Ten U.S. senators are seeking to place a temporary freeze on American duties against Canadian newsprint, saying the trade dispute needs further study.
A bipartisan group led by Republican Senator Susan Collins and Independent Senator Angus King, both from the forestry-intensive state of Maine, unveiled its strategy on Monday.
The group has introduced the Protecting Rational Incentives in Newsprint Trade (PRINT) Act of 2018, hoping to win political support for suspending the preliminary duties against Canadian uncoated groundwood paper such as newsprint and book-grade paper.
“The legislation would require the Department of Commerce to review the economic health of the printing and publishing industries,” said a release from lobby group Stop Tariffs on Printers and Publishers (STOPP), which includes the News Media Alliance.
Earlier this year, the Commerce Department imposed preliminary duties averaging 28.69 per cent against most makers of Canadian groundwood.
According to complaints filed to the Commerce Department in August, 2017, by U.S. producer North Pacific Paper Co. (also known as Norpac), groundwood from Canada is subsidized and being dumped in the U.S. market at less than fair value. Norpac, which is based in Washington state, argues U.S. paper makers are being harmed by Canadian shipments of groundwood south of the border.
The bill would “pause” the punitive tariffs until further study is done by the Commerce Department on the economic condition of the printing and publishing sector, and the impact of those duties on newspapers, printers and local advertisers, said Paul Boyle, senior vice-president of public policy for the News Media Alliance.
The alliance argues that the tariffs, which run as high as 32.09 per cent, are dramatically increasing costs for newspaper publishers at a time when most of the industry is in a desperate struggle to survive amid slumping advertising revenue.
“We don’t have the ability to absorb these costs, which are being passed on to us. We don’t have extra revenue coming in,” Mr. Boyle said in an interview. “In fact, our revenue continues to decline.”
A survey of the alliance’s members showed that 70 per cent expected the tariffs to force them to reduce their newsprint consumption, while more than 30 per cent said they would cut jobs. Last month, when the Tampa Bay Times of St. Petersburg, Fla., laid off about 50 staff, its publisher placed the blame squarely on the tariffs, saying they were raising the newspaper’s costs by US$3-million annually.
Mr. Boyle said the next step is to drum up support for the bill in the Senate, as well as to get a companion bill introduced in the House of Representatives.
“We continue to garner strong support from Congress,” said Seth Kursman, a spokesman for Montreal-based Resolute Forest Products Inc., which got hit with a countervailing rate of 4.42 per cent in January, but avoided any anti-dumping tariff.
In March, the Commerce Department imposed anti-dumping duties averaging 22.16 per cent against most Canadian producers of groundwood. The anti-dumping tariffs are on top of countervailing duties averaging 6.53 per cent levied in January against most Canadian producers.