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softwood dispute

NDP Leader John Horgan speaks during a post election news conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday May 10, 2017.Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

B.C. Premier John Horgan will meet with the U.S. Secretary of Commerce when he heads to Washington this week to make a case for a deal to resolve the softwood-lumber dispute, which threatens the province's single-largest export to the United States.

The Commerce Department confirmed that Mr. Horgan will meet with Wilbur Ross, who was appointed to U.S. President Donald Trump's cabinet earlier this year. Mr. Horgan's office did not say who else the Premier will meet while he's in Washington.

Mr. Horgan will head to the U.S. capital following a visit to Ottawa for his first meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday.

Mr. Horgan had promised during the spring election campaign to travel to Washington to personally intervene in the softwood lumber dispute. The trip comes amid speculation that the two countries could be close to reaching a 10-year agreement to resolve the dispute, though the Canadian government has declined to comment on that possibility.

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Susan Yurkovich, president and CEO of the BC Council of Forest Industries, said it is especially important for Mr. Horgan to meet with people in Washington important to the softwood issue.

"Right now, Wilbur Ross is leading this file. He is the one who is engaging with [Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland] and he, right now, is responsible for working with Minister Freeland to try and find a new agreement, so he's very key on this file," Ms. Yurkovich said.

She said Mr. Horgan could use a discussion with Mr. Ross to underscore the value of B.C. lumber to the U.S. marketplace and meeting the demand of American consumers, who face higher lumber prices for home construction or repair under the status quo of a dispute on the issue between Canada and the United States. "I think it's important to underscore that with Secretary Ross."

A spokesperson for the Canadian embassy in Washington declined to say what assistance it would provide Mr. Horgan during his Washington visit, but said the Premier's trip is consistent with Canadian goals.

"As you know, all levels of government have been engaged in a robust U.S. outreach strategy since the inauguration of President Trump, so visits of this nature are helpful and efforts to engage the administration continue," Michelle Mahoney said in a statement.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant have previously met with Mr. Ross, who is the U.S. government's point person on the softwood file. However, the dispute is an especially pressing issue for British Columbia as Canada's largest lumber exporter into the United States, with a 55.2-per-cent share of sales volume last year.

The U.S. Department of Commerce decided, in April, to impose preliminary countervailing duties on most Canadian softwood after ruling that Canada has been providing subsidies to the industry.

In June, the United States also imposed anti-dumping duties after deciding Canada was selling softwood at below market value.

The issue landed in the middle of the B.C. provincial election campaign, with Mr. Horgan and former premier Christy Clark each claiming to be best positioned to stand up to the Trump administration.

Ms. Clark threatened to retaliate by targeting thermal coal exports through B.C. ports.

Thermal coal, which is used in coal-fired electricity plants, largely originates in the United States.

She asked the federal government to ban exports and threatened to impose a tax if Ottawa didn't agree.

Mr. Horgan has not said whether his government would continue the former Liberal government's push against thermal coal.

On Monday, Mr. Trudeau's office said the Prime Minister welcomes Mr. Horgan's intervention in the file.

"We are fully supportive of Premier Horgan's efforts in Washington, D.C., and we look forward to continued constructive efforts with the province as they relate to engagement with the United States," the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement.

The statement said softwood is on the agenda for the meeting with Mr. Horgan, as well as the continuing state of emergency in British Columbia over wildfires, the opioid crisis and other issues.

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The Canadian Press