PORTLAND (AP) – The United States will continue to try to negotiate a resolution to the dispute with Canada over softwood lumber subsidies, even as an international trade agency appears ready to rule on the standoff.

Linda Conlin, Commerce Department assistant secretary for trade development, said a negotiated settlement would be the best outcome because of the complexity of the dispute.

Conlin also said that although the World Trade Organization has reportedly decided that the U.S. tariffs are not warranted, the decision is not final and the preliminary findings, in some respects, favor the United States.

She said talks between the two nations have been held as recently as last week.

About a third of the softwood used in this country is imported from Canada, a $6.4 billion business in 2000.

In Maine, 13,000 workers are in the wood products industry, earning about $750 million a year.

Industry officials fear unrestricted Canadian imports could lead to lost business and job cuts in Maine.

The United States has levied tariffs of up to 27 percent on Canadian softwood imports because of what it considers unfair government subsidies to the industry, but the fees do not apply to all Canadian mills or imports from all Canadian provinces.

Conlin was in Portland to present an export achievement award to Hancock Lumber. She joined U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who also said that negotiations would be more fruitful than waiting for the WTO to make a final ruling.

But, Collins said, the talks have been stop-and-go, which is frustrating, particularly because thousands of Maine jobs in the wood products industry will be affected by the outcome.

“We keep coming to the table and it blows up and then we go back,” she said.

AP-ES-05-29-03 0216EDT

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