The Many Dimensions of Softwood Lumber


  • Jeffrey L. Dunoff



The Softwood Lumber dispute between Canada and the United States is one of the longest and most expensive trade disputes in history. However, the Softwood Lumber dispute has been, if not misunderstood, at least underappreciated. To date, the dispute has attracted attention because of the substantial economic interests involved, the complexity and length of the litigation, and the doctrinal implications of the various decisions rendered in domestic and international proceedings. This paper seeks to demonstrate that Softwood Lumber's central importance lies elsewhere; for trade scholars, Softwood Lumber is of interest because it exposes three of the central challenges facing the international trade regime: the potential displacement of an international regime by a spaghetti bowl of regional and bilateral treaties; the status of international trade norms in domestic courts; and the problem of selective and halting compliance by powerful states. But these challenges are, in turn, instantiations of three central challenges facing the field of public international law, namely the fragmentation of international law; the relationships among proliferating transnational courts; and the limits of (international) legalization. Thus, the systemic issues raised by Softwood Lumber
provide a tour d’horizon of debates central to contemporary international trade law and public international law.