WASHINGTON -- New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant says he remains optimistic his province can be excluded from hefty duties on softwood lumber exports to the United States.

Gallant met with United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross Jr. in Washington on Wednesday to discuss softwood lumber and free trade.

Ross is a senior member of President Donald Trump's cabinet and is responsible for negotiating the Softwood Lumber Agreement.

'We were very pleased with the conversation," Gallant said in an interview following the 30 minute meeting in Washington, D.C. "It was very substantive and we went into detail."

Last month, the U.S. Department of Commerce hit Canada with an additional 6.87 per cent in preliminary average anti-dumping tariffs, leaving the industry facing average duties of about 27 per cent. The decision exempts the other three Atlantic provinces, but New Brunswick -- exempt from such tariffs in the past -- is not.

"I argued why New Brunswick should be part of the exclusion we have enjoyed since 1982," Gallant said.

The premier said he stressed the importance of the trading relationship between the Atlantic provinces and the New England states.

Gallant said he used the example of Twin Rivers Paper Co. to demonstrate how the two economies are intertwined.

Headquartered in Maine with significant New Brunswick operations, the company operates integrated pulp and paper mills connected by pipelines crossing the St. John River. One pipeline carries pulp from Edmundston, N.B., to the paper plant, while another transports steam between facilities. Wood chips and biomass from Canadian sawmills help generate the steam used to make pulp.

"They have about 1,000 employees, evenly divided between the two countries. They contribute over $200 million to the economies of Maine and New Brunswick. That demonstrated very clearly to what level the industry in Maine and Atlantic Canada are intertwined," Gallant said.

Gallant said Ross listened carefully but didn't offer any assurances. Negotiations are expected to continue between the two federal governments.

Softwood lumber contributes more than $1.45 billion to the New Brunswick economy each year and employs more than 22,000 people.

While most softwood lumber exporters in New Brunswick would be paying a combined rate of about 27 per cent, it would be about 10 per cent for J.D. Irving Ltd., which was hit with a three per cent countervailing duty in April's preliminary ruling.

Former U.S. ambassador David Wilkins has been hired as New Brunswick's special envoy on the softwood trade dispute. He arranged, and was part of, Wednesday's meeting.

-- By Kevin Bissett in Fredericton