Earlier this year, the U.S. Commerce Department, following an investigation by the U.S. International Trade Commission, imposed preliminary tariffs of up to 32 percent on Canadian uncoated groundwood paper, which includes the newsprint used by many American newspapers. In imposing the tariffs, officials cited the likelihood that Canada subsidized paper exports and that those products were sold in the United States at less than fair market value.
But the wisdom of the tariffs appears dubious considering, first, that they come at the behest of a single company and, second, the damage they could do in various publishing sectors. For newspapers, including the Daily Camera, the tariffs mean higher prices for newsprint. This could lead to further staff reductions, smaller papers, or worse -— outcomes that would hurt not only the papers themselves but also the communities they serve.
The investigation that led to the tariffs came at the request of North Pacific Paper Company, or NORPAC, a mill in Washington that is owned by a New York hedge fund. You would think if Canadian paper suppliers benefited from an unfair advantage in American markets that other domestic manufacturers would speak up. They have -— but in opposition to the tariffs. In fact the industry's own trade group, the American Forest and Paper Association, opposes them. As David Chavern, president and CEO of News Media Alliance, wrote, "The well-documented decline in the U.S. newsprint market is not due to unfair trade, but to a decade-long shift from print to digital distribution of news and information.
Now, we will all literally pay for one manufacturer's manipulation of our country's trade laws."
NORPAC is said to have fewer than 300 employees. But the tariffs for which the company lobbied threaten many thousands of American jobs, not just in newspapers but also in other publishing sectors. The tariffs could further depress demand for newsprint and, far from affording protection, hasten a decline in the paper industry.
In the case of newspapers, the repercussions will be felt by readers who, despite the growth of digital media, continue in countless communities across the country to rely on the hometown paper as the best source of information about local government, police, courts, community activities and events. Newsprint typically is a newspaper's biggest expense after labor, and since the imposition of the tariffs newspapers are said to have seen paper costs rise as much as 30 percent. Newspapers are in no position to withstand that kind of price hike. Steve Forbes, of Forbes magazine, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the tariffs could force publications "to close or be reduced to shadows of their former selves. The killing of local newspapers by the imposition of tariffs would gut the nation's free press." He ascribed the tariffs to "protectionist cronyism."
The tariffs were enacted on a preliminary basis, and on July 17 the ITC will hear testimony on whether they're justified. Industry groups, including the Colorado Press Association, are asking members of Congress to take a stand against the tariffs by testifying at the hearing and submitting comments to the commission. A final decision is expected in mid-September.
Readers of this and other newspapers also can play an important role. A coalition called Stop Tariffs on Printers & Publishers, or STOPP, is calling on citizens to sign an anti-tariff petition. The petition can be found on the coalition website, stopnewsprinttariffs.org.
The tariffs will cost American jobs. They violate principles of free trade. They're rejected by companies they purport to help. And they'll further and unnecessarily encumber newspapers that already face daunting challenges. If the ITC really wants to serve the interests of American companies it will correct course and drop the tariffs.
©2018 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.)
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