Editorial: Newspapers feel the pain of tariffs

  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross AP

Published: 7/12/2018 12:05:01 AM

American newspapers are struggling, and that’s no secret. What may be news to some is that a hedge fund and the U.S. Commerce Department have needlessly exacerbated the problem.

Last summer, a 300-employee paper company in Washington state that is owned by One Rock Capital Partners of New York complained that Canadian newsprint producers held an unfair market advantage in the United States. In response to that complaint, the Commerce Department led by Trump-appointee Wilbur Ross imposed an initial duty of about 6.5 percent in January. Two months later, the department increased the export costs for Canadian mills once again, this time by more than 22 percent.

The effect on American newspapers, especially small ones, has been devastating.

Newsprint is one of the largest expenses for newspapers – here at the Monitor it ranks just behind personnel – which means that the cost increase driven by the Trump administration tariffs has led to shrinking papers and layoffs throughout the industry. Who benefits from the “anti-dumping” penalty placed on Canadian mills? One small newsprint producer in Washington state and its hedge fund parent company. Who loses? Everybody else.

That fact has not gone unnoticed in Congress, and an effort is underway to suspend the tariffs and study “the well-being of the newsprint and publishing industry.” Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, is the primary sponsor of the bipartisan Protecting Rational Incentives in Newsprint Trade Act of 2018, also known as the PRINT Act. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, along with nine other Democrats and 15 Republicans, are co-sponsors. Companion legislation has been filed in the U.S. House of Representatives, and we urge Reps. Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter to join 23 Republicans and three Democrats in lending their support.

In the meantime, the International Trade Commission will hold a hearing Tuesday on whether to keep the tariffs in place. The commissioners’ decision should be an easy one: The complaint of one small newsprint producer and its hedge fund ownership group should not carry more weight than the economic health of an entire industry.

Anyone who values the historic role of newspapers as an essential component of American democracy should agree.

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