Senator Jon Tester is defending Montana's timber industry from unfair foreign trade practices by prodding America's trade representative to ensure that a proposed new trade deal does not undercut tougher trade laws and agreements.
Tester, who says U.S. workers and businesses rely on fair trade, wants U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to make sure that future trade agreements do not make the same mistake that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) did of undermining stronger U.S. trade laws and agreements. Kirk is currently negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, a broad agreement encompassing the U.S. and eight Asian countries.
Softwood lumber from Canada often undercuts Montana timber on the international market because of subsidies provided by the Canadian government. Montana's timber producers are forced to compete on the uneven playing field because NAFTA removes many of the trade remedies normally available to prevent foreign companies from undercutting U.S. producers.
"It is essential that any trade agreement the United States enters into does not undermine our trade laws or their effectiveness," Tester told Kirk. "We strongly believe the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement should reestablish the critical role of the U.S. courts in the proper enforcement of U.S. trade laws as they apply to all trading partners of the United States."
Tester wants the Trans-Pacific Partnership to make all countries subject to domestic trade laws. The next round of negotiations over the trade agreement will take place in December.
Tester successfully pushed Kirk in 2010 to enforce and extend the Softwood Lumber Agreement between the United States and Canada. That agreement only applies to timber sold between the two countries.
A longtime advocate for the timber industry, Tester worked closely with Montana mill owners on his popular Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. The bill includes a Congressional mandate to mechanically treat 100,000 acres of national forest land in Montana over the next 15 years. Tester's bill also creates permanent recreation areas and safeguards some of Montana's most popular places to hunt and fish.