Eight Southwest Washington lawmakers are urging U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, to represent Norpac at a trade hearing next month on controversial tariffs levied against Canadian papermakers.
The hearing is related to a trade petition filed by Norpac with the U.S. Department of Commerce last August, which has roiled the market for uncoated groundwood paper — the same product used to produce newspapers, books and printed mailers.
A sudden spike in the cost of newsprint has thrust the Longview paper mill into the national spotlight and into a conflict with the newspaper industry, which consumes millions of tons of newsprint, its second-biggest cost after payroll.
Local state lawmakers sent a letter to Herrera Beutler on Monday asking her to advocate for Norpac in a July 17 trade hearing, noting that Norpac has hired 50 new employees and restarted a paper machine that was idled last fall. The company said preliminary tariffs made the hires possible. And Norpac spokesman David Richey told The Daily News on Wednesday that the company is currently looking to fill an additional 40 positions.
“We believe that it is critical that you, as our representative, are present to participate in the hearing on the uncoated groundwood paper from Canada trade case to help protect local jobs, families and communities,” the lawmakers wrote.
The letter was signed by Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview; Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen; Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen; Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia; Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama; Sen. Anne Rivers, R-La Center; Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver; and Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver.
Spokeswoman Angeline Riesterer told The Daily News Wednesday that she is unsure whether Herrera Beutler will attend the hearing.
The 400-employee mill, which makes half of all U.S. newsprint, claims trade remedies are needed to address unfair government subsidies for Canadian producers. But publishers have accused Norpac’s hedge fund ownership group, OneRock Capital, of exploiting trade laws to boost profits while threatening thousands of newspaper and publishing jobs.
Commerce investigators earlier this year found that Canadian newsprint was subsidized an average of 6 percent through dozens of subsidies, and the agency concluded that some producers were selling newsprint for up to 20 percent below fair market value. Canadian papermakers now face combined border taxes ranging from 1 percent to 32 percent.
A final Commerce decision on whether to impose permanent tariffs is expected on Aug. 2. The International Trade Commission is conducting its own investigation, with a public hearing scheduled for July 17. A final determination is expected in mid-September. Both agencies must agree for the tariffs to become final.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan coalition of federal lawmakers is pushing legislation that would suspend the preliminary tariffs.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., introduced a bill last month called the “PRINT Act.” The legislation would require border officials to stop collecting cash deposits on Canadian newsprint until Commerce completes an economic study on the newspaper industry.
The bill would also require Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to deliver the report to President Donald Trump within 90 days, and it would pre-empt a final decision on the tariffs unless Trump decides they are in the nation’s economic interest.
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The bill has gained 19 co-sponsors since it was introduced in mid-May, including 12 Republicans, six Democrats and one Independent.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement Wednesday that she is still assessing the legislation.
“This is an important issue for the newspaper industry in Washington state and around the country, and I will continue to reach out to those directly affected as we work toward the best solutions for families, small business owners, and consumers,” she told The Daily News.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, another Washington Democrat, also is evaluating the bill, according to her office.
“Sen. Cantwell believes trade enforcement is an important tool to maintain fair and equitable commerce between nations, but has concerns about the Trump administration’s current approach to trade and tariffs,” spokesman Bryan Watt said in a statement Wednesday.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., and Charlie Crist, D-Fla., introduced an identical bill in the House of Representatives last Thursday.
“When the use of trade remedies threatens the jobs of hundreds of thousands of American workers, it bears asking if the cure is worse than the disease,” Noem said in a statement.
That legislation has attracted 11 co-sponsors, including 10 Republicans and one Democrat.
Herrera Beutler is also continuing to study the bill, her spokeswoman said Wednesday.
A coalition of trade groups has warned that passing legislation to undermine the findings of a Commerce investigation would set a dangerous precedent for future trade petitions.
But the News Media Alliance, a group that represents more than 2,000 U.S. and Canadian media organizations, argues that the tariffs pose a dire threat to the publishing industry, which employs more than 600,000 workers.
(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.)
“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 last week. “We simply cannot absorb extra costs from import taxes.”