When Slocan Forest Products president Jim Shepherd arrived at a press conference in Vancouver Thursday to challenge American anti-dumping charges against Canadian lumber producers, he was carrying a handful of two-by-fours.
Those five 12-foot lengths of wood the equivalent of one picnic table are an example of what he calls the U.S. Commerce Department’s “outrageous,” “erroneous” and “bogus beyond belief” methods of slapping dumping penalties on Canadian lumber. He calls it “the tale of the $10 million picnic table.”
What happened, explains Mr. Shepherd, is that Slocan donated approximately 60 board feet of lumber to a group called the Kootenay Women in Trades and Technology to help them build a shed.
When U.S. authorities investigated the company, it lumped this donated and therefore free lumber in with the rest of Slocan’s commercially marketed wood.
“They were used as a benchmark for arriving at the punishing dumping duties Slocan now faces,” says Mr. Shepherd.
Last week the U.S. government added heartbreak to misery when it piled anti-dumping duties on top of the previously announced 19.3 per cent countervailing duty in the softwood lumber agreement. The average dumping charge across the industry is 12.58 per cent. Slocan, which employs 4,000 people in 11 mills in B.C., including Vanderhoof, Quesnel and Mackenzie, was hit with a 19.2 per cent penalty, the highest in Canada.
Those five pieces of donated wood, says Mr. Shepherd, increased Slocan’s penalty by two to three per cent. Mr. Shepherd says it is only one example of numerous errors and inaccuracies in the U.S. calculations. “The point is there is no reason for any dumping charges here. It is very clear to us that we’ve been badly wronged.”
Slocan is now investigating its avenues of recourse, says Mr. Shepherd. When asked whether the company might pursue legal action under chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement, as Canfor did last week, Mr. Shepherd says “it is very likely we will do so.”
For the time being, he says forest companies must “get down to serious discussions” with the U.S. He also urged support for Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s efforts to engage the Americans in substantive negotiations.
“The time has come to stand up for Canadian jobs and to do that we must work together.” Mr. Shepherd did, however, skirt the specifics of the job issue. He says Slocan has no immediate plans for layoffs or mill shutdowns, but that the company is reviewing its operations daily.