Proposed newsprint tariffs a disaster waiting to happen

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Newspapers from around New York state in the New York Press Association library .


Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York

Auto racing is a sport.  One of the commodities on which it relies the most is fuel.  Imagine if a major American petroleum supplier decided it wanted the U.S. Department of Commerce to begin applying tariffs to fuel imported from Canada, claiming that the imported fuel was harming the American fuel industry.

That’s pretty much what is going on behind the scenes in a tussle over newsprint produced in Canada.

According to David Chavren, president and CEO of News Media Alliance, the threat comes from a single newsprint mill in Washington State.  The firm, NORPAC, which has fewer than 300 employees, alleged that the Canadian government subsidizes paper exports.

The Commerce Department agreed and imposed two preliminary duties totaling 32 percent.  Final determinations are pending.

The buying and selling of newsprint has always been a regional fact of life without regard for America’s northern border.  Printers who typically rely on Canadian newsprint are found in the Northeast and Midwest, where Chavren says there are no American mills currently in operation.

And make no mistake – this is not just about newspapers.  Uncoated
groundwood paper is used in books, business directories, writing tablets and advertising brochures.

If the cost of newsprint is allowed to escalate to satisfy the voice of one small operation, it will have the greatest effect on smaller publishing firms.  That includes community newspapers like the one you are reading now.

“While the big national and regional papers may have less trouble finding the funds to keep their print editions coming, we could see small publishers lose footing, and those tiny local papers are some of the most vital members of our news community,” Chavren said.

“Under the right conditions, those papers can find a way to maintain their footing, but if the newsprint industry can’t support them, those communities will become news deserts, and that’s a future none of us wants.”

Locally, we have two champions in our corner.  Representatives Brian
Higgins and Elise Stefanik announced opposition to the Jan. 9, 2018,
preliminary decision by the Commerce Department to impose these tariffs.

Higgins and Stefanik said they were particularly concerned that the measure will lead to added costs for consumers and potential job cuts for employees of large and small newspaper and book publishers across New York State and the nation.

“The proposed duties would cause undue burden, destabilizing the industry, forcing increases in subscription rates for consumers and reducing jobs in an area already stretched thin,” said Higgins, a member of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade and co-chair of the Northern Border Caucus.

“Furthermore, local journalism is the core of our communities’ access to information about government, the economy and community activities; it should not be infringed upon by the claims of a single U.S. producer.”

Prior to the January decision, Higgins wrote to the Commerce Secretary pointing out, “While there are many legitimate instances where U.S. industry needs to be protected from foreign producers – this is not one of them.  The petitioner’s charge is in fact opposed by the American Forest and Paper Association.”

Chavren adds that if the tariffs on Canadian newsprint are allowed to
stand, we are not only risking an amicable centuries-old relationship, we are putting our own news industry in jeopardy.

To register your vote in favor of reversing these tariffs, visit

Auto racing is a sport.  Community journalism is democracy.

(David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at


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