Canadian forestry sector ‘chronically underappreciated’

Canada’s forestry industry is the “lifeblood” of the country’s economy and it should not be overlooked in favour of newer sectors, experts and business leaders gathering at a forestry convention have said.

Delegates at the Council of Forest Industries conference in Vancouver heard that Canada’s natural resources are underappreciated and actually represent a significant chunk of Canada’s economic output, particularly when it comes to exports.

But it does have challenges to address if it is to prosper.

Reporting on the convention, Nelson Bennett at Business Vancouver said that anyone reading the most recent federal budget “could be forgiven for thinking that the most important sector in Canada is clean tech”.

A view seconded by Jock Finlayson, chief policy officer for the Business Council of BC, who was quoted as saying that policy-makers should recognise that exports from industries like forestry are still the lifeblood of Canada’s economy.

Finlayson pointed out that the recent federal budget contains “page after page after page of talk about the clean-tech sector almost being presented as the engine of future growth in the Canadian economy”.

But the policy expert showed the importance of Canada’s forestry industry by showing that exports from British Columbia’s entire clean tech sector equalled the value of exports from one single forestry company alone – Canfor.

“I’m not saying clean tech isn’t important, but I’m saying to policy-makers, ‘Don’t spend your time riveted on this opportunity,’” Finlayson was reported as saying. “Let’s look at the existing portfolio that we have,” adding that while Asia will be a market of future growth, “the US economy really still matters” to Canada’s resource sectors.

Despite accounting for one in every four manufacturing jobs, 20 per cent of all exports moving out of the Port of Vancouver and $12 billion in gross domestic product, the recent federal budget “barely mentions” forestry, Bennett said.

However, despite its value, the sector must tackle a number of challenges, including uncertainty over softwood lumber negotiations with the US, a potential renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, loss of American market share to China and Mexico and a lack of business investment.

Finlayson said Canadian forestry firms must stay productive to ensure they don’t lose their competitive edge.

Almost 600 industry and government leaders, expert speakers and attendees gathered in Vancouver for the Council of Forest Industries conference. Speakers included Christy Clark, Premier of BC and leading architect Michael Green.

James Barrett, spokesman for GWD Forestry, said: “While popular, even trendy sectors might be grabbing the investment headlines, it’s important to remember the real worth in traditional industries like forestry. There’s a reason they’ve worked as an investment model for decades – they work.”

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