Editorial | Good news for newspapers

Editorial | Good news for newspapers

A bad decision to impose costly tariffs on imported newsprint has been reversed.

The American newspaper industry got some rare good news this week when the United States International Trade Commission overturned a decision to impose tariffs on Canadian newsprint that threatened to wreak havoc on newspapers across the country.

In reversing a previous decision, one that produced howls of protest from newspaper advocates, the commission concluded that American paper producers are not harmed by Canadian imports.

The five-member board voted unanimously to reverse the tariff decision that at one point threatened to impose a 30-plus percent cost increase on Canadian newsprint.

The unanimous decision by the five-member body eliminates tariffs imposed in January.

Newsprint is the second largest cost most newspapers face, and the dramatic increase in costs pulled the financial rug out from financially struggling newspapers.

The initial decision to impose tariffs on newsprint was odd because there are not enough domestic suppliers of newsprint to meet the demand. In other words, Canadian production and importation are necessary to keep many newspapers operating while the tariffs made it unaffordable.

Tariffs were originally imposed by the U.S. Commerce Department after a paper mill in the state of Washington — North Pacific Paper Co. — complained that the Canadian government subsidized the price of newsprint sold to U.S. newspapers in a variety of ways. That included loan-assistance programs, as well as allowing Canadian companies to harvest trees on government land.

North Pacific specifically alleged that subsidized imports of "uncoated groundwood paper" from Canada depressed prices, putting it at an unfair financial disadvantage.

Earlier this month, the Commerce Department announced that it was cutting back the tariffs to around 10 percent, an improvement but still unjustified by market conditions in the eyes of the newspaper industry.

It's not over yet. North Pacific can appeal the latest decision. But newspaper industry representatives were predictably relieved and pleased by the decision.

National Newspaper Association President Andrew Johnson praised the commission for doing "the right thing."

He suggested that newspapers that were forced to make cuts — both in people and resources — will be able to undo some of that damage.

Johnson said "it is our hope that some progress will be made toward restoring the page counts and news coverage."

That would be nice. But newspapers, once financially strong, remain on their financial knees as a consequence of social media competition. The decision to abandon the tariffs, however, will make it easier for them to get back on both feet.

The question of tariffs has been much in the news recently as President Donald Trump has imposed and threatened to impose tariffs on imports as a means of winning more favorable trade agreements with countries like China, Mexico and Canada.

But it's a complicated game, because the use of tariffs by various countries can have serious unintended consequences. It would be best to have no tariffs on any products, but that is a dream that will be hard — perhaps impossible — to realize.

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