Key votes on paper tariffs in August; lawmakers testify at hearing

The United States International Trade Commission will vote Aug. 28 whether to make the U.S. tariffs on Canadian paper imposed by the Trump’s administration permanent. The rationale behind the decision will be made public Sept. 17.

The Commerce Department is set to make its final decision on the matter by Aug. 2. If both bodies rule that the tariffs are needed, they will become permanent.

The preliminary tariffs were imposed earlier this year after a petition from the North Pacific Paper Company (Norpac), a papermill in Washington state.

At a commission hearing Tuesday, a group of 19 bipartisan members of Congress argued that the preliminary tariffs were causing damage in the marketplace as higher newsprint costs were forcing newspapers to cut consumption by lowering page counts, reducing days of delivery and, in some cases, moving from print to digital distribution.

“I support strong trade remedy laws that protect American jobs and industries; however, in this particular case, the tariffs are harming the very U.S. industry they are supposed to protect,” said Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine). “The tariffs will hurt the U.S. paper industry because they will cause permanent harm to newspapers, printers, and book publishers, shrinking the U.S. paper industry’s customer base.”

Collins introduced a bill in May to halt the tariffs for an economic impact study. An identical House bill was introduced by Rep. Kristi Noem (R-South Dakota).

“Local newspapers aren’t just any business – they are vital parts of Maine communities, and important participants in our democracy,” said Senator Angus King (I-Maine). “However, the new tariffs under consideration by the ITC threaten to cause permanent harm to these local cornerstones, while also impacting hundreds of thousands of American jobs in the U.S. newspaper business and paper manufacturing industry, which are already operating on razor-thin margins.”

Paul Tash, chairman and CEO of the Tampa Bay Times, and Andrew Johnson, publisher of Dodge County Pionier (Wisconsin), were among those testifying against the tariffs at the hearing.

“Today at the ITC hearing it was clear from the testimonies that the buying and selling of newsprint is a regional market that falls along East and West boundaries, not North and South,” said David Chavern, president of the News Media Alliance. “The commission heard from publishers, newsprint producers and 19 members of Congress that the tariffs will do more harm than good. Tariffs will ultimately hurt U.S. producers — including Norpac — as their customers cut demand as a result of higher costs. We encourage the ITC to reverse these unjustified and damaging tariffs.”

New York hedge fund One Rock Capital Partners owns Norpac. It is one of five mills in the U.S. producing newsprint and the sole company advocating for the tariffs.

Norpac pushed for the tariffs in a prehearing filing to the ITC. “Without relief, subject imports will continue to undercut and depress U.S. prices, disproportionately take volume and market share, and cause injury to the domestic industry,” Norpac said. Company representatives testified that the mill has rehired 60 full-time and part-time employees following the imposition of the tariffs.

Four commissioners of the International Trade Commission are to vote on the case. Three votes are needed to reverse the preliminary tariffs. A 2-2 tie would go in favor of the petitioner.

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