Newsprint tariff a lose-lose, for newspapers and jobs | Editorial

Easton, Pennsylvania


(June 10, 2018)
By: Express-Times opinion staff

First, do no harm.

The ethical underpinning of the medical profession can be applied to trade protectionists, too.

When governments set up border skirmishes in the form of tariffs, they lay the groundwork for deeper trade wars, subjecting their own businesses and employees to retaliation. And unintended consequences.

That’s not to say punitive trade measures don’t have their place. They do, in extreme situations.

But in a growing economy and a period of low unemployment? President Donald Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, Mexico and Europe are befuddling many of his supporters, as well our allies abroad.

Another tariff — a 32 percent surcharge on Canadian newsprintshipped to the U.S. — is having a chilling effect on newspapers and other publishers in the U.S.

Earlier this year Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross approved a petitionfor tariffs filed by North Pacific Paper Co., a firm in Washington state that claimed Canadian companies were “dumping” newsprint subsidized by their government.

The tariff-induced rise in newsprint prices is rippling through newspapers, book publishers and other printers. In an industry coping with severe economic pressures, many newspapers — particularly small and medium-sized ones — will be looking at cutting staff, reducing the news hole, going to fewer publication days, giving up print entirely, even shutting down.

Newsprint is the second largest cost for newspapers, after salaries and benefits. Its purchase and transport is largely a regional concern. Most newspapers in the northeast U.S. rely on Canadian product because the remaining mills in the U.S. — there are only five left — are located in the Southeast and Northwest.

No other domestic newsprint producer supports the tariff. This is strictly a move by one company, yet the Trump administration’s solution threatens to sap an entire industry — one that has right-to-know implications for the American public.

“It is telling,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, “that nearly all of the U.S. paper industry opposes these import taxes, including the large trade association representing the entire industry, the American Forest and Paper Association. The paper industry opposes the import taxes because they threaten to decimate the paper industry’s customers and drive printers and publishers out of business forever.”

American newspapers employ 150,000 people, down from 276,000 two decades ago. NORPAC, the Washington company seeking federal trade protection, employs 300.

President Trump, who has the power to reverse the tariff, has shown little inclination to do so. The International International Trade Commission has scheduled a hearing July 17 to decide whether to make tariff permanent. Publishers are hoping to make their case there.

Several U.S. senators, including Pat Toomey, R-Pa., are backing a bill called the PRINT Act, co-authored by Collins, that would suspend the newsprint tariff while conducting a study on its economic impact. After that it would go to the president for review and the final say.

“The tax on (newsprint) could spell the end of numerous publishers across Pennsylvania,” Toomey said.

The newspaper business has no shortage of existential threats — advertising dollars moving from print to online, young people’s lack of attachment to a printed newspaper, even news itself. Local news generators are especially vulnerable.

It’s one thing to cope with an evolution in technology, the economy, the culture. It’s quite another to survive against protectionists in Washington who seem to think sacrificing tens of thousands jobs for a few hundred is a smart way to play the fair-trade game.

That’s the bet the White House is making, hoping Canada will blink first and crumble under threat of a trade war. Judging by the blow-back from Ottawa, it’s not working.
Where’s the harm?

It’s about to show up in towns across the U.S.

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