For the second time in five months, the United States has imposed tariffs on wood products from Canada, its largest trading partner. In May it was cedar shingles and shakes. In October it was softwood lumber.
In neither case is there proof of unfair practices on the part of Canada, although unfair subsidies for softwood exports are alleged. The only fact that is undisputed is that Canada had been seizing an ever-growing share of the U.S. market--about 73% of cedar shakes and shingles, about 32% of the softwood. That tough competition has been beneficial for American consumers, contributing significantly to the control of inflation and to lower housing costs.
But the competition has not been welcomed by some segments of the U.S. wood-products industry, troubled by declining domestic demand, high costs and reduced exports.
The benefits of the protectionism will be limited. The damage will be extensive, already setting in motion retaliation that seems to have hurt at least as many Americans as may have been helped by the tariffs. A more constructive course would be to accelerate the negotiations already under way to eliminate the barriers that remain to a free-trade association between the two nations. Both nations would benefit from free and open competition.