Trump’s trade war has many casualties

Grand Junction, Colorado


(June 24, 2018)

Despite President Donald Trump’s assurance that trade wars “are good, and easy to win,” there’s a price for a protectionist trade policy.

The Sentinel’s Wyatt Hurt spoke with a dozen Western Slope business leaders to learn how they’re being affected by the escalating trade war between the United States and the rest of the world.

So far, it’s a mixed bag, with the agriculture, construction and solar industries most impacted by tariff-imposed rising costs or changing market conditions. But, as Diane Schwenke, CEO of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, bluntly asserted, “An escalating trade war does not benefit the valley.”

We at the Sentinel know this better than most. Earlier this year Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross approved a petition for tariffs filed by North Pacific Paper Co., a firm in Washington state that claimed Canadian companies were “dumping” newsprint subsidized by their government.

The resulting 32 percent surcharge on Canadian newsprint shipped to the U.S. is having a chilling effect on newspapers and other publishers in the U.S.

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.

We share this not to play the victim’s role, but to illustrate the unintended consequences of rash trade decisions. Trump campaigned on an “America first” agenda. American newspapers employ 150,000 people, down from 276,000 two decades ago. NORPAC, the Washington company seeking federal trade protection, employs 300.

As the Pueblo Chieftain pointed out in an April editorial, two of Canada’s largest newsprint suppliers employ many times more Americans than the much-smaller North Pacific does. “Someone needs to remind Trump that the effect is the exact opposite of his pledge to bring back American businesses and jobs.”

The Colorado Press Association has joined a coalition opposing the increase called Stop Tariffs on Printers and Publishers. Coalition organizers News Media Alliance and the National Newspaper Association called for “the International Trade Commission and the U.S. Congress to reject these newsprint tariffs and protect U.S. jobs.”

Several U.S. senators are backing a bill called the PRINT Act, co-authored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, 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.

It should probably come as no surprise that the president would be willing to sacrifice newspapers jobs given his incessant cries of “fake news.” But this is just a microcosm of his trade policy in general.

This administration’s trade policy appears more transactional and doesn’t seem particularly well thought-out. Tariffs that target allies alienate the very countries the U.S. needs to help combat China’s questionable trade practices and subject Colorado’s farmers, business and families to retaliation.

It may be time for Congress to rethink the tools it delegated to the president to address unfair trade practices.

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