Canada’s lumber companies have until Aug. 21 to decide whether to back a deal to resolve the softwood lumber dispute with the US, International Trade Minister David Emerson said.

After meeting with company executives in Toronto, Emerson said he’s optimistic the deal, which Canada and the US initialed on July 1, will get “significant and substantial” support.

He said the Canadian government will follow up on some of the issues which the executives want clarified and do “some administrative tiding up.”

He said international agreements of this kind will need a lot of fine-tuning.

“We will be exploring how we deal with some of those issues to give the industry this comfort that they would require to support this agreement,” Emerson said.

“I’m very optimistic that we will achieve a significant and substantial amount of support by Aug. 21, which is the date that I have given them by which I need to know with some precision which companies are supporting this agreement so I can make a recommendation to Cabinet and to the Prime Minister (Stephen Harper) on whether we proceed with the softwood lumber agreement or we whether we do not,” he added.

Canadian companies representing 95% of duties collected in the US will have to back the softwood lumber deal for it to go through. They will also have to drop softwood lumber-related lawsuits against the US.

International Trade Minister David Emerson said he was more concerned about the litigation issues than the level of support. “The requirement to drop litigation is actually a stronger hurdle to get over than the 95% threshold,” he said.

He said the government doesn’t intend to reopen and modify the deal “in any substantial way” and that if it were to fail, “there would be no further negotiations for the foreseeable future.”

He described the meeting with industry executives as “very constructive” and said their response was “reasonably positive.”

With less than two weeks to the deadline, the Canadian government will be holding further discussions with the provinces, and also with the US Trade Representative’s office on issues that the lumber industry wants clarified.

“Once we get through the 21st, we’ll have a better sense of precisely how we’re going to provide comfort around some of the issues of clarification and administration,” Emerson said. (Dow Jones)