Chinese marketplace key to forest recovery
The forest industry in B.C. is finding its way out of the woods, thanks in large part to the Chinese marketplace, according to Forests and Range Minister Pat Bell.
Bell — who spoke with media Thursday at Comox Valley MLA Don McRae’s constituency office in Courtenay — said shipping forest products by sea to China offers a cheaper alternative than transporting by rail to the eastern seaboard of the U.S.
“What has historically been an economic disadvantage for the Coast in terms of transportation has turned into a significant economic advantage,” Bell said. “It’s what is driving people back to work at places like Port Alberni and hopefully Ladysmith soon.”
Last year, the province sold about 1.6 billion board feet of lumber to China. So far this year, Bell said the rate is 197 per cent higher than last year, a rate exceeding three billion board feet by year’s end, representing 12 to 15 “sawmills worth of production,” with each mill representing 500 to 600 jobs.
“By the time we get to the end of this year, you could make a strong argument there are five, six, maybe 7,000 people directly employed because of the Chinese market. And then of course all the spinoff jobs, which is tremendous for small communities throughout B.C.”
He notes Canfor’s recent reopening of its Quesnel operation, which produces a metric product targeted for the Chinese market.
“I think you will see that replicated on the Coast of British Columbia this summer,” said Bell, noting second growth opportunities on the Coast.
Although the cost of fibre has been challenging to coastal operations, Bell said saw mills in this corner of the province are starting to reopen and add shifts.
“Overall, I’m very optimistic about what we’re going to see for forestry activity on the Coast over the next five to 10 years,” said Bell, who predicts there will be a “significant number of high-paying industrial jobs” available for young people over the next few years.
Regarding the pulp mill in Campbell River, Bell said negotiations are ongoing between Catalyst and the unions.
“I think there’s been a very confrontational relationship between Catalyst and the communities and the unions over the last year or so, and I don’t think that’s healthy.”