In a step forward for a U.S.-Canadian lumber trade agreement, Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper says "a clear majority" within his country's timber industry supports the proposed pact.

Harper said Aug. 22 in Ottawa that after asking for support from more than 300 Canadian lumber producers, "we have received a clear majority of support from companies in all regions." Harper didn't specify what percentage of the industry said it would back the pact. Bob Klager, a spokesman for Minister of International Trade David Emerson, said Aug. 23 that officials are "taking a couple of days" to confirm the companies' final positions and would not talk about specific figures.

Harper, who took office in February, also said Parliament will be asked this fall to vote on enabling legislation for the trade agreement. The vote "will be a confidence measure," Harper said. That means that if the bill is defeated, Parliament would be dissolved and a new election would be held.

Parliament is scheduled to come back into session Sept. 18, and Klager says he thinks the vote could occur "very shortly after the 18th."

Peter Julian, a New Democratic Party House member, criticized the agreement, contending that it would leave $1 billion in tariffs in the U.S. and "will kill 20% of forestry jobs in some regions...."

U.S. and Canadian government officials had announced the lumber agreement in April, and initialed a detailed text for the pact on July 1. But for the pact to become final, Canadian lumber companies had to say they would drop pending trade-related lawsuits. The government also wanted a majority of its lumber industry to indicate it would support the agreement.

The pact would end limits on Canadian lumber exports when prices top $355 per thousand board feet. Shipments would face export charges if prices fall below that level. Canadian companies would receive $4 billion of the estimated $5.3 billion in duties that the U.S. has collected since 2002.

Harper said, "This agreement delivers: stable and predictable access to the U.S. Market; the repayment of $4 billion of disputed duties; provincial and regional flexibility; and perhaps most importantly, certainty--instead of costly litigation."

U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez said he was pleased by the report of Canadian support for the lumber agreement. He called the pact "a win-win for workers, industry, consumers and communities in both Canada and the United States."