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BC 'can't turn down' exports to China: Bell

B.C.'s Minister of Forests and Range said Chinese markets present an opportunity "we can't turn down." That has politicians from some forest-dependent communities worried more raw logs will be leaving the province.

Speaking to a packed UBCM forum, Minister Pat Bell said exports to China could reach one billion board feet this year.

"It's growing exponentially," Bell said. "The opportunity to access that market and move our product there is one that we can't turn down."

But Bell's enthusiasm wasn't shared by many in the Thursday afternoon forum.

Strathcona Regional District director Brenda Leigh said the provincial government must do more to regulate exports.

"Companies are not required anymore to manufacture the wood in the local communities," Leigh said. "That means the wood is being exported to the U.S. and devastating small communities."

Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost province-wide in the wake of sawmill closures in the past two years.

"There's no secure employment anymore in forestry," Leigh said.

Michael Kokura, a director in the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, said forestry is not a dying industry, but one that needs to be revitalized.

Kokura said exports to the U.S. and China are the main reason the mills are shutting down. "We're sitting on a gold mine but we're giving it away," he said.

Bell said he's aware of the concerns, and that he's not happy about current levels of raw log exports. He also said the province produces so much lumber, it makes economic sense to sell some abroad.

"We produce around 10 times the lumber in B.C. that we could consume in all of Canada. So we have to have an export market," he said.

B.C. NDP leader Carole James promised to restrict raw log exports during her address to the UBCM convention earlier in the day.

"Raw logs are shipped south by the truckload, and we import the sawdust," James said.

[This story was updated at 10:10 a.m. on Friday, September 26 to clarify minister Pat Bell's remarks.]

Geoff Dembicki is a staff reporter for The Tyee.

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