Friday, April 28, 2006

bush calls the shots and harper crawls behind ...

NDP claims anti-circumvention clause gives U.S. too much power
The Canadian Press, Apr 29, 2006

B.C. forest industry leaders say a clause in the proposed softwood lumber deal between Canada and the United States could be a deal-breaker, prompting Premier Gordon Campbell to try to quickly quiet their fears.

Industry sources said yesterday the package's so-called anti-circumvention clause could give the U.S. government a veto on changes to provincial forestry policies, impinging on Canadian sovereignty.

They asked Campbell to write a letter expressing their worry to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Campbell, who was attending a joint cabinet meeting with the Alberta government, said he wrote the letter, but added that government prerogatives to make policy will be protected when the agreement is finalized in a few months.

"Just so we're clear, I don't believe there is a policy infringement," he said. "Clearly we want to make sure as we go through this that our position is clear ... just as they will do that in the United States. I think it was important to do that."

Harper also played down concern unforeseen problems could derail the deal.

"There's always some drafting things to be worked out and finalized and there's a lot of litigation to be unwound," Harper said during a stop in Charlottetown.

"But we don't foresee any difficulties. We're pretty firm on the details."

The anti-circumvention clause commits the agreement signatories to take no actions that would undermine the agreement or offset export restrictions.

But sources said it could require provincial governments to submit policy changes to U.S. officials -- for instance revising timber prices in the B.C. Interior, where companies are rushing to harvest stands of beetle-infested trees.

Sources said the issue was not discussed in the feverish negotiations that took place this week leading up to Thursday's agreement. But the written deal submitted Thursday raised a red flag.

B.C. Forests Minister Rich Coleman said the issue surfaced in connection with a market-based pricing system scheduled to take effect for B.C. Interior timber on Sept. 1.

"We wanted to have it on record that because it (the pricing system) had been filed in the United States prior to the agreement, it should not (be affected)," he said. "We do not have a disagreement on that."

NDP Leader Jack Layton used the anti-circumvention clause to amplify his attack on the deal as a sellout of Canadian interests to the United States.

"We're finding out today that this so-called carefully constructed deal is beginning to unravel right before our eyes," he said during a visit to Vancouver.

"It appears that Mr. Harper's style of leadership of my-way-or-the-highway has caused a deal to come into being so fast that the details weren't properly taken care of."

The framework agreement was hammered out in five days of feverish bilateral negotiations led by Michael Wilson, Canada's ambassador in Washington, and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab.