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An Echo Press Editorial: Printed papers dodge a bullet

The Echo Press has been closely following the U.S. Department of Commerce's actions last January to impose a tax, or tariff, of more than 30 percent on Canada's uncoated groundwood paper — paper that newspapers use for newsprint.

Anyone who enjoys reading newspapers that they can hold in their hands and keep should be keenly interested in the issue as well.

Although there are five paper mills in the U.S. that make this kind of paper, American newspapers have also used Canadian paper for more than a century. It simply isn't possible in the continental U.S. to make enough newsprint to supply the needs of U.S. newspaper readers.

The government was responding to a lawsuit by a single paper mill, owned by a New York investment firm, alleging that the Canadian competition was affecting its profits.

The International Trade Commission allowed the tax to stay in place while it investigated. Meanwhile, the newspaper industry was holding its breath about what would happen — and began a campaign to roll back the tariffs.

This is a big issue since the tax would greatly impact newspapers large and small throughout the country that would be forced to drastically cut back the amount of newsprint in its print editions. Smaller papers that have not made the leap to digital (online) formats were especially vulnerable.

Andrew Johnson, incoming president of the National Newspaper Association and publisher of the Dodge County, Wisconsin Pionier, explained it this way: "A tariff to punish Canada won't create more U.S. papermaking jobs. Larger publications will move faster to digital so they can buy less paper. Smaller ones like mine, will simply shrink and may go away entirely, leaving their towns with no local paper."

Thankfully, last week, the commission voted to lift the tariffs.

It was a good decision, one that was heralded by the National Newspaper Association — of which the Echo Press is a member. In a statement issued last Wednesday, NNA President Susan Rowell and publisher of the Lancaster, South Carolina News said:

"We are immensely gratified today by the International Trade Commission's vote not to impose permanent tariffs upon the North American newsprint supply. The paper markets serving community newspapers can soon begin to move back to market pricing without the heavy hand of government imposing taxes upon the primary suppliers of newsprint.

"We will not know until mid-September the commission's rationale for its vote of 5-0 against continuing newsprint tariffs. We understand it will take a couple of months for the preliminary tariffs to be unwound and credits to be issued back to those companies who had paid duties at the border since last January. But it is an enormous relief to know that the ITC does not find a basis for continuing sanctions.

"Our efforts to educate the commission about the realities of today's printing and publishing world were part of a large coalition of industries, led by the News Media Alliance and Resolute Inc., which supplies much of the U.S.-produced newsprint. The leadership of the law firm Covington and Burling and contributions of time and talent by so many publishers, editors, communicators of all sorts, and members of the public who joined a petition against the tariffs were all contributors to today's result."

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