RUMFORD — More than 70 union workers and activists, business people and local and state officials and representatives presented a united front Friday morning for congressional action to put an end to dumping and subsidized paper imported from China and Indonesia.
At the end of the speakers’ sessions, state Senate President Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, presented activists with a nonpartisan resolution supported by all 151 state legislators and representatives. It urges steps to put a stop to what they consider unfair trade practices.
The event was organized by the Alliance for American Manufacturing and hosted by NewPage Corp.
At issue is a substantial increase in the importation of coated paper from China and Indonesia, countries which sell the product at prices less than can be produced in the United States because of the methods used to sell to this country.
Dan Lawson, field coordinator for alliance, said the efforts are aimed at saving a way of life as well as an industry.
“The U.S. industry is being injured as a result. We want the International Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce to impose duties (on imported coated paper) to offset subsidies,” he said.
Rumford Town Manager Carlo Puiia said the closure of the local NewPage mill could result in a significant drop in services, and rise in property taxes because the mill pays 40 percent of those right now.
“It would have a major impact on Rumford and all towns in the county. It could cause an economic collapse of the region,” he said.
Mexico Town Manager John Madigan said not only would a severe downturn from the paper mill adversely affect his town, but also the school districts.
“The mill pays 44 percent of school taxes,” he said. “We depend on Congress to do their job and put these tariffs on.”
According to several documents on the matter, dumping is the sale of a product from a foreign country at a price less than it costs to produce. China is also accused of manipulating its currency, which also lowers the price of coated paper sold in this country.
Lawson said the two countries sell coated paper from 3.9 percent to 17.4 percent less than the cost to make it.
“We need tariffs to offset this unfair advantage,” he said.
Ron Hemingway, a 34-year worker at the local mill, said employees have written 500 letters calling for tariffs. Another 250 letters have been gathered from other mills and individuals.
“We went to Augusta to a meeting of the Maine Citizens Trade Policy to explain the effect on mills, families and the community,” he said.
He also said that the mill’s eligibility for Trade Adjustment Assistance and Trade Readjustment Act showed that job losses are directly impacted by imports.
Sarah Bigney, spokeswoman for the Maine Fair Trade Campaign, said not only are local workers affected by unfair trade policies, but so are the people from the exporting countries who work in unsafe conditions for low wages and the environment which is harmed by a lack of regulations.
“This has to stop. And it’s not just paper,” she said. “Thousands of manufacturing jobs have been lost since 1994’s North American Free Trade Act. We want fair trade, not just free trade,” she said.
Rep. Michael Michaud, D -Maine, is sponsoring a bill that would reform trade laws, said his deputy chief of staff, John P. Graham Jr.
Representatives from Sens. Olympia Snowe’s and Susan Collins’ offices also read statements in support of fair labor practices.
Lawson and others have been to more than 20 towns requesting support for the resolution. Each one has approved it, unanimously. Plans are to visit as many towns as possible. In this area, he or another representative will visit the selectmen boards in Bethel, Farmington and Jay next week.
The resolution and efforts to get fairer trading regulations is sponsored by NewPage, Appleton Coated LLC, Sappi Fine Paper, and the United Steel Workers.
Cory King, director of the Skowhegan Chamber of Commerce, a town with a Sappi mill there, said passage of tariffs is also crucial to his town.
“The Somerset mill is the thread woven into the entire community. This is a threat of unraveling,” he said, adding that the loss of Sappi could mean school closures and major job losses in one of the poorest counties in the state.
Lawson said efforts to protect United States coated paper production could lead to similar efforts for other U.S. industries.
People who have been affected by free trade agreements have a chance May 6 to provide public testimony during a meeting of the Maine Citizen Trade Policy Commission set for 6 p.m. at Oxford Hills High School.
The bipartisan commission has been investigating the impact of free trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Act and the World Trade Organization on Maine workers and businesses.
The commission will then make recommendations to the governor and the Maine congressional delegation.
For more information, Sarah Bigney of the Maine Fair Trade Campaign may be contacted at 777-6387.