FREDERICTON (GNB) – As talks begin this week to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Premier Brian Gallant said the provincial government remains focused on resolving the separate softwood lumber trade issue and fighting for New Brunswick’s interests.

“A larger discussion with regards to trade within North America will start this week with the NAFTA modernization negotiations starting up,” said Gallant. “For New Brunswick, softwood lumber will remain a top priority regarding trade with the United States. Exports of softwood lumber to the United States create jobs in our province and help keep construction costs competitive for American families. We will work alongside the federal government on this important issue so New Brunswick’s case and arguments are heard by decision-makers in the United States.”

On May 18, the Trump administration notified Congress of its intent to begin negotiations to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement. The first round of formal negotiations involving Canada, the United States and Mexico begins Wednesday in Washington.

Softwood lumber, anti-dumping and countervailing duties will not be part of the NAFTA talks. In April, the United States Department of Commerce made a preliminary determination to impose countervailing duties on softwood lumber from Canada.

“The countervailing duty on softwood lumber products announced by the United States government in April is preliminary and by no means final,” said Treasury Board President Roger Melanson, who is also the minister responsible for trade policy. “We are committed to obtaining the best possible outcome for New Brunswick and have been working hard, both at home and in Washington, to make this happen.”

The softwood lumber industry contributes more than $1.45 billion to the provincial economy each year, employs more than 22,000 people and is an important export for New Brunswick businesses.

Gallant and other government representatives have been meeting with the federal and American governments and advocating in support of New Brunswick’s softwood lumber industry since 2014. The provincial government has made submissions to the United States Department of Commerce, demonstrating that New Brunswick has an open, fair and undistorted market for lumber.

David Wilkins, a former United States ambassador to Canada from 2005 to 2009, was named New Brunswick’s special envoy on trade and softwood lumber in May and has been working to advance New Brunswick’s interests in Washington.

Melanson was in Boston in April, discussing the matter with officials of the Massachusetts state government, and did the same during an advocacy mission to Augusta, Maine, earlier that month. Deputy premier Stephen Horsman was in China as part of an economic and advocacy initiative this spring, promoting New Brunswick’s softwood lumber industry to help businesses diversify. A followup mission to China is planned for the fall.