Selectmen join fight to end unfair foreign paper trade practices

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RUMFORD — Following a presentation Thursday night, selectmen voted 4-0 to join Maine’s fight to end unfair foreign paper trade dumping and subsidy practices by Chinese and Indonesian paper companies.

Dumping happens when a foreign producer sells into U.S. markets for less than the price that producer charges in its home market, or when its U.S. prices are below cost to produce the product, according to an update by Rumford paper mill NewPage Inc. on trade cases filed on Sept. 23, 2009, by NewPage, Sappi Fine Paper North America, Appleton Coated LLC and the United Steel Workers.

Coated paper is used in high-quality writing, printing and other graphic applications, and includes paper used in printing catalogs and magazines.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Brad Adley took Selectman Mark Belanger’s motion to approve a resolution of support one step further: Adley motioned that selectmen also write a letter to International Trade Commission Secretary Marilyn R. Abbott, detailing the effect on Rumford of unfair subsidies to coated free sheet paper industries in China and Indonesia.

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That motion was also unanimously OK’d without discussion.

Action on the resolution came following a presentation by Verso Paper employee Daniel Lawson, who is on leave to work for the Alliance for American Manufacturing, an organization that advocates equitable trade policies.

“We’re in a fight,” said Lawson, who is also the rapid response coordinator for USW Local 261 in Bucksport. “In fact, it’s actually a battle to save the paper industry and our way of life.”

“The imports of these companies are putting our jobs in this area at risk,” Lawson said.

“Right now, they have 30 percent of the market,” he said. “Their goal is to take 40 percent of it. At a time when demand for the paper we produce is down, they’re increasing their market share.”

“So, basically, they’ve targeted three mills in the United States to try to take the business away from them,” Lawson said. Two of those mills are in Maine — the Sappi mill in Skowhegan and Rumford’s mill.

“Now, granted we don’t even make this paper — that is being imported into the country — here in Rumford,” he said. “But, from a business standpoint, NewPage makes this paper in Luke, Md. They are a cheaper overall producer of paper than we are here in Rumford.”

“So, if they lose their employees in Luke, Md., they are going to transfer employees from Rumford down to Luke, Md., which actually has the impact here in Rumford,” he said.

“We have 800 employees here. We can’t afford to lose any more employees here in the State of Maine. We’ve lost 27,000 manufacturing jobs in the state. But what that doesn’t take into account is the ripple effect of how many other jobs are affected when a business goes down.”

“You’re looking at that overall picture of 800 to 900 jobs,” Lawson said. “If that went away, you’re looking anywhere from four to six times that many people impacted by the ripple effect, and that’s not even including what would happen to taxpayers if the largest employer in the county were to disappear.”

Lawson asked the board to approve a resolution to support positions on the issue by Maine’s congressional delegation of Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, and Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, to ensure that ITC Secretary Abbott understands the effects.

When asked by Adley if an additional letter from selectmen would help, Lawson welcomed the notion, saying he was also looking for grassroots support from Maine communities, and letters from people and businesses affected by these unfair trade practices.

“We have to educate everyone we can about what this means to the state,” Lawson said. “We’re going to go to Washington and fight this all the way that we have to. We’re not going to give up.”

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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