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Softwood lumber talks 'progressing'

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MONTREAL—Concluding a Canada-U.S. softwood lumber agreement in the coming weeks remains uncertain but there is headway on the thorny trade dispute, the head of lumber producer Tembec suggested yesterday.

“We understand that some progress is being made and that the differences of the gap between the two countries has narrowed,” CEO James Lopez said during a conference call to discuss its third-quarter results.

The Montreal-based company said its net income nearly doubled to $17 million in the period ended June 24.

Lopez didn't explain what his outlook is based on, but said it's difficult to predict the timing and structure of a new agreement.

“Hopefully, we can get that outcome in short order,” he remarked.

“But we all know, those of us who have been around this for a long time, it's very unpredictable.”

Foreign Affairs minister Chrystia Freeland remains in close contact with U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, but a spokesman downplayed that a deal is in the offing.

“I don't have any real indication that there has been any meaningful narrowing, if you will,” Adam Austen said from Ottawa.

The two sides are under pressure to strike an agreement before NAFTA negotiations begin Aug. 16.

“We are obviously running up against quite a tight timeline with respect to NAFTA but we are still hopeful,” Austen noted.

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