JUST BACK FROM two weeks holiday on the west coast of Canada, a land of two seasons - rain and August, one where people may occasionally look tanned but it is actually because they have rusted. This climate of mildew and damp, however, is just what rain forests need and British Columbia (BC) is well supplied with timber. It is top-class timber too and sawmills, particularly in the province's interior, have put a great deal of money into improving their efficiency. It is all whiz-bang technology in these mills now, with not a human hand touching the lumber on its way to the buyers. But this causes trouble in the United States, where good timber is increasingly more expensive to get out of the woods and sawmills have not moved as far up the technology curve. As a result, BC mills easily outclass their US counterparts on both quality and price and BC softwood exports to the US have grown. Now you may have heard of something called the North American Free Trade Association. Forget it. The response of the US mills has been to pressure their Government into slapping a 30 per cent tariff on BC softwood exports on the excuse that the way Canada awards timber rights to ensure a sustained yield of timber amounts to a subsidy. Stalinist is what it is, said one US state politician. I know what will happen. Take one little logging town, Powell River, where marijuana is already a more important crop than timber. Those remaining mill workers now facing lay-offs will head to clearings in the bush with little bags of seedlings. Even the cops know what sustains these people's budget, although you will not get them to admit it in public. In other words, if the US politicians wish to bar BC's first crop they will get BC's second, and serve them right too. You will not find many Vancouverites who will do more right now than chuckle at this subversion of the war on drugs. It is an even better form of fitting justice than the one that Europeans are now plotting against an earlier imposition of tariffs on their steel exports to the US. Hit the products of the states that voted for US President George W. Bush and his Republican party. Watch out Florida orange juice, you may have something new coming to you. How is it that Mr Bush can so blithely wage economic warfare on his staunchest allies at the behest of a few narrow domestic lobbies and still expect that these allies will not only meekly submit but continue to join him enthusiastically in his war on terror? It has only been a matter of months since delegates of a World Trade Organisation meeting in Doha congratulated themselves on having established the framework for a new round of tariff reductions and already we have the evidence that this step forward has been followed by two steps back. Let us be frank about it. A return to old-style protectionism with all the industrial inefficiency this inevitably entails will do much more harm to living standards around the world than any band of bomb-throwing terrorists. It may give us a chuckle to know that BC loggers and German steelworkers have ways of exacting retribution but escalation in economic warfare serves as few people as escalation in terrorist attacks. What an irony that Mr Bush should be so keen to engage in the one while decrying the other. Let us be grateful that Asia has not yet swung prominently into his targeting scopes and doubly grateful that the countries he has attacked with his tariff measures have so far been restrained in their response. Perhaps there still is some hope for the latest round of WTO negotiations. It will have to rest on the fact that some people are more grown up than others.