No softwood deal expected at Summit
[PoliticsWatch Updated 3:00 p.m. March 27, 2006]
OTTAWA — Senior government officials
Monday downplayed any possibility of a settlement in the softwood lumber dispute between Canada and the U.S. coming out of a meeting later this week between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President George W. Bush.
Both leaders and Mexican President Vicente Fox will be participating in a trilateral summit in Cancun, Mexico, on Thursday and Friday.
A senior government official told reporters at a technical briefing on Monday morning that he does not expect any announcement on the lumber dispute, including whether the two sides will return to the negotiating table.
Bush and Harper are expected to hold a bilateral meeting on the first day of the summit.
"No doubt the two leaders will want to compare notes on where we stand on softwood lumber," the government official noted. "I don't expect, frankly, much more than that as far as I know."
"The prime minister has made it clear that he wants a resolution of this dispute."
Harper has invested a lot in settling the softwood lumber dispute, including appointing former Liberal cabinet minister David Emerson as his trade minister.
Canada's new ambassador to Washington, Michael Wilson, said that a resolution of the softwood lumber dispute would be his top priority.
Last week some industry insiders were hoping the summit would be a catalyst to resume negotiations and land a deal as soon as possible.
But regional and sectoral differences continue to hamper creating a consensus position for the Canadian side.
Interim Liberal Leader Bill Graham said he hopes the U.S. agrees to
abide by recent NAFTA panel decisions requesting it lift the duties
imposed on Canadian lumber imports.
"What I would like to see is obviously a solution to this
matter that will label us to have our fair place in the North
American trading system," he said.
The summit will also mark the first time Harper has met with the other two leaders since becoming prime minister.
Harper is expected to share with Bush his impressions of his recent visit to the Canadian-led mission in Afghanistan.
The government officials also told reporters that while Bush and Harper will discuss the NORAD agreement there would be no talks about the controversial missile defence program, which former prime minister Paul Martin decided not to participate in.
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