Per­ma­nent newsprint tar­iffs would hurt a frag­ile news­pa­per in­dus­try

If these newsprint tar­iffs are made per­ma­nent in the com­ing months, it could lead some small lo­cal pub­lish­ers to cut their print prod­uct en­tirely — or even shut their doors.

The Day - - OPINION - By DAVID CHAV­ERN David Chav­ern serves as pres­i­dent and CEO of the News Me­dia Alliance.

Ev­ery day at the News Me­dia Alliance head­quar­ters, a stack of news­pa­pers ar­rives for the staff and my­self. But with the Depart­ment of Com­merce and the In­ter­na­tional Trade Com­mis­sion cur­rently con­sid­er­ing tar­iffs on Cana­dian newsprint, those days of screen-free read­ing could be end­ing.

Newsprint af­ford­abil­ity is be­ing threat­ened by one newsprint mill in the Pa­cific North­west, NORPAC. In Au­gust 2017, NORPAC pe­ti­tioned the U.S. Depart­ment of Com­merce to be­gin ap­ply­ing tar­iffs to newsprint im­ported from Canada, claim­ing the im­ported pa­per was harm­ing the U.S. newsprint in­dus­try. But NORPAC is not act­ing in the best in­ter­ests of newsprint con­sumers or the U.S. pa­per in­dus­try at large — they are act­ing in their own in­ter­est.

The buy­ing and sell­ing of newsprint has al­ways been re­gional with­out re­gard for the bor­der. Con­sumers of newsprint — from news­pa­per and book pub­lish­ers to tele­phone direc­tory man­u­fac­tur­ers — tend to buy newsprint in their re­gion, close to their print­ing op­er­a­tions. The print­ers who typ­i­cally uti­lize Cana­dian newsprint are those in the north­east and Mid­west, where no U.S. mills op­er­ate.

But those re­gions are not newsprint deserts be­cause of un­fair trade by Cana­dian pa­per mills. Rather, newsprint mills shut down or con­verted to pro­duc­ing other, more profitable pa­per prod­ucts when the de­mand for newsprint fell, some­thing that has been hap­pen­ing steadily for decades. Since 2000, the de­mand for newsprint in North Amer­ica has dropped by 75 per­cent.

But af­ford­able Cana­dian pa­per has helped keep the printed news alive and flour­ish­ing well into the 21st cen­tury. With new tar­iffs, many smaller news­pa­pers will feel their belts tight­en­ing. The com­bi­na­tion of pre­lim­i­nary coun­ter­vail­ing and an­tidump­ing du­ties in­creases the cost of im­ported newsprint by as much as 32 per­cent, and a num­ber of news­pa­pers have al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced price in­creases and a dis­rup­tion in sup­ply.

If the In­ter­na­tional Trade Com­mis­sion and the Depart­ment of Com­merce make these tar­iffs per­ma­nent in the com­ing months, it could lead some small lo­cal pub­lish­ers to cut their print prod­uct en­tirely — or even shut their doors.

Some, like NORPAC, ar­gue that by im­pos­ing du­ties on Cana­dian im­ports we’re sav­ing Amer­i­can jobs and boost­ing our own econ­omy, but while that may some­times be true for other in­dus­tries, the op­po­site is true of newsprint.

What we’re see­ing with the newsprint tar­iffs is not a gov­ern­ment act­ing to try to bet­ter the econ­omy for its cit­i­zens. In­stead, it is “po­lit­i­cal ar­bi­trage” by one pri­vate in­vest­ment group — where they are ef­fec­tively look­ing to use the U.S. gov­ern­ment to tax lo­cal and com­mu­nity news­pa­pers across the United States in or­der to bol­ster their own bot­tom line.

When con­sid­er­ing whether to take NORPAC’s claims se­ri­ously, the Depart­ment of Com­merce ex­cluded in­put from U.S. newsprint mills owned by Cana­dian com­pa­nies — specif­i­cally Res­o­lute For­est Prod­ucts and White Birch. Ex­clud­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers who, dur­ing the pe­riod of in­ves­ti­ga­tion, had three func­tion­ing newsprint mills in the U.S. be­cause they have sis­ter mills in Canada shows an un­will­ing­ness to un­der­stand the bor­der­less newsprint in­dus­try and the re­struc­tur­ing that has taken place in re­cent decades.

If the tar­iffs on Cana­dian newsprint are al­lowed to stand, we’re not only risk­ing a cen­turies-old re­la­tion­ship with our neigh­bors to the north, but we’re putting our own U.S. news in­dus­try in jeop­ardy. While the big na­tional and re­gional news­pa­pers may have less trouble find­ing the funds to keep their print edi­tions com­ing, we could see small pub­lish­ers lose foot­ing, and those lo­cal news­pa­pers are some of the most vi­tal mem­bers of our news com­mu­nity. Under the right con­di­tions, those news­pa­pers can find a way to main­tain their foot­ing, but if the newsprint in­dus­try can’t sup­port them, those com­mu­ni­ties will be­come news deserts.

We may not be able to save the en­tire in­dus­try by keep­ing tar­iffs off our pa­per, but we can keep it thriv­ing while we re-po­si­tion our­selves for the years to come. Hav­ing af­ford­able newsprint will help us do that.

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