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Emerson wants softwood deal passed before fall

[PoliticsWatch Updated 5:45 p.m. May 15, 2006]

OTTAWA  — Trade Minister David Emerson said Monday he wants legislation required to settle the softwood lumber dispute with the U.S. passed in the Commons before the summer recess. 

"We've got to get going though," Emerson told the Commons trade committee.

"It will require Parliament to execute this agreement. We're going to have to have a framework that will allow and enable provinces to put in place an export tax that could come into play.

"I don't want to wait until fall for that."

Emerson said he will press ahead to get the final details of the deal complete.

"If we do not put people's feet to the fire, if we don't push them very hard, we could be talking like this next year at this time. I just know this is an issue that you can spend your whole career on."

"This work is now under way and we will consult regularly with the provinces and with industry." 

Emerson said drafting the legal text and finalizing the agreement should be in place in the coming weeks.  

He said this would include designing the mechanics of key features of the agreement, including border measures and the surge mechanism. 

A legislative component -- likely a ways and means motion -- of the deal could be tricky for the government and the opposition parties. 

All three opposition parties have come out swinging against the deal saying the Harper government gave up to much to the U.S. 

The opposition parties would have enough votes to defeat any enabling legislation if they wanted to and risk being accused of scuttling the deal by the government.

NDP MP Peter Julian tried to clear the air about reports that people in the forestry industry have been threatened by the government and told they should support the softwood deal or receive no government support for litigation in the future. 

"Can you tell the committee today that assurances have been given to the forestry sector that if this deal is rejected by the forestry sector, they will continue to be support by the government of Canada for litigation?" he asked.

"What we have told the industry is to examine carefully the choices here," said Emerson. 

Emerson said any aid package or support for the softwood lumber industry in a continued dispute would "almost certainly" be viewed as a subsidy by the U.S.  

"Everybody just has to understand what the options are," Emerson said.  

"Litigation, possibly government support, but a long, extended period of uncertainty with new measures that can be targeted in terms of countervailing duty."

Emerson was also grilled by MPs about comments he made to the Vancouver Sun over the weekend about a clause contained in the agreement with the U.S. 

The anti-circumvention clause would require provinces to consult with the U.S. before changing their forestry policies. 

"We are going to be working much closer cross-border than we were in the past, and there will be more consultation I am sure on issues relating to timber pricing and that kind of thing," Emerson said. "But you've got to accept that."

Emerson told the committee Monday that the consultations with the U.S. on forestry policy is not new and has been done in the past to avoid the U.S. introducing tariffs or other measures. 

: Related Links

> Harper wins support of provinces for softwood lumber deal

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