By Matthew Power. Feeling good about lower lumber costs? Don't get too used to the idea. The value-added wood industry hopes to change what it sees as bad trade policy. Several mills in the United States closed last fall, and some companies blame the new, 27 percent duty on Canadian softwood lumber imports. Those duties were supposed to protect the U.S. sawmill industry, but Canadian mills cranked up their volume of production to compensate for lost revenue, and flooded U.S. markets with inexpensive softwood lumber.

Now, a coalition of value-added manufacturers (the people who produce engineered wood products, trusses, etc.) say the cure is excessive. In fact, 39 of them signed a recent letter to Department of Commerce secretary Donald Evans, asking him to reconsider.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that these duties are harmful to U.S. businesses and are putting American jobs at risk," insists Kirk Grundahl, executive director of the Wood Truss Council of America and coordinator of the U.S. Value Added Wood Products Alliance.

Even within the wood industry, however, there are sharp divides. The Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports, a rival trade association representing lumber buyers and sawmills, issued a report in December defending the duties. The Coalition argues that "while the duty on Canadian lumber undoubtedly has an impact on the building products industry over time, the total price impact is very small," and "despite the industry's claims to the contrary, the duty is not solely responsible for its current difficulties," and that "the impact on U.S. consumers has been grossly overestimated."

For builders, it's not yet clear which position promises long-term, stable lumber prices. Stay tuned for future developments.