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Letter from B.C.

Exports to China have B.C. forestry industry feeling it’s out of the woods Add to ...

The annual conference of the Council of Forest Industries was once the largest gathering of the timber trade in western Canada, but it has been cancelled three years in a row because of the downturn in forestry.

Now, thanks in large part to a boost in exports to China, the industry’s fortunes in B.C. have recovered just enough to muster a decent crowd. About 300 delegates will meet this week in Prince George.

“We can’t stay in retrench mode forever,” said John Allan, president of COFI. “Conditions are still tough but we need to let the world know we are still alive.”

There’s nothing like the whiff of a good news story to attract politicians. Premier Christy Clark and at least a couple of her cabinet ministers will be there, happy to be associated with the rebound.

Ms. Clark is promising to launch a job creation plan this fall, and forestry offers an opportunity for growth: Lumber exports to Asia eclipsed, for the first time, sales to the United States earlier this year.

Sales to the U.S. have been hammered by trade disputes, the high Canadian dollar, and the fact that Americans aren’t building new homes. The wood that is going to China is lower grade material, used mostly to form concrete structures. But it has been a lifeline nonetheless.

Ms. Clark could use a lifeline too: Last week the province was forced to trim its economic forecasts, and Ms. Clark’s finance minister warns there is no money in the kitty to pay for stimulus programs.

B.C. New Democratic Party forestry critic Norm Macdonald says any decent jobs strategy would start with a plan to wring more value out of B.C. trees, citing the large portion of raw logs that are being shipped overseas. “It’s clear we’re just not getting the jobs we should be from B.C. logs,” he said.

B.C.’s jobless rate grew in August, but for the first time in several years, COFI’s members weren’t part of the dismal statistics. At least a dozen mills have either re-opened or added shifts in B.C. on the strength of shipments across the Pacific.

Wood is good, as Ms. Clark’s predecessor liked to say.

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