WILKES-BARRE — Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey has co-sponsored bipartisan legislation that would suspend tariffs affecting the newspaper and publishing industries until the economic health of the industries is examined.
But the senior senator representing Pennsylvania, Democrat Bob Casey of Scranton, has expressed reservations about the legislation, known as the Protecting Rational Incentives in Newsprint Trade Act of 2018, 0r PRINT Act.
Under a preliminary decision by the U.S. Commerce Department, tariffs known as countervailing duties were imposed on imports of Canadian uncoated groundwood paper — newsprint — earlier this year.
Toomey says the bill would help maintain a level playing field for newspapers, while a statement released by Casey’s office suggested the legislation could set a dangerous precedent for American trade.
Industry representatives, meanwhile, maintain that the tariffs have already caused significant financial harm to many American newspapers, and could be ruinous to print media — especially to local papers — if made permanent.
“At a time when newspapers face challenges of unprecedented nature, it is hard to believe that any politician would not be in favor of the PRINT Act,” said Times Leader Publisher Mike Murray. “The continuation of tariffs on newsprint only serves to create greater problems for all newspapers, large and small.”
According to information provided by Toomey’s office, in August 2017, the Commerce Department and International Trade Commission (ITC) began an anti-dumping investigation of uncoated groundwood (UGW) paper from Canada in response to the concerns of one domestic paper manufacturer in the Pacific Northwest.
Commerce’s determination was to impose an initial tariff requiring American newspapers and publishers that purchase Canadian UGW paper to pay duties of up to 32 percent.
The PRINT Act would put that on hold pending the study. Following the study’s completion, the president would be required to review the study and certify that such a tax on imported paper is in the best interest of the country.
“American companies must be allowed to adequately and fairly source materials, especially when those items are not produced domestically,” Toomey said in an emailed news release.
“The newspaper and publishing industries are facing unprecedented challenges and the tax on UGW paper could spell the end of numerous publishers across Pennsylvania,” Toomey added. “As the Commerce Department and ITC continue their investigation, we want to ensure that this tax is actually warranted and necessary before imposing such a detrimental financial burden on downstream industries.”
Jacklin Rhoads, deputy communications director for Casey, said the United Steelworkers, the American Iron and Steel Institute, and others oppose the PRINT Act because it would set a dangerous precedent in establishing a new “national interest” standard to the application of our trade laws.
“Sen. Casey spoke directly with Commerce Secretary Ross two weeks ago where he shared the concerns he has heard from our Pennsylvania newspapers,” Rhoads said. “He urged Secretary Ross to use his current authorities to reach a swift resolution.”
Rhoads said specifically, under Title 7 of the Tariff Act of 1930, the Commerce secretary has authority to negotiate a settlement agreement between the two parties.
“This is a tool that is currently available, one that has been used in the past for these very circumstances and seems to be a practical resolution to the issue, without undermining our trade enforcement laws,” Rhoads said.
Rhoads said Casey’s office has encouraged the Commerce secretary to use his existing authority to negotiate a settlement.
“This is particularly relevant as only one of the major Canadian paper producers are subject to significant tariffs, yet prices have increased significantly across the board,” Rhoads said.
Mark Cohen, president of the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said he and his board recently held a conference call with Casey about the PRINT Act and about how the tariffs could affect the state’s newspapers.
“It’s just disappointing that he’s taken this stand,” Cohen said when asked about the statement from Casey’s office.
Murray described the risks in blunt terms.
“We will see fewer newspapers, smaller-sized newspapers, fewer days of distribution and continued layoffs in an already distressed industry,” Murray predicted of continued tariffs.
“Consumer and advertising prices will ultimately rise and yes, many will close their doors,” Murray added.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.