ITC eliminates US tariffs on Canadian paper mills

The International Trade Commission on Wednesday nixed US tariffs that had been slapped on the Canadian paper mills earlier this year — a win for domestic newspapers that have lately been forced to shoulder higher prices for newsprint.

The tariffs had been imposed by President Trump’s Commerce Department in the spring after a federal investigation found that US paper mills were being harmed by competition from Canadian mills.

On Wednesday, the ITC contradicted those findings, freeing newspapers from price spikes for newsprint in recent months that had gone as high as 30 percent.

Some newspapers had dropped print editions several days a week as a result of the higher prices, while others laid off staff to deal with the cost pressure.

The News Media Alliance, an umbrella group of newspaper publishers and printers which had opposed the tariffs, praised the ITC vote against the tariffs, which was handed down Wednesday without comment.

“Today is a great day for American journalism,” said David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance. “The ITC’s decision will help to preserve the vitality of local newspapers and prevent additional job losses in the printing and publishing sectors.”

A paper mill in Lewiston, Wash., North Pacific Paper Company (NORPAC), had filed a complaint with the Commerce Department a year ago claiming that its business was being harmed because the producers of uncoated groundwood paper in Canada were being subsidized by the Canadian government.

The Commerce Department agreed and imposed preliminary tariffs of up 22 percent in March.

In August, after objections by newspaper and printing groups, the Commerce Department reduced the preliminary tariffs to somewhere between 1 percent and 10 percent, except for a single mill, Catalyst, that was hit with 16 percent tariff.

The tariffs would have become permanent if the ITC ruled there was material harm to other US mills because of any breaks the Canadian mills were receiving from their government.

Instead, in a unanimous decision, the ITC rejected NORPAC’s claim that it was facing injury from alleged unfair trade practices.

Mills have been hit as the newspaper industry endures a prolonged slump. News Media Alliance said that the shift of advertising dollars from print to digital had caused demand for newsprint to drop, and said the drop in demand for US goods was unrelated to price of goods from Canada.

The lobbying group warned that newspapers were finding ways to cut paper consumption with tactics that included layoffs reduction of the size of the publications, and in the case of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a move to skip printing a paper edition two days a week.

“The end of these unwarranted tariffs means local newspapers can focus once again on playing a vital role in our democracy by keeping citizens informed and connected to the daily life of their communities,” said Chavern.

Newsprint had hit $756 a metric ton in July, according to RISI, which tracks prices, up 30 percent from a year ago. Newsprint is the second-highest cost to newspapers after personnel.

NORPAC, which said it had begun operating an idle press when the tariffs were imposed earlier this year, boosting its workforce to 400 people, said it was deeply disappointed with the ITC’s final determination.

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