Tariffs on newsprint would be huge blow for newspapers

The talk of trade wars and the impact of tariffs hit very close to home this week with a ruling that could have severe consequences for newspapers large and small all across America.
The Department of Commerce recently announced countervailing and anti-dumping duties on Canadian imports of newsprint, which could range as high as 32 percent. That represents a significant sum in an industry where newsprint is typically one of the largest single expenses on the balance sheet.
Just as farmers are watching the headlines now on the trade war front, wondering how the political landscape will impact their bottom line at a time when low commodity prices already have them on edge, so too are publishers across the state and nation wondering how they can possibly absorb another financial blow at this time.
What is especially troubling about this issue is that these heavy tariffs were brought on as a result of complaints from a single newsprint mill in Washington state owned by a New York-based hedge fund. The North Pacific Paper Company (NORPAC) sought protection from what it deems as unfair competition with Canadian mills, though the rest of the industry knows that these tariffs will cause damage to newspapers and ultimately reduce the demand for newsprint.
The fact is that the demand for newsprint in North America has declined dramatically since 2000, due to a societal shift toward digital media which has nothing whatsoever to do with what NORPAC perceives as unfair trade. The bottom line is that some newspapers may not survive this blow if it stands, all so that one small mill can use trade laws to a temporary advantage.
This is a gut-wrenching development, which national newspaper leaders say only demonstrates how a mechanical application of trade policy can be turned on its ear to damage the U.S. economy. The result could cost jobs, and in cases where newspapers don’t survive, those communities will suffer long-term consequences.
The International Trade Commission (ITC) can still stop this newsprint trade case, thus I and many of my colleagues will be calling on our elected representatives to testify or submit letters to the ITC expressing concerns that these tariffs will cost jobs and hurt their constituents. Nebraska’s delegation has been supportive of our industry’s position and pleas for policy change, but the Department of Commerce ruling ignored what we believe to be sound rationale.
Newspaper readers, customers and the communities they serve should not pay the price for such short-sighted, harmful trade policy.
Kurt Johnson

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