Defeat of tariffs a win for Wyoming

Posted 9/6/18

When pollsters survey people for their thoughts about the federal government and Congress, they often find folks are pretty disenchanted with the government overall, but appreciate the efforts of …

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Defeat of tariffs a win for Wyoming


When pollsters survey people for their thoughts about the federal government and Congress, they often find folks are pretty disenchanted with the government overall, but appreciate the efforts of their own representatives and senators.

If Gallup were to come calling at the Tribune this week, that’s roughly the sentiment we’d share.

Thanks in part to the work of our Congressional delegation, the U.S International Trade Commission voted unanimously last week to scrap some proposed new tariffs on “uncoated groundwood paper” from Canada. That’s the kind of paper used by the Tribune and many other newspapers all across the country. The proposed tariffs, or taxes, would have cost publishers millions of dollars or, in the case of this paper, upwards of $10,000 a year.

U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney jointly submitted testimony to the International Trade Commission opposing the tariffs. They said the tariffs could have “devastating” effects on Wyoming’s small newspapers and the people they serve with coverage of news, community events and sports.

“... Tariffs on uncoated groundwood paper may be the nail in the coffin of these critical local businesses,” Enzi, Barrasso and Cheney wrote in their testimony. They added that, “We believe the local newspaper industry will adjust to the challenges of doing business in the digital age, but only if it has the ability to do so without the threat of artificially increased costs resulting from this investigation.”

Another arm of the federal government, the Federal Trade Commission, proposed the costly new tariffs earlier this year at the behest of one paper mill in Washington state, the North Pacific Paper Company (NORPAC). The company, owned by a New York hedge fund, claims it’s losing business to unfairly subsidized Canadian paper.

We could list many reasons why the complaint was off-base. But the biggest problem is that NORPAC leaders ignored a very simple reality: Paper mills are losing business because there just isn’t as much business to be had.

Newspaper publishers were struggling with problems like sinking advertising dollars long before the Federal Trade Commission proposed these tariffs. Even without these added costs, the industry continues to face challenging times.

Publishers have not been suddenly rushing to the northern border to load up on dirt-cheap Canadian paper in recent years. No, many newspapers are either shutting down (in which case they’re buying no paper) or cutting back (buying less of it). It’s not a supply problem — it’s an issue of demand. That’s why it was preposterous to suggest that having the government step in and raise prices would somehow spur publishers to buy more paper. It was much more likely that the tariffs would do the opposite — lowering demand even further by damaging publishers and likely running some papers out of business.

Sanity appears to have prevailed with the International Trade Commission’s decision last week. The commission found that no U.S. industry is materially injured or threatened with material injury by the imports of the Canadian paper.

Wyoming’s Congressional delegation praised the ruling.

“These punishing tariffs have significantly increased costs for publishers, hampered production and threatened good jobs at newspapers across our state,” Sen. Barrasso said in a statement last week.

Added Sen. Enzi, “Our local papers play a vital role in the state and shouldn’t have to struggle to survive because of these tariffs that were being pushed by one company,”

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney said she was pleased with the decision, noting that Wyoming’s local newspapers are small businesses that “provide essential local and national news coverage to communities.”

Our objections to the paper tariffs were not based on the idea that our industry is too important or fragile to tax. It’s been about facts and fairness — and we’re grateful that our delegation looked at the evidence and stood with us.

But in a day and age when some dismiss the entire media as “fake” or deride journalists as enemies, we also genuinely appreciate our delegation’s statements about the value of our industry and work.

As anyone who regularly reads this Opinion page has likely noticed, we don’t always see eye-to-eye with our Congressional delegation — and we know Rep. Cheney and Sens. Barrasso and Enzi don’t always agree with every word we write. But through it all, we believe that our representatives, like our state’s newspapers, are working to serve the people of Wyoming. And for that, we’re very thankful.