Lumber executive says softwood duties are not causing housing unaffordability
August 21, 2019 | 10:45 am CDT
The executive director of the U.S. Lumber Coalition, a trade group formed around the issue of lumber imports, says softwood lumber pricing is not a primary factor in American homeownership and housing affordability.
"Lumber makes up less than 2 percent of the cost of a new home," director Zoltan van Heyningen wrote in The Hill. "An average new home costs $377,200, and about 16,000 board feet of lumber is required to build a home. As of July 2019, lumber cost $359 per thousand board feet, amounting to a total cost of $5,744 in an average-priced home."
van Heyningen says the actual sources of housing unaffordability are construction worker shortages, higher permitting costs, and a lack of buildable lots. He says lumber prices have remained consistent over the past decades.
The U.S. has longstanding concerns about unfairly dumped and subsidized imports of softwood lumber products from Canada.  In 2017, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) found, for the third time in three decades, that Canadian producers are dumping softwood lumber in the U.S. market and causing material injury to U.S. softwood lumber producers. 
The Trump administration imposed tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber of up to 24 percent in 2017, covering more than $5.6 billion in goods. Canada retaliated by taking the case to the WTO, which ruled in favor of the U.S.
This has worked to level the playing field - boosting up American production despite a Canadian decline, says van Heyningen.
"This means that more U.S. lumber is being produced by U.S. workers and U.S. forestry communities to build U.S. homes—offsetting any Canadian drop in lumber imports."
The softwood lumber industry is a vital part of the U.S. economy.  There are thousands of sawmills throughout the United States, the majority of which are small, local mills. In 2016, the U.S. softwood lumber industry employed more than 18,000 workers across 30 states and shipped approximately $7.12 billion of softwood lumber products.  Imports of softwood lumber products from Canada in 2016 totaled $5.78 billion. 
"I wish more people could see how these duties have worked for communities across the country," writes van Heyningen. "I was in Maine and saw firsthand how an even playing field has given the U.S. lumber industry the confidence to continue supporting rural communities through job creation and economic development. Without strong trade policy, these American, private sector jobs would instead flow north across the border."
"It’s disheartening to see that some American industries would prefer to align themselves with Canadian interests in order to benefit from the subsidies that for decades have allowed foreign producers to dump artificially cheap softwood lumber in the U.S."

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About the author
Robert Dalheim

Robert Dalheim is an editor at the Woodworking Network. Along with publishing online news articles, he writes feature stories for the FDMC print publication. He can be reached at [email protected].