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Report On Business Resolute Forest CEO says job cuts ‘unavoidable’ as it faces two U.S. trade disputes

Stacks of logs of piled in a yard in International Falls, Minnesota.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Quebec paper and lumber producer Resolute Forest Products expects it will have to cut jobs soon as it faces U.S. trade actions on two fronts.

"It is unavoidable in my opinion because of the disruption in the market," CEO Richard Garneau said Thursday in an interview after disclosing weaker first-quarter results.

The Montreal-based company has deposited $43-million with the U.S. Department of Commerce for 17.87 per cent duties imposed in November 2015 on imports of supercalendered paper which is mainly used in magazines, catalogues, corporate brochures and advertising inserts. The annual cost of duties is about $25-million (U.S.).

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It also expects to pay $17-million (U.S.) this year and $50-million annually for countervailing lumber duties.

Garneau said fighting both trade actions is very disruptive.

Resolute faces a 12.82 per cent preliminary duty for lumber, less than the 19.89 per cent retroactive duties applied to other Quebec and Ontario producers.

Garneau called both sums unfair given the market-based lumber pricing systems in Quebec and Ontario and said he's confident they will be lowered in the final determination later this year because American authorities used Nova Scotia's system as a benchmark and improperly applied Hydro-Quebec expenses in its calculations.

Still, Garneau expects the impact on Resolute and the Central Canadian lumber sector will be quick, with a reduction in sawmill shifts that will have a cascading effect on other jobs.

Resolute has 1,200 people working to support two supercalendered paper mills and 4,000 people in its lumber operations.

Garneau declined to say how many workers could be affected.

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Unifor, which represents 24,000 forestry workers at 134 companies, fears duties will hurt 25,000 Canadian jobs, punishing small communities dependent on the forest industry.

Tembec CEO James Lopez said this week he doesn't believe job losses are in the offing at his firm, at least in the short term, while higher lumber prices offset imposed duties.

While each company faces its own circumstances, Garneau expects Canadian lumber prices will fall as producers try to ship more of their output within the country.

In its latest financial results, Resolute said it lost $47-million (U.S.), or 52 cents per share in the first quarter, compared with a loss of $8-million or nine cents per share a year ago.

Adjusted losses were $30-million or 33 cents per share, well short of the eight cents per share profit forecast by analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. A year ago, adjusted losses were $22-million or 25 cents per share.

Sales were also down one per cent, to $872-million.

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On the Toronto Stock Exchange, Resolute's shares lost more than 6.5 per cent at $7.82 in Thursday afternoon trading.

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