mercredi, novembre 01, 2006

Actualité - Hold Harper Government Accountable for Its Treachery

On October 12 the Softwood Lumber Agreement between Canada and the U.S. came into effect. It was put into effect one day before the U.S. Court of International Trade issued a ruling in Canada's favour and before the enabling legislation for the agreement had passed in the Parliament. Canadian Press reported that the federal government started making payments to the monopolies from duties charged to them by U.S. customs, with an intial $950 million payment as of October 31.

Because no money is expected from U.S. Customs for two years, the federal government has designated Export Development Canada (EDC) to run an accelerated refund mechanism, under which the crown corporation buys the rights to the duty deposits and interest owed to Canadian companies. EDC's costs are covered by Canadian taxpayers, reports CP.

Under the Softwood Lumber Agreement, U.S. customs is to refund about 80 per cent of the estimated $4.4 billion U.S. it has collected since May 2002 on behalf of U.S. lumber producers who accused Canada of unfair trade.

The CP report says that forestry monopoly Tembec has received $242 million U.S. from EDC. Quoting Tembec President and CEO James Lopez, "'The funds will serve to reduce our debt and increase liquidity,' CP reports. "This amount -- substantially all the refund Tembec expects -- will 'allow us to put even greater focus on the key operational and financial issues that will continue to drive the company's recovery plan,' said Lopez"

Tembec announced on October 3 it would indefinitely close three sawmills in Quebec, laying off 435 workers, citing lower demand and rising costs as the cause.

When the Softwood Lumber Agreement came into effect on October 12, the U.S. dropped their anti-dumping and countervailing duties on imported Canadian softwood lumber and Canada dropped all litigation in progress in Canada against U.S. duties. The dropped litigation amounted to five years of legal victories won by Canada before NAFTA, the WTO and the U.S. courts, which declared the duties illegal.

The most recent ruling is that of the U.S. Court of International Trade (CIT) which on October 13 made a unanimous decision ordering the full return of the $5.3-billion of illegally imposed duties on Canadian softwood exports as well as free entry for the Canadian products.

The Harper government had until recently stated that it would delay implementation of the Agreement until November 1 to accommodate lumber companies which had not agreed to drop their legal litigations against the duties. Doing an about face it said that "enough" of the forestry monopolies had agreed to drop their actions and that the deal would come into force October 12.

Meanwhile, the Harper government is ramming through legislation that will give the agreement parliamentary approval. It is rushing it through in the midst of the crisis in the forestry industry and of the massive closures that are devastating the lives of the workers. Workers from many sectors are demanding that parliamentarians block the deal and provide immediate assistance to the forestry workers.

The Harper government invoked closure on second reading of the bill and sent it to the Standing Committee on International Trade. The decision of the Bloc Quebecois to vote with the government ensures passage of the Bill in the House of Commons. Some are holding out the hope that the Senate, which has the power to block such legislation, will do so. However, the government is putting as many facts on the ground so as to make such a thing impossible. This makes a mockery of Parliament and disgraces Harper's conception of accountability. It fully reveals what he means when he says that the Accountability Act will change how government works.

As this treachery unfolds it was also revealed that based on current market conditions the export charges that are to be paid under the deal by the monopolies exporting softwood lumber from Canada to the U.S. are much higher than the duties that were previously imposed by the U.S.

The latest ruling of the U.S. Court of International Trade was one of the many in the last five years that concluded that the U.S. was either wrong to apply duties on Canada's softwood lumber, or miscalculated the amount and that the duties were too harsh.

On July 14, the same CIT issued an injunction over the Byrd Amendment preventing U.S. customs authorities from disbursing funds. The Byrd Amendment allowed U.S. authorities to pay anti-dumping duties collected on Canadian softwood lumber to the U.S. lumber industry. CIT ruled that the Byrd Amendment was in violation of the U.S. obligations under NAFTA. Following this, the court issued the injunction to prevent any further disbursement of duties to U.S. lumber producers.

Then, on July 21, the same court dealt with a challenge from the Canadian side opposing the U.S. Commerce Department action to continue to collect duties on Canadian lumber in the face of a negative NAFTA panel finding that found those duties to be not in accordance with U.S. law. Inspite of the NAFTA ruling, the U.S. government relied on a WTO panel ruling that it claimed allowed the ongoing collection of duties. CIT rejected this claim and ruled that under U.S. law, the U.S. government was required to revoke the anti-dumping order, effective November 2002, as a result of the NAFTA panel ruling, thus declaring illegal the collecting of duties since 2002. The October 13 ruling of the CIT went further and demanded the full refund of the money raised by the duties.

For five years, bi-national (NAFTA), international (WTO) and U.S. (CIT) tribunals have ruled many times now that the U.S. was wrong in its dealing with the softwood lumber imported from Canada. Neither under U.S. law, Treaty Agreement "law," or international law can the U.S. legally do what it has done. This new 2006 Softwood Lumber Agreement makes "legal" what every tribunal and court has thus far not permitted.

To divert attention from its treachery, the Harper government is maintaining that a deal is better than endless litigation and that it will provide stability to the industry, the workers and their communities. Meanwhile, it is stubbornly refusing to financially assist workers whose lives are being devastated.

The Canadian people are rightly pointing out that there is a secret agenda being played out here by the Harper government regarding the relationship between Canada and the United States. They want very much to go to the heart of the matter. The opposition of Canadians to the sellout softwood lumber deal and to the way it is being imposed is aimed against national betrayal and at fighting for a future for the industry and the workers which are caught in the midst of ruinous monopoly competition and the annexation of Canada to U.S. imperialist interests.

(The Marxist-Leninist Daily - November 1, 2006)

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