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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Free Trade

Air Date: Week of

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Environmental groups are teaming up with US industry to call for tough protections against the dumping of foreign products. Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports on domestic trade issues that could impact the Bush administration's broader trade agenda.


CURWOOD: The renewal of a timber agreement has sparked a trade dispute between the U.S. and Canada. The Bush administration accuses Canada of subsidizing its timber production, leading to cheap prices and unfair dumping in U.S. markets. It's responded by placing tariffs on Canadian products, a move that Canada says violates the North American Free Trade Agreement. This dispute is part of a broader debate over trade and globalization, in which environmental groups and U.S. industry are finding common interest. Living On Earth's Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Subsidies, countervailing duty claims, anti-dumping laws. It might sound like arcane trade-speak, but environmental groups say the Canada-U.S. timber dispute can have very tangible consequences. Susan Casey-Lefkowitz is a Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

CASEY-LEFKOWITZ: It has an impact on trans-boundary endangered species, it has an impact on migratory birds, on Pacific salmon, on things like the grizzly bear or the marbled murrelet. And it also has an impact on some of the last great stands of old growth forests in the world.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Casey-Lefkowitz says federal subsidies allow Canadian loggers to go into pristine forests, places she says they couldn't afford to harvest without help from the government. She wants Canada to phase out its subsidies. So does John Ragosta. Ragosta represents the U.S. timber industry's Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports. He says Canada's subsidies cost U.S. timber companies more than a billion dollars each year. And Ragosta says the subsidies mean Canadian mills can afford to waste more wood, so they're less efficient than their American counterparts. This undervaluing of the resources, says Regosta, is where environmental groups and the timber industry unite.

RAGOSTA: Now, what that means to us is that we're more efficient, but we can't compete because the Canadian government gives away timber. What it means to the environmental community is the Canadian industry is cutting more trees to get the same amount of lumber, and they're over-consuming because it's at too low a price.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The timber dispute is just one trade issue that's driving environmental groups to align themselves with their traditional foes in U.S. industry.

ZOELLICK: We believe the actions that the president is taking today can help restore the strength and profitability of this very important American industry.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: When U.S. trade representative Robert Zoellick recently announced a 30 percent tariff on imported steel, he had the support of several environmental groups. The groups say tariffs will mean cleaner air, because steel makers face stricter environmental laws in the U.S. than they do in many countries abroad. Susan Casey-Lefkowitz of NRDC.

CASEY-LEFKOWITZ: When a country does not enforce its environmental laws this is another kind of subsidy. It's as much an economic subsidy as any direct financial contribution to a company, because you're essentially giving it relief from costs that it would otherwise incur in complying with the law.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The president's decision on steel comes at a crossroad for his broader trade agenda. The White House wants greater negotiating authority when it comes to international trade deals. So-called Fast Track authority passed last fall in the House. But it still must face the Senate. And though the Senate's traditionally been the friendlier chamber when it comes to free trade issues, a number of lawmakers say they want to see how well the president enforces U.S. trade laws before they give him the reigns. Senator Arlen Specter from the steel state of Pennsylvania says the president's decision on tariffs may have won his vote for fast track.

SPECTER: I think this move by the president to enforce America's steel laws gives me a lot more confidence that if Fast Track is enacted and you have President Bush there, he's going to observe the laws.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Other senators want one more signal that the White House means business.

BAUCUS: The administration's decision on soft wood lumber is very important to me, to getting enough votes in the Congress to pass fast track.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, is a champion of free trade. But he says if the administration caves in on the soft wood timber dispute with Canada, the public and lawmakers could turn against giving the president greater authority on trade deals.

BAUCUS: The more the president can stand up and say, "Hey, that's not right. We're not going to let you Canadians send us subsidized and dumped lumber into the United States," the more Americans will realize, "Hey, maybe I can be a little more comfortable about giving the president some authority to conduct trade agreements."

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The U.S. is expected to finalize duties against Canadian timber by March 21st. Fast Track will come to the Senate floor later this spring. For Living on Earth, I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum in Washington.

[MUSIC: Bela Fleck, "Black Forest"]



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