Politics

Lawmakers Across the Aisle Fight Canadian Newsprint Tariffs

Import tax on paper is hurting local news, members tell International Trade Commission

Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., speaks with Roll Call in the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Nineteen members of Congress spoke Tuesday against the Commerce Department’s tariffs on Canadian newsprint, telling the U.S. International Trade Commission the import tax hurt local newspapers.

The bipartisan group of legislators asked the ITC to reverse tariffs the Commerce Department imposed on Canadian newsprint imports. Opponents of the tariffs say they would deal a major blow to local newspapers, which already struggle to stay afloat, by increasing the cost of newsprint.

The tariffs already substantially increase the cost of newsprint, leading newspapers to shrink the size of their pages and plan for job cuts in response, the lawmakers said. The tariffs would hasten the decline of local news, they said, harming journalists and communities served by small local publications rather than major newspapers.

“In these communities, there are no big newspapers to bring people their local news,” said Rep. John Moolenaar, a Republican from Michigan. “These tariffs, if continued, would do lasting damage to these local institutions.”

The Commerce Department imposed tariffs in March on Canadian newsprint or uncoated groundwood paper. The department’s action came after the North Pacific Paper Company, a mill in Washington state, complained that Canadian manufacturers were harming their business by selling newsprint at non-competitive prices. The ITC held today’s hearing while it reviews the tariffs.

Tariffs have been a point of friction between the Trump administration and Congress, including some Republicans, who traditionally favor free trade with minimal government interference.

At Tuesday’s hearing, legislators said the news media’s shift to digital platforms is chiefly responsible for declining business for paper mills, not the cost of Canadian groundwood paper. The tariffs may create some jobs at North Pacific Paper Company, but would cause lost jobs across the country, lawmakers said.

Speakers against the tariffs included House Republican Conference chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Alaska and Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. The group comprised 13 Republicans, five Democrats and independent Maine Sen. Angus King.

Collins was the first to raise the issue in Congress. Several of the testifying lawmakers noted it is unusual to find agreement across the aisle on economic matters.

A representative for the North Pacific Paper Company, the petitioner for the tariffs, said the tariffs have allowed paper mills to ramp up production and re-hire American workers.

But King said the tariff on newsprint is a cure “worse than the disease,” and asked the commissioners to think of the issue as the local newspapers “that will be one inch smaller next year.”

Lawmakers noted the issue of tariff-driven cost increases are particularly sensitive in the newspaper business, given the impact on independent journalism.

“The freedom of the press is one of the central tenets of the First Amendment,” Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., said.

The publishing industries employ about 600,000 people in the United States, according to Stop Tariffs on Printers & Publishers, a group of companies in the printing and publishing industry leading the charge against the newsprint tariffs.

The group says 11,000 people from all 50 states have signed a petition against the tariffs, and more than 80 members of Congress, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, have raised concerns.

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