Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and lumber-producing provinces are pushing hard for an end to the softwood-lumber dispute with the United States before NAFTA negotiations start next month.
B.C. Premier John Horgan was in Ottawa on Tuesday for his first meeting with Mr. Trudeau before heading with his provincial delegation to Washington this week to meet with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Canada's ambassador to the United States, David MacNaughton, to discuss the softwood-lumber issue. The visit comes amid speculation that the two countries are close to reaching a 10-year agreement to resolve the dispute.
Both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Horgan made a strong case for ending the dispute before the first round of talks aimed at rewriting the North American free-trade agreement begin on Aug. 16 in Washington, with Mr. Trudeau saying a lack of a resolution puts Canadian families "in danger."
Mr. Horgan said Mr. Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland have a "large challenge ahead of them" in NAFTA negotiations with U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, adding that softwood is crucial to the B.C. economy because it is the province's largest export to the United States.
"We need to get it off the table so that Minister Freeland and federal officials can focus on the larger challenge of the broader trade agreement," Mr. Horgan told reporters at a joint news conference with Mr. Trudeau. "But for British Columbians, there's nothing more important than softwood."
In reference to questions about the possibility of a 10-year agreement, he said: "I'll have more to say once those discussions are completed."
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant have also had meetings about softwood lumber with Mr. Ross.
Mr. Trudeau said he was "so pleased" to have Mr. Horgan standing up for British Columbia and Canada's interests, and "impressing upon the American administration how important it is to resolve this challenge to the benefit of the workers on both sides of the border."
"We're talking about families all across British Columbia, all across Canada, who are put in danger by the lack of resolution on this softwood-lumber issue, and we're going to continue to fight for jobs here in Canada and economic growth for communities right across the country," Mr. Trudeau said.
Mr. Horgan had promised during the spring election campaign to travel to Washington personally to intervene in the softwood-lumber dispute.
Canada and the United States have a long history of disputes on lumber, which was left out of the original NAFTA in 1994. A series of export agreements were reached instead. The most recent, signed in 2006, expired in October, 2015.
In April, the U.S. Department of Commerce decided 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 called for a ban on thermal-coal exports through B.C. ports.
Mr. Horgan suggested on Tuesday he would not take up Ms. Clark's strategy.
"There was some saber-rattling during an election campaign on that and I believe that linkages on trade matters are best in the hands of the negotiators," he said.
"I know Minister Freeland will use whatever she has at her disposal to make the case that Canadian interests are first and foremost in her mind at the table, and I would support that."
Mr. Trudeau also avoided addressing the possibility of sanctions against the United States if a softwood deal falls through, turning his remarks to the impending NAFTA talks instead.
"At the centre of our negotiation strategy is always the fact that there are benefits on both sides of the border when things go smoothly between our two countries, that we can create a win-win-win with NAFTA," Mr. Trudeau said.