Canadian lumber, grain and meat imports are killing business and jobs in the Pacific Northwest and need to be stopped, a U.S. congressional panel was told here Saturday.
Imports passing through Eastport, Idaho, and other U.S. ports also can be blamed for poor quality food, school bus mishaps and potholes, according to agitated witnesses who appeared before the House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities.
“Farmers in this state feel like we’ve been taken to the cleaners,” said Richard Garber, president of the Idaho Grain Producers.
Representatives of timber and agriculture saved their best attacks for Canada, which has accelerated imports to the United States since passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
They accused the Canadian government of selling cheap logs to its lumber mills, erecting trade barriers against imported Idaho potatoes, barley and dairy products and flooding American markets with wheat and beef.
“Our grain trucks (attempting to go into Canada) are met at the border with armed guards,” said subcommittee chairman Bill Barrett, R-Neb.
But the five-hour meeting in North Idaho College’s cavernous Boswell Hall also was a mass indictment of federal indifference about U.S. food safety, transportation networks and jobs.
For a region known for its anti-government sentiment, there was surprising support for increased federal intervention in trade.
“At a time when the (Clinton) administration is seeking to increase jobs across the country, this seems to be benign neglect,” said Rep. George Nethercutt of Spokane, a guest member of the panel. “The longer we wait, the greater Canada’s advantage since they don’t have much incentive to resolve this.”
A trade expert for the administration asked the committee for patience as the North American Free Trade Agreement and other trade pacts with Canada slowly resolve the disputes.
An agreement to cap Canadian lumber imports was reached last month. A dispute over Canadian tariffs on U.S. dairy and poultry imports is expected to be decided this summer, said Timothy Galvin, associate administrator of the Foreign Agricultural Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
U.S. agricultural exports are gaining ground, with an estimated $6 billion in crops crossing into Canada in fiscal 1996, Galvin said. However, Canada continues to hold a lopsided share of lumber trade, with $4.9 billion in imports last year compared with U.S. exports of $1.3 billion.
That imbalance contributed to the loss of 300 timber jobs in Bonner County, 29,000 jobs nationwide, said Shawn Keough of the Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce. Others said the parade of trucks bringing in Canadian goods chews up U.S. Highway 95 in North Idaho.
“These things never move as quickly as we like,” Galvin said.
“We don’t have time to move slow,” shot back Rep. Helen Chenoweth, R-Boise, who brought the subcommittee to Coeur d’Alene.
In some ways, the hearing illustrated how methods used by both nations to protect their workers clash.
For instance, Idaho farmers complain that the Canadian Wheat Board is a single selling agency that undercuts U.S. prices to eliminate grain surpluses.
But Canadians see the U.S. system as equally unfair. They say federal dollars used to subsidize U.S. grain exports keep domestic prices artificially high. And that encourages Canadian sales to U.S. flour mills.
“If you didn’t have agricultural subsidies clouding the issue, the growth of Canadian grain imports would be moderated,” said Daryl Kraft, professor of agriculture at the University of Manitoba.