Ten U.S. senators have backed a bill that would pause border taxes on Canadian newsprint imports enacted earlier this year at the request of the Norpac paper mill in Longview.
Proponents of the bill argue it will offer a lifeline to the publishing industry, which has been hit by sharp increases in the cost of newsprint, a product Norpac manufactures. But opponents — including the CEO of the 350-employee Longview paper mill — say the bill would set a dangerous precedent for future investigations into allegations of unfair trade practices.
The PRINT Act, introduced Monday by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine), would halt the collection of countervailing duties and antidumping duties on Canadian newsprint.
At the same time, the bill would also direct the U.S. Department of Commerce to study the economic health of the printing and publishing industries. Uncoated groundwood paper — otherwise known as newsprint — is used by newspapers, book publishers and commercial printers.
The bill was first announced in a press release by the News Media Alliance, an organization that represents nearly 2,000 different media organizations in the United States and Canada.
The duties were levied after preliminary Commerce investigations found Canadian newsprint producers were benefiting from 34 different subsidy programs and selling newsprint for up to 32 percent below market value. A final Commerce decision is expected on Aug. 2. The International Trade Commission is also pursuing its own separate investigation, which is expected to wrap up in September. Both agencies need to reach an affirmative decision for the tariffs to become permanent.
Norpac has maintained for years that trade remedies are needed to level the playing field between U.S. and Canadian newsprint manufacturers.
But the price of newsprint has jumped nearly 20 percent since Norpac filed its trade complaint last August, causing chaos in the domestic newspaper industry. Many publishers in the South and Northeast depend on Canadian producers, which now satisfy about two-thirds of U.S. demand.
“Publishers already face economic headwinds due to the migration of advertising from print to digital,” David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance, said in a statement Monday. “We simply cannot absorb extra costs from import taxes.”
(Full disclosure: The Daily News buys its newsprint from Norpac. The newspaper is owned by Lee Enterprises, whose vice president and chief operating officer, Kevin Mowbray, is on the board of directors of the News Media Alliance.)
To cope with higher prices, some publications have trimmed page counts and reduced the number of circulation days. The Tampa Bay Times in Florida announced a round of layoffs last month in direct response to the tariffs.
“The U.S. printing and publishing industry is facing an unprecedented threat from crippling new import tariffs imposed on Canadian” newsprint, Collins said in a statement. She also took aim at OneRock Capital, a New York-based hedge fund that purchased the former joint venture between Weyerhauser and Nippon in 2016.
“One domestic mill owned by a venture capital firm appears to be taking advantage of trade remedies to add to its own bottom line, putting thousands of American jobs at risk,” she said.
While Norpac is a single paper mill, the facility now produces roughly half of all domestic newsprint, Norpac spokesman David Richey said. At full capacity, the mill produced nearly 800,000 tons of paper and packaging per year. The paper machine it restarted early this month can produce a 30-foot-wide ream of paper capable of stretching from Longview to Los Angeles per day.
Norpac CEO Craig Anneberg said in a statement Wednesday that the bill would threaten other industries seeking trade law enforcement in the future.
“The PRINT Act creates a threat to the U.S. anti-dumping and countervailing duty laws that protect American manufacturers, workers and their families,”he said. “The ability of rural American manufacturers like NORPAC to defend against unfairly-traded foreign imports rests on the capacity of the Commerce Department and the International Trade Commission to be fair and independent arbiters for trade enforcement, which the PRINT Act seeks to undermine.”
Several domestic manufacturing groups have also spoken out against the proposed bill.
Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, said in a statement Thursday that the bill would create a new “national interest” test as part of an independent, fact-based trade enforcement action.
“While we have tremendous respect for and value the important contributions of the newspaper and publishing industries, no sector has the right to benefit from a market distorted by unfairly-traded dumped or subsidized products at the detriment of another,” he said.
Norpac told The Daily News last week that the company has filled most of 50 open positions related to restarting one of its three paper machines. The mill was able to hire back many of the individuals laid off when the machine was idled last fall. The restarted paper machine will run a limited basis as the newsprint market continues to adjust to the effects of the new tariffs, the company said.
U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats from Washington, were unavailable for comment on the proposed legislation Friday evening.