A trend whereby B.C. forest products companies have been snapping up sawmills south of the border while shuttering plants here is likely to continue. That prediction, from a new Conference Board report, is part of a good news/bad news story about a sector contributing $12 billion annually to the province’s economy, along with 146,000 jobs.
The report more precisely is about the forestry industry across Canada. But it devotes much of its commentary to B.C. since this province accounts for, by far, the biggest share of the country’s softwood lumber production.
Indeed, forestry is an iconic industry in B.C., boasting a bounty of sky-high timbers that stand out as a symbol in much the same way the Pacific salmon does. Which is why it has raised eyebrows that in B.C., the three largest forestry companies — West Fraser Timber, Interfor and Canfor — for some years now have been acquiring sawmills, 39 of them, south of the border, notably in the Pacific Northwest and Southeast.
Such acquisitions have been undertaken as a hedge against a roller-coaster conditions impacting the industry on Canada’s west coast. West Fraser Timber now owns more American than Canadian sawmills.
Conference Board economist Robert Meyer-Robinson writes: “The incentive for Canadian lumber companies to acquire production in the U.S. is mounting.” That is because demand for wood products is expected to come largely from the U.S., given that country’s housing market recovery. By locating more sawmills stateside, the companies are able to reduce transportation costs.