Biden’s lumber tariffs will make housing less affordable

Back in July, I had a column in the Duluth News Tribune about how federal government tariffs on Canadian lumber would serve to make housing less affordable. I noted that President Trump’s administration hiked these tariffs in 2017 but then cut them, from 20 percent to 9 percent, in late 2020 amid concerns about rising lumber prices, and that the Biden administration should not raise them. An opponent of these tariffs, I thought I was fairly bipartisan with my blame.

That did not stop those who cannot countenance any criticism of their political team getting angry. One reader wrote to complain about my arguing that “the blame should squarely be placed on President Joe Biden’s shoulders” — I didn’t — and went on to argue that there were “No actual tariffs to point to now, of course.”

Well, now there are. Last week, CBC reported:

Officials from various Canadian governments and the lumber industry are expressing disappointment that the U.S. has decided to go ahead with a plan to double the amount of duty it imposes on softwood lumber that comes from Canada.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Commerce said it will proceed to impose duties of 17.9 per cent, on average on softwood lumber imported from Canada. That’s twice the previous 8.99 per cent rate.

In May, the U.S. government said it planned to hike the rate to 18.32 per cent, but after further analysis over the summer the agency decided to ratchet down that plan, but still double the levy.

The reason for this is that, so the federal government alleges:

Canadian lumber producers dump their product into the U.S. at a lower price than American lumber companies can because they are subsidized. So the U.S. puts a tariff on all softwood lumber from Canada to raise its price at the retail level, which encourages consumers to buy American wood.

So this is explicitly about the federal government trying to get Americans to pay more for their lumber (the Canadians deny this). As I said in July, so much for affordable housing.