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Canada believes the rise in U.S. duties on softwood will lead to greater exports to Asian markets: ‘There’s an enormous opportunity there,’ Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne says.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A rise in U.S. tariffs on Canadian softwood will help drive an increase in lumber exports to China and other Asian markets, Canada's top trade official said.

"There's an enormous opportunity," Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne said in an interview in Singapore on Monday. "Diversification is the key. That's why Canada has an ambitious trade agenda."

With other Canadian industries also bracing for increased U.S. tariffs, Mr. Champagne will travel to South Korea next week as the Canada tries to boost trade and stimulate its economy. Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr is scheduled to accompany Canadian forestry leaders on a visit to China in June.

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Canada's diplomatic push comes after U.S. President Donald Trump reignited a decades-old dispute last month by slapping duties as high as 24 per cent on Canadian softwood. Mr. Trump also threatened to take action against Canadian dairy farmers over what the United States says are unfair agricultural subsidies.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he would consider banning thermal coal shipments from the United States.

Mr. Champagne said Canada's lumber pitch resonated in China and other Southeast Asian countries because softwood was an environmentally friendly building material that could satisfy a growing regional housing need without driving up greenhouse gas emissions.

"What the Chinese were saying is you're providing a much-needed solution that the Chinese side needed," Mr. Champagne said. "This is beyond selling. This is about working together to tackle a challenge for them."

Canada exports about $3.5-billion (U.S.) in total forest products to China annually, including about $1.9-billion in lumber, according to China's official Xinhua News Agency. Over the past decade, Canadian forest product exports to China have climbed to 15 per cent from 5 per cent of the country's total forestry exports.

Negotiations on a free-trade agreement between Canada and China were also moving forward, Mr. Champagne said.

The U.S. is imposing tariffs averaging 20% on Canadian softwood exports
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