration’s effort to rewrite trade agreements it says are unfair. Idaho’s wood products industry has complained for years about unfair Canadian competition, and Gov. Butch Otter has called on the federal government to enforce the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.

Otter’s press office did not immediately return a message seeking comment Monday night.

“This new trade action is driven by the same protectionist lumber lobby in the U.S. whose sole purpose is to create artificial supply constraints on lumber and drive prices up for their benefit, at the expense of American consumers,” said Susan Yurkovich, president of the British Columbia Lumber Trades Council.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents will begin collecting cash deposits based on the preliminary tariff rates rates, subject to a final Commerce order in September. Some companies will be required to make retroactive cash payments. If Commerce changes its mind about the value of the subsidies or if the International Trade Commission determines the United States was not harmed, no order will be issued, the department said.

“It has been a bad week for U.S.-Canada trade relations,” Ross said. “Last Monday, it became apparent that Canada intends to effectively cut off the last dairy products being exported from the United States. Today, in a different matter, the Department of Commerce determined a need to impose countervailing duties of roughly one billion dollars on Canadian softwood lumber exports to us. This is not our idea of a properly functioning free-trade agreement.”

Imports of Canadian softwood lumber were worth an estimated $5.7 billion last year, the Commerce Department said.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story attributed the U.S. Lumber Association's position to the Idaho Forest Products Commission, which does not take policy stances.

Ruth Brown: 208-377-6207, @RuthBrownNews. Business Editor David Staats and Bloomberg contributed.