No matter what one thinks of Donald Trump, the tentacles of the controversial American president reach even into the Cowichan Valley.
Trump has always said he would toughen up international trade deals in favour of the U.S. if he was elected president, so recent announcements about the implementation of punitive duties on Canadian companies that sell newsprint to the U.S., including Catalyst Paper, should not come as a shock.
Of course, Canada’s forest industry has long been a target of the U.S. The industry is accused of being unfairly subsidized, and our forest companies and government had already been involved in a number of legal wrangles with the Americans over punitive duties on its exports to the U.S. long before Trump came along.
In fact, the U.S. has lost a string of disputes over the years that were brought before the World Trade Organization by Canada and its forest industry after its complaints were ruled to be out of line with the WTO rule book for international trade.
But Trump has made it clear that he could care less about such rulings from international bodies and will continue to do whatever it takes to ensure American markets are protected, regardless of the long-range economic implications for his own country.
The latest punitive duties on Canadian newsprint came after Washington-based North Pacific Paper Co. complained Canada was dumping newsprint into the American market and unfairly subsidizing its industry at home.
It is the same argument made regarding Canada’s softwood industry, which led to the imposition of both countervailing and anti-dumping duties on most of Canadian softwood exports to the U.S.
As a result, Canadian newsprint producers are now facing damaging punitive duties on their American exports.
Catalyst Paper, which owns Crofton’s pulp and paper mill that employs almost 600 mostly local workers, faces countervailing duties of 6.1 per cent on its shipments to the U.S. as of Jan. 16.
Company spokeswoman Eduarda Hodgins told me last week that Catalyst is “disappointed” with the duties, and that the company finds them “unfair and unwarranted”.
“We expect the final determination on the punitive duties to be made by the U.S. Department of Commerce in May or June and we intend to work with the Canadian and American governments until then to try to change this ruling,” Hodgins said.
She also said it’s too early to speculate if there will be layoffs and/or shut downs at its mills as a result of the punitive duties, but acknowledged it will likely have consequences on its business if changes aren’t made.
We’re talking about close to 600 well-paid mill jobs in the Cowichan Valley that pump millions of dollars into our local economy.
These workers and their families shop in local stores, eat in local restaurants and pay taxes to the Valley’s municipalities that help pay for our roads, schools and hospitals.
The workers are also integral parts of our communities, with many serving as volunteer fireman and with other community groups and organizations that provide so much to the people of the Valley.
It would be a devastating blow to this area if Catalyst determines at some point that it’s not economical anymore to continue operations here.
And that can happen if Trump continues with his “America First” philosophy in international trade relations.
Many local residents tend to see Trump as a spectacle, like the star of an ongoing reality television show in the U.S. that has little to do with our daily lives here.
But it’s a fact that he’s president of the U.S., still the world’s largest economy, and will likely be for another three years.
So hang on folks, we are not as immune to Trump’s bullish style as many think, and hope, we are.
Robert Barron is a reporter with the Cowichan Valley Citizen. He can be reached at Robert.Barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com.