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Quebec hires ex-ambassador to U.S. to help in softwood lumber dispute

Raymond Chrétien responds to questions at a news conference on Oct. 18, 2016 at the legislature in Quebec City.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec has hired a former Canadian ambassador to the United States to represent its interests in the difficult softwood lumber negotiations between Canada and its southern neighbour.

Raymond Chrétien was named on Tuesday as Quebec's representative in the ongoing talks, which could affect thousands of lumber jobs in the province.

The Americans could start imposing duties on Quebec softwood by March, 2017, if a deal can't be reached.

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Mr. Chrétien, ambassador to Washington between 1994 and 2000, told reporters time is a factor in the negotiations because the United States will elect either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton as U.S. president Nov. 8.

Both have been critical of free trade in recent months.

"It is a difficulty that is real," said Mr. Chrétien, who is pulling for Ms. Clinton because of Mr. Trump's "totally protectionist" position.

Mr. Chrétien said he is expecting "very, very difficult negotiations" as "Americans never give any gifts."

The 2006 softwood lumber agreement expired a year ago, but a one-year standstill period kicked in to allow an attempt at resolution.

The U.S. softwood lobby is complaining that Canada's lumber is unfairly subsidized.

In Ottawa, International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said she welcomes Mr. Chrétien's involvement in the file.

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"I believe it would be useful for us to work with Mr. Chrétien," she said.

"He is a diplomat and a politician with a lot of experience. Quebec's position and interests are very important for Canada in our negotiations and it is always useful to have a new member in our team, the Canadian team."

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