Members of Maine’s newspaper industry and the state’s congressional delegation are applauding a decision that could lower the cost of newsprint.
In a unanimous ruling Wednesday, the U.S. International Trade Commission nullified the tariffs placed on imported newsprint by the Trump administration, finding that American producers weren’t harmed by imports from Canadian paper mills.
The decision is a victory for the U.S. newspaper industry, which complained that the rising cost of newsprint made it harder to operate. Next to wages and benefits, newsprint is the leading expense for publishers.
Reade Brower, owner of the Sun Journal in Lewiston and five other Maine dailies, said the ruling would provide some relief for the industry by eliminating unneeded tariffs that were driving consumption down and hurting both American and Canadian newsprint mills.
“Thanks to a concerted effort by Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King for helping our state, and the newspaper industry,” Brower said.
He noted that the tariff request came from one paper mill, “owned by an investment company interested in short-term gains and not the long-term health of the newsprint industry in America.”
Maine newspapers rely heavily on Canadian newsprint suppliers because there are no paper mills in the Northeast that make the product. The last one, Great Northern Paper Co. in Millinocket, closed in 2008.
Members of Maine’s congressional delegation, which strongly opposed the tariffs, celebrated the ruling. They were among dozens of lawmakers from both parties that had urged the ITC to reject a complaint that alleged dumping and subsidies had harmed U.S. paper mills.
“I am delighted that the ITC listened to the concerns of members of Congress and affected industries (and found) that the import taxes it had levied on newsprint manufacturers were severely harming publishers and printers, which employ hundreds of thousands of Americans,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “The tariffs also threatened to negatively impact the U.S. paper industry by permanently shrinking its customer base.”
And from Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent: “Today’s ruling is a victory for not only newspaper publishers, but also for Maine citizens and communities across our state and country,” he said in a prepared statement. “Newspapers provide vital information to their readers and are critical participants in our democracy — particularly for those who live in rural areas where the internet either doesn’t reach or is inaccessible to residents, and for our older citizens, but also for those who just prefer to read the paper, on paper.”
Lisa DeSisto, CEO of MaineToday Media and Sun Media Group, said the newspapers have seen a 22 percent increase in newsprint costs since March because of the tariff.
“While thrilled to see the tariff overturned, we are uncertain when the prices will be reduced by our suppliers,” DeSisto said. She thanked Collins, King and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, all of whom testified in opposition to the tariffs.
The U.S. Commerce Department had imposed the tariffs in response to a complaint from a hedge fund-owned paper producer in Washington state, which argued that its Canadian competitors took advantage of government subsidies to sell their product at unfairly low prices. The move was part of get-tough efforts by the Trump administration to combat what it sees as unfair practices among trading partners.
Under U.S. law, the process for making the tariffs permanent requires the ITC to find that the U.S. paper industry was harmed or threatened by the imports from Canada. The commission unanimously determined that no injury is occurring.
Quick lowering of price unlikely
The North Pacific Paper Co. had petitioned the Commerce Department for tariffs to offset duties and subsidies provided to Canadian paper mills. The company had told the ITC that prices had dropped so low for its paper that it could not justify keeping all three of its machines running. But since the imposition of the tariffs in January 2018, prices have recovered to the extent that it was able to hire back 60 employees and restore pay and benefit cuts made in 2017.
Many newspapers in Maine buy paper through a co-op called the Publishers Associated to Gain Economy Cooperative, which has two suppliers: Resolute and White Birch. Most of Resolute’s newsprint mills are in Canada. White Birch has newsprint mills in Quebec and Virginia.
A representative of the cooperative said he didn’t expect newsprint providers to immediately lower their prices.
Members of a coalition of printers and publishers hailed the ITC ruling, calling it “a great day for American journalism.”
“The ITC’s decision will help to preserve the vitality of local newspapers and prevent additional job losses in the printing and publishing sectors,” said David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.