Tariffs continue to threaten newspapers

Congressional delegation’s help appreciated


It’s been disheartening, to put it mildly, to watch the federal government start implementing massive taxes on the Canadian paper that we and other newspapers around Wyoming use each week.

But while U.S. Commerce Department leaders have yet to back off the big tariffs they’ve proposed, it has been encouraging to see Wyoming’s Congressional delegation willing to go to bat for local newspapers.

U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., recently agreed to co-sponsor a bill that would suspend the new tariffs until more research is conducted; U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., plans to testify against the tariffs at an International Trade Committee hearing next month; and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., has also reportedly expressed support for lifting the measures.

We’re thankful to have our Congressional delegation on our side. For one thing, we appreciate having Republican representatives who are willing to buck a Republican administration to help Wyoming residents and businesses; for another, the new tariffs are just a bad idea — being much more likely to kill American jobs than save them.

Most newspapers get their newsprint from Canada, where the bulk of North America’s paper is produced. The Powell Tribune has been buying its paper from Canada for more than half-a-century and has partnered with Alberta Newsprint Co. for decades.

It’s simply the way our business has operated successfully, and now we’re being penalized for it.

However, things changed after a New York City-based hedge fund acquired a paper manufacturer in Washington state called the North Pacific Paper Company (NORPAC). Last year, NORPAC went to federal officials and complained it was losing business to unfairly subsidized Canadian paper.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Commerce Department sided with NORPAC and started imposing roughly 30 percent tariffs on most “uncoated groundwood paper” from Canada. Those new taxes have already been passed on to customers like the Tribune, where we fear they could add as much as $15,000 in annual costs.

The effects are being felt across Wyoming.

“At the ... newspapers that I run, we’ve already cut pages, we’re cutting staff in the newsroom, and that’s just to accommodate a 22-percent increase,” Douglas Budget and Glenrock Independent Publisher Matt Adelman recently told The Sheridan Press. “If it goes any higher, we’re going to have to look at much deeper cuts.”

The tariff-pausing bill being co-sponsored by Sen. Enzi is called the “Protecting Rational Incentives in Newsprint Trade Act of 2018,” or the PRINT Act.

It would direct the Commerce Department to compile a report about the economic health of America’s newspapers and newsprint industry within the next 90 days. The tariffs could only go forward after President Donald Trump reviewed the document and affirmed the tariffs are in the economic interest of the United States.

If the bill and study go forward, we have a pretty good idea of what the federal government will learn: It’s not subsidies from the Canadian government that have hurt American papermakers like NORPAC; rather, it’s today’s increasingly digital world — which has not been particularly kind to the paper industry, print media and newspapers in general.

Many people now prefer to read their news online (that’s why we’re currently revamping the Tribune’s website) and they’re often reluctant to pay for it. More significantly, online advertising brings in only a fraction of the revenue that a print product does.

With fewer dollars, newspapers have been cutting back. In many places, they’re printing fewer editions with fewer pages and cutting staff. The Salt Lake Tribune recently laid off a third of its newsroom, and this Tribune recently cut one position from its news staff.

In short, the changing media landscape has made this a difficult time for news. We know it’s our burden to bear: We’re a private business and it’s our job to figure out how to make our business work.

But it’s ridiculous for our federal government to manipulate paper prices and slap us and other news outlets across the country with a new tax in an attempt to prop up certain manufacturers.

A look at the benefits versus the costs weighs heavily against the tariffs. For instance, somewhat ironically, NORPAC employs substantially fewer workers in the U.S. than some of the “Canadian” companies they’re targeting.

We’re baffled as to why the Commerce Department thinks these new tariffs are a good idea.

National Newspaper Association officials hear that national labor unions are lining up against the PRINT Act, because they fear it will set a bad precedent for other tariffs.

It’s certainly an example of politics making strange bedfellows: Who would have thought there would come a day when a Republican administration, backed by national labor unions, worked to impose big new taxes on Wyoming businesses?

We hope our Congressional delegation, and common sense, prevail.