Our view: Newsprint tariff is hurting us all

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Friends, readers, fellow Americans, we are asking for your help.

As anyone who follows the news knows, traditional print media in this country have been fighting an uphill battle for at least two decades or more — largely, though not exclusively, due to changing reading habits fueled by the rise of digital media.

Despite that and other economic challenges, many newspapers have remained viable and relevant because the service we provide is essential to holding elected leaders accountable and keeping citizens informed about vital issues facing their communities.

Other media certainly help contribute toward those goals, but we believe newspaper journalism continues to offer a level of careful, deliberative coverage that is rarely matched, especially at the local level.

Add to the structural and economic challenges facing our industry’s business model a new, possibly mortal threat: Tariffs being imposed on imports of Canadian uncoated groundwood paper — newsprint — that is the primary raw material used by newspapers as well as other printers and publishers in this country.

The countervailing duties, which could be as high as 32 percent, were put in place earlier this year under a preliminary decision by the U.S. Commerce Department.

Both Commerce and the International Trade Commission are studying the matter, and how it will affect the health of the industry. Their reports are expected in the summer or possibly early fall, but papers are already feeling the pinch.

If you’ve noticed that your daily paper has had fewer pages in recent weeks, that’s why. And it won’t get any better if government regulators decide to make the tariffs permanent.

Pennsylvania is home to 76 daily newspapers, and more than 150 non-daily newspapers — many of which serve small, rural communities, as the Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association (PNA) points out, and it remains a point of pride for many here that Wilkes-Barre is still home to two daily papers.

But, as PNA adds, Pennsylvania’s newspapers simply cannot absorb the added financial the proposed tariff is certain to create.

There is, however, a bipartisan group of lawmakers seeking relief in the meanwhile.

The “Protecting Rational Incentives in Newsprint Trade Act of 2018,” or PRINT Act, was introduced earlier this week under the sponsorship of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) to require Commerce to suspend the newsprint tariffs while it carries out its study.

Co-sponsors include Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

If you believe that local newspapers are important to American democracy, we encourage you to contact the Department of Commerce, Sen. Bob Casey, Sen. Pat Toomey, or your local U.S. representative and let them know that you oppose the proposed newsprint trade tariff.

If you need further encouraging, consider how this state of affairs came about.

The tariffs arose not from widespread concerns about American jobs killed by Canadian dumping, but thanks to complaints made by one newsprint mill in the Pacific Northwest, NORPAC.

There are no longer any mills producing newsprint in the Northeast and Midwest, thus papers on this side of the country have long imported Canadian paper because it’s closer to us and therefore more cost-effective — without unreasonable tariffs, that is.

It’s the American jobs in our industry and related trades relying on Canadian paper that are at risk, including hundreds in our region alone.

– Times Leader

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