There is still time for members of Congress to urge the International Trade Commission to reverse the Commerce Department’s preliminary tariffs on newsprint imported from Canada.
The comment period closes Aug. 20, and the ITC will vote on the case Aug. 28.
The Commerce Department imposed the tariffs in March on Canadian uncoated groundwood paper, which includes newsprint. The department’s action came after the North Pacific Paper Company, a mill in Washington state, complained that Canadian manufacturers had an unfair advantage and were harming NORPAC’s business by selling newsprint at non-competitive prices.
Nineteen members of Congress from both parties testified before the ITC on July 17, telling commissioners the preliminary tariffs have already substantially increased the cost of newsprint, leading newspapers to shrink the size of their pages and plan for job cuts in response. The tariffs would hasten the decline of local news, they said, harming journalists and communities served by small local publications rather than major newspapers.
U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, was one of the 19 lawmakers who testified against the levies, which predate President Donald Trump’s trade war with China and his imposition of tariffs on aluminum and steel.
“From the standpoint of microeconomics, I don’t like tariffs,” Flores said in a phone interview with the Waco Tribune-Herald. “However, I do understand the president’s decision to use them to level the playing field between the United States and China. Newsprint is a totally different animal. Tariffs were imposed for the benefit of one small employer. It has nothing to do with addressing the problem of product being dumped on our market to the detriment of American companies and their viability.”
Flores said the potential loss of newspapers could be crippling to small communities. “If Freestone County were to lose its community newspaper, one cannot expect quality local coverage from a Dallas TV station, which is over 85 miles away,” he said.
At the hearing, members of Congress said the media’s shift to digital platforms is chiefly responsible for declining business for paper mills, not the cost of Canadian groundwood paper. The tariffs may create some jobs at North Pacific Paper Company, but would kill jobs across the country, lawmakers said.
“At the ITC hearing it was clear from the testimonies that the buying and selling of newsprint is a regional market that falls along East and West boundaries, not North and South,” said David Chavern, president of the News Media Alliance. “The tariffs will do more harm than good. Tariffs will ultimately hurt U.S. producers — including NORPAC — as their customers cut demand as a result of higher costs.”
NORPAC pushed for the tariffs in a prehearing filing to the ITC.
“Without relief, subject imports will continue to undercut and depress U.S. prices, disproportionately take volume and market share, and cause injury to the domestic industry,” the company said. Company representatives testified that the mill has rehired 60 full-time and part-time employees following the imposition of the tariffs.
NORPAC is owned by the New York hedge fund One Rock Capital Partners. Of the five paper mills in the United States that produce newsprint, NORPAC is the only company claiming that Canadian companies’ pricing is detrimental to its business.
The publishing industries employ about 600,000 people in the United States, according to Stop Tariffs on Printers & Publishers (STOPP), a group of printing and publishing industry companies and organizations. According to STOPP, 11,000 people from all 50 states have signed a petition against the tariffs, and more than 80 members of Congress have raised concerns.
On Aug. 2, the Commerce Department is scheduled to vote on whether to make the tariffs permanent.
Four ITC commissioners will vote on the case Aug. 28. Three votes are needed to reverse the tariffs.
Members of Congress appearing at the hearing were:
Sen. Susan Collins, Maine
Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia
Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi
Sen. Angus King, Maine
Rep. Jim Cooper, 5th District, Tennessee
Rep. Danny Davis, 7th District, Illinois
Rep. Brian Higgins, 26th District, New York
Rep. Bill Flores, 17th District, Texas
Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, 3rd District, Tennessee
Rep. David McKinley, 1st District, West Virginia
Rep. John Moolenaar, 4th District, Michigan
Rep. Bruce Poliquin, 2nd District, Maine
Rep. David Trott, 11th District, Michigan
Rep. Robert Aderholt, 4th District, Alabama
Rep. Phil Roe, 1st District, Tennessee
Sen. Doug Jones, Alabama
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, 5th District, Washington
Sen. Robert Casey, Pennsylvania;
Rep. Ralph Norman, 5th District, South Carolina
Commission staff said the appearance of such a large cohort of Congressional witnesses was uncommon in ITC cases, according to the National Newspaper Association.