WASHINGTON (Inman News Features) - The National Association of Home Builders today applauded the efforts of U.S. trade officials and former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, the special U.S. representative for lumber issues, for their determination in working with Canadian trade negotiators to seek a resolution to the U.S./Canada softwood lumber trade. "The Canadian government has taken steps to make their system more transparent and eliminate questions about whether it is market-based. Now it is time for U.S. producers to show they are ready to compete fairly," said NAHB Vice President/Secretary Bobby Rayburn, a home builder from Jackson, Miss.

Canada's four major lumber-producing provinces, British Columbia, Quebec, Ontario and Alberta, have made initial offers to modify their forest management practices and British Columbia and Quebec, the two largest lumber exporters, have offered to open a portion of their provincial land to public auctions in a system similar to that used in the United States, according to the builders' group. Talks between the two nations are expected to resume shortly.

"We believe these actions serve the best interests of consumers, domestic lumber producers and the Canadians," said Rayburn. "First, they do not involve any border measures, such as quotas or tariffs, which would only disrupt the lumber market and harm consumers by increasing price volatility. Second, the alternative is a lawsuit that could drag on for years. Canada has already filed suit to overturn the tariffs with the World Trade Organization. In past lumber duty cases taken to a final decision, the U.S. lumber industry has always lost its case."

The U.S. Commerce Department has issued preliminary rulings calling for 32 percent tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber imports and is expected to make a final ruling in the spring, according to the builders' association.

If the Commerce Department's final ruling calls for tariffs and the U.S. International Trade Commission also rules in favor of tariffs, Canada could appeal to U.S. courts, a NAFTA panel and/or the WTO.

"A 32 percent duty would add up to $1500 to the cost of building a new home, acting as a hidden tax on American home buyers, renters and consumers," said Rayburn.

NAHB is a Washington-based trade association that represents more than 205,000 members involved in home building and related activities.