In his recent address to Maine, Gov. Paul LePage recently made the accusation that corporate greed from U.S. lumber producers is causing “skyrocketing” lumber prices. This is illogical and irresponsible.
Nothing could be further from the truth, and we feel it is our responsibility to defend our industry from our governor’s false claims. Worse yet, he used the devastation of the recent hurricanes to call for a Canada-first trade policy, risking the jobs of hundreds of thousands of American workers.
We run four lumber mills in Maine that directly employ more than 300 people and indirectly support thousands of workers throughout the state. Some of the mills we purchased were destined to be sold for scrap steel. We have done our best to make these facilities competitive and have invested more than $50 million in the last decade on modernization projects to ensure we can at least maintain our employment levels.
It is bothersome to hear our governor promote such inaccurate information and attack individual companies that, like we do, provide good-paying jobs and economic growth throughout the country.
For decades, the U.S. softwood lumber industry has dealt with Canada’s unfair trade practices. Canadian lumber mills receive substantial subsidies often in the form of low fees to harvest trees from publicly owned land, an unfair trading practice that puts U.S. lumber mills at a significant competitive disadvantage. In this environment, U.S. mills struggle to maintain production and employment levels even though we have the capacity and desire to grow and add more jobs.
Canada and its allies are spreading the myth that the U.S. industry cannot meet the demand needed for our country. The U.S. industry has proven it can produce more; the 2005 level of U.S. production would satisfy 84 percent of today’s lumber demand. If not for unfair trade, mills like ours would be able to grow production and meet more of our country’s demand.
Instead, over the last couple of decades, the opposite has occurred. Because of unfair trade, mills in Canada have thrived, while mills in Maine and the rest of the U.S. have struggled. Fair trade is necessary to reverse this trend.
Our company has struggled to maintain current employment levels, and we see our government rightfully enforcing trade laws as allowing us a chance to grow and add jobs throughout the state. This is vital to our economy as mills typically operate in small rural communities and are usually one of the largest employers, giving hardworking families a chance at good-paying jobs and other local businesses the chance to thrive.
In response to the preliminary tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber, our company started a second shift at our Jackman mill in northern Somerset County. With fair trade assurances, we are prepared to make significant additional capital investments to process more of the timber grown in our state, but we can’t do that while competing against a foreign government.
The U.S. lumber industry filed trade cases to get the U.S. Department of Commerce to enforce U.S. law and bring about a level-playing field. If individual companies in Canada feel they do not deserve the tariffs, as the governor suggests, they can petition the Department of Commerce for a reduction or elimination of tariffs.
U.S. lumber producers are simply asking for a fair chance to compete without one hand tied behind our back. We have no desire for handouts, or a leg up, but we can’t compete in a system built to work against us.
The U.S. government has been working to protect the industry from Canada’s abuses and level the playing field. Unfortunately, the governor is not on the same page and appears unconcerned with the sawmills in Maine and the good American jobs that are affected by unfair trade practices.
We are fighting hard for our country, state, workers and the communities we support. Tariffs are a purposeful U.S. government action, and calling for their suspension or provincial exclusions is shortsighted and could decimate the softwood lumber industry in the United States.
Our leaders must be able to see the bigger picture and enforce trade laws, not blindly parrot messaging that puts Canada first.
Jason and Chris Brochu are the owners of Pleasant River Lumber, which has sawmills in Dover-Foxcroft, Jackman, Hancock and Sanford.