Ottawa: In a letter to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nation urges the U.S. softwood lumber trade negotiator, Ambassador Richard Fisher, to visit Canada to see first hand the impact that Canadian forestry policy and practices are having on First Nation communities across Canada. Within the letter Matthew Coon Come explains how the elimination of trade mechanisms on the softwood lumber trade between Canada and the U.S. will pave the way for the further dumping of cheap Canadian lumber on the U.S. market. This in turn would lead to further cutting on lands under treaty or claimed by First Nations.
The National Chief states: "Under current conditions, the 'free' trade of softwood lumber would not benefit most First Nations. An open market with the United States will encourage further clear-cutting on aboriginal peoples' traditional lands and further violation of aboriginal rights." As example Matthew Coon Come describes how 80% of Canada's First Nation and Metis communities are located in forested areas and how 40% of aboriginal families are on social assistance, how communities are in desperate need of proper water and sewage facilities, medical assistance and housing. Yet the forestry industry takes in $25 billion annually from these very lands.
The National Chief then concludes that Canadian governments, by granting exclusive timber rights to forestry companies with artificially low stumpage fees and by its failure to account for the cost of damages caused by the industry to the constitutional and international rights of First Nations, is providing an enormous subsidy to the Canadian forestry industry. "Aboriginal peoples", Coon Come stated in reference to his letter to the U.S. trade negotiator, " will no longer remain silent while the federal government negotiates international trade deals at our expense. This is why I have asked Ambassador Fisher to come to Canada." He added, "Americans need to understand that their cheap Canadian 2 x 4s are contributing to our enduring social and economic hardship."
Signed in 1996, the Canada/U.S. Softwood Lumber Agreement, places duties on Canadian softwood lumber exports. The agreement will expire March 31st 2001, and if not renegotiated legal challenges on both sides of the border will mostly ensue.