Opinion

Maine’s sawmills finally can compete against Canada’s subsidized lumber

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For more than three generations, my family has been in the forestry business. Pleasant River Lumber employs 300 people in our four mills in Maine. In our time, we have seen the ups and downs that come with the job.

Some of the challenges we face are right in our backyard, like unpredictable weather, challenging transportation infrastructure and an ever-changing political climate in our state. Other challenges come from farther away in places like Washington, D.C.

We can use our years of experience to mitigate and adapt to the local challenges, but we find ourselves with fewer solutions when facing unfair trade practices from foreign governments. For as long as I have been in this industry, lumber mills and workers across the country have been harmed by the actions of the Canadian government.

The Canadian government subsidizes its lumber industry, often in the form of low fees to harvest trees from publicly owned land, and allows producers to dump their product into the U.S. market. This immediately puts my business at a competitive disadvantage not because of product quality, work ethic or technology, but simply because of a government providing handouts to its lumber producers. The U.S. government’s countervailing and antidumping duties on imported Canadian lumber simply offset this advantage, giving domestic producers like us a chance to compete on a level playing field.

People say that duties on lumber imports make it too expensive to purchase a home in the United States. However, the facts show that this doesn’t tell the whole story.

The impact of lumber on home prices is wildly overstated. Lumber makes up only about 2 percent of the cost of a new home, meaning that normal price fluctuations will not have any significant effect on a new home’s affordability. New construction housing prices are impacted by a lot more than lumber duties, including a limited labor supply, land shortages and transportation disruptions. So to call out lumber as a reason is wrong and very misleading.

Given a chance to compete on a level playing field, we are seeing that not just our mills, but mills throughout the country rise to the occasion by expanding production to meet the increased demand. In April, our company announced plans to expand our operations in Dover-Foxcroft and Jackman. Our expansion will not only help us meet demand, but allow us to hire more hardworking people who support their local communities.

Well-funded special interests in the U.S. are keen to parrot the Canadian party’s line. Depending on who you ask, we’re “lumber barons,” we’re greedy, and we’re a dying breed.

We’re far from it.

We are hardworking families in small towns who have been pawns in an international debate that has been simmering since the Reagan administration. For us, lumber is our kids’ college funds, our retirement savings and how we contribute to our community. And good markets are an opportunity to reinvest, become more efficient, and secure our future and the future of everyone in the small towns that depend on our mills.

With Canada’s unfair subsidies offset, American mill owners like us can compete and grow. And that is all we are asking for — a fair chance to compete. The lumber duties give us that chance.

Brochu is co-president of Pleasant River Lumber, which has sawmills in Dover-Foxcroft, Jackman, Hancock and Sanford.

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