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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Compare and contrast 

Read these two versions of the same news story. Lots of similarities, but some subtle and not-so-subtle differences.
First, the Canadian story -- Martin and Bush hit stalemate in chat over softwood lumber dispute
Prime Minister Paul Martin has warned U.S. President George W. Bush that Canada will wage its battle over softwood lumber in American courts - and in the court of public opinion. Martin spoke with Bush by phone Friday but they failed to make any progress on the softwood issue. Neither leader budged from his original position during the 20-minute chat, officials said. Bush maintained that he would prefer a negotiated settlement, said a spokeswoman for Martin. The prime minister insisted there's no reason for Canada to negotiate because it has already won all NAFTA challenges to U.S. tariffs and duties that have cost Canadian lumber firms $5 billion. "Canada has won panel decision after panel decision," Martin said while attending the inauguration of a new Quebec border crossing with the U.S. "Fundamentally, what one might call the final court of appeal under NAFTA has also confirmed the Canadian position. And that should be respected." A NAFTA extraordinary challenge committee ruled in August that Canadian exports posed no threat of injury to American producers. But the U.S. government signalled it would not comply with the ruling, saying it was already complying with a World Trade Organization decision on the matter. Martin told Bush that Canada will continue fighting in the U.S. courts and by appealing to Americans who would benefit from cheaper Canadian lumber - something Martin suggested would be an embarrassment to Bush. "(Martin) told the president that we view it as a shame that we should have to take the U.S. to court in its own country to make that point," said a Martin spokesman. "But we're more than prepared to do so and we will do so." Canadian lumber exporters have paid more than $5 billion in duties since May 2002, when American lumber producers filed their fourth trade complaint in 20 years. Canada estimates that, based on past NAFTA rulings, the U.S. should pay back at least $3.5 billion of the duties collected so far. For the fifth time, a dispute resolution panel under the North American Free Trade Agreement has ordered U.S. trade officials to review the way they determine Canadian lumber exports are subsidized. The NAFTA panel, made up of three American and two Canadian trade experts, gave the United States until Oct. 28 to comply. If the panel's ruling is implemented, the countervailing duty rate would fall below one per cent, which under trade rules would result in its cancellation, according to the B.C. Lumber Trade Council. During Friday's phone conversation, the two leaders also discussed the U.S. plan to drill for oil in an Alaska Arctic wildlife refugee - something Canada opposes. Bush insisted he must move forward because his country needs the oil.
Next, the American view - Bush urges Canada to settle lumber tariffs
President Bush pressed Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin for a negotiated settlement of the bitter U.S.-Canadian dispute over lumber tariffs on Friday. Martin rebuffed the overture and warned that Canada would seek relief in U.S. courts if necessary, according to their respective press secretaries. "The president said we should get back to the negotiating table and work to find a lasting solution," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan in describing the 20-minute phone call. In Ottawa, Martin spokeswoman Melanie Gruer said the two leaders made no headway. Martin insisted there's no reason for Canada to negotiate, as it has already won all challenges to U.S. tariffs on Canadian lumber in cases brought before North American Free Trade Agreement panels, Gruer said. "The prime minister emphasized that it makes little sense to negotiate a victory that we've already won." She said Martin told Bush that Canada would take its fight to U.S. courts and appeal to Americans who benefit from cheaper Canadian lumber - something Martin suggested would be an embarrassment to Bush. McClellan did not mention that threat in his version of the conversation. "The prime minister expressed Canada's concerns about the issue of softwood lumber," McClellan said. "The president expressed our strong commitment to NAFTA," he added. At issue is a dispute over steep U.S. tariffs imposed in 2002 on imports of Canadian softwood lumber used in home construction. The tariffs, which now average about 21 percent, were put in place at the urging of the U.S. lumber industry, which contended it was losing thousands of jobs because of unfair subsidies provided to Canadian producers. Martin has accused the United States of ignoring a string of NAFTA rulings against the U.S. duties. Some industry analysts estimate that it costs Americans up to $1,000 more to build new homes since the construction lumber dispute began in 2002. In the most recent ruling, a NAFTA panel of three judges - two Canadians and one American - in August unanimously dismissed U.S. claims that an earlier ruling in favor of Canada in the lumber dispute violated trade rules. Most U.S. timber is harvested from private land at market prices, while in Canada, the government owns 90 percent of timberlands and charges fees for logging. The fee is based on the cost of maintaining and restoring the forest. Canada claims it has lost some $4.1 billion in punitive tariffs. At issue are shipments of such softwoods as pine, spruce and fir. McClellan said that during the call, Bush also thanked Martin for Canada's help in relief efforts for victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. They also talked about the upcoming election in Haiti, the continuing strife in Sudan's Darfur, next month's Summit of the Americas in Argentina, and oil, McClellan said. The Canadian spokeswoman said the two leaders discussed the U.S. plan to drill for oil in an Alaska Arctic wildlife refugee - something Canada opposes. Bush, Gruer said, insisted he must move forward because his country needs the oil.
Two solitudes, eh?

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