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April 1997 - Past Issue

New Export Strategy for Quebec

Constraints on shipments on the US has give the 120-member Quebec Lumber Manufacturers Association an imperative to develop new markets offshore.

By Reg Barclay
Copyright 1997. Contact publisher for permission to use.

The closure of BPIB - the export lumber promotion agency for eastern Canadian provinces - effective February 28th reflects a new direction for Quebec in what must now be a more urgent pursuit of offshore markets in the wake of US lumber quota constraints.

According to Gaston Dery, president of the 120-member Quebec Lumber Manufacturers Association (QLMA), the demise of the BPIB was basically a case of too many voices involved and differing member objectives.

The BPIB was formed 10 years ago and for the first five years essentially focussed on Quebec affairs. That changed considerably when the federal government became involved, offering money to the eastern provinces for export promotion. The BPIB subsequently began representing all eastern Canadian lumber producers. One result was an unwieldy 11-member board, consisting of one from each of four grading agencies and the six provinces, plus one from the federal government. Meetings proliferated and decision-making slowed.

Another factor was finance. "You must realize," said Dery in a recent interview, "that the QLMA, because of the size of its export volume, was carrying about three-quarters of the industry portion of the cost of BPIB. Moreover, the cost to the QLMA increased each year as the government share was reduced, and yet the votes around the table were equal." He went on to say that questions such as "do we need an office in the UK with a staff of four" were evaluated differently by members based on their cost contribution.

Another problem was differing objectives which resulted from the recent US/Canada Trade Agreement. Shipments to the US from Quebec have been substantially reduced by the quota, while shipments from the Maritimes are not affected. With an increasing lumber production, Quebec now has a priority to broaden its offshore market base, in order to maintain its export shipments volume. Other BPIB members simply did not have the same need.

The BPIB board's decision to disband the agency was amicable, said Dery. "We are still good friends with the eastern provinces and will consider working with them wherever there is common purpose in promotion."

Quebec lumber production in 1995 was 13 million m3 and the QLMA represents about 90 per cent of that. As Quebec is the second largest lumber-producing province in Canada, the QLMA carries a powerful voice in Canadian lumber affairs. Originally a grading agency, the Association now speaks on behalf of its members on matters pertaining to forestry, marketing, public relations, grading and quality control.

With closure of BPIB, the QLMA moved quickly to appoint Jim Coulson of Technology for Timber, a consulting firm, as their technical representative in the UK for grade certification and market access issues, as well as promotion projects that may develop. Dery said a short-term focus for the QLMA, however, will be to broaden its base in markets new to the QLMA, such as Asia.

With overseas promotion, the QLMA considered three options: to establish a new division within QLMA; to create an entirely new agency; or to participate with an existing agency.

Softwood lumber will be promoted through an existing agency called Q-WEB, the Quebec Wood Export Bureau, under the direction of Sylvain Labbe. This Association has been in existence for several years for the purpose of promoting value-added products in export markets. It does so for a number of wood products groups in Quebec producing hardwood lumber and components, softwood components, hardwood flooring, wood building materials, prefabricated housing, and, now, sawn softwood lumber.

Dery is confident that there will be no conflict in objectives within Q-WEB. All groups will share the office overhead in Saint Foy, Quebec. The balance of each group's contribution to Q-WEB will be spent at the direction of that particular group. Where promotion strategies overlap, economies can be affected by groups sharing activities. Mr. Dery advised that Q-WEB will shortly appoint a softwood director to work with Labbe on softwood lumber promotion, who will be paid by the softwood group.

Q-WEB clearly has become a major force in export promotion of all Quebec wood products, but there are a few who are still considering membership, such as the Canadian Lumber Association, (CLA), representing a small segment of Quebec lumber producers, and one or two other specialty groups. "When the Q-WEB gets up to cruising speed ... other groups in Quebec and other eastern provinces may wish to participate," Dery said. "And they will be welcome. But in the meantime, we must get the Q-WEB rolling."

Once rolling, Dery hopes to see the QLMA known world-wide as a supplier of quality products geared to what the customer wants. This initiative, he notes, follows a period in which QLMA members have spent millions of dollars modernizing mills and the quality of their lumber product. "Our membership is focussed and enthusiastic about the opportunities that lie ahead."

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Last modified 06/08/97

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