Editorials

Unheralded tariff could hurt your access to news from S.C. community publications

The Trump administration's Commerce Department has imposed a hefty tariff on newsprint imported from Canada.
The Trump administration's Commerce Department has imposed a hefty tariff on newsprint imported from Canada.

Until recently, most people probably didn’t have tariffs on their minds. It was widely reported the Trump administration planned to place tariffs on steel imports and other materials. Then came talk of possible trade wars and the effects those can have on the economy. However, a lesser-known tariff has been enacted that also could impact Americans’ lives.

And not in a good way.

When the new year began, the cost of importing Canadian newsprint – the type of paper most used for printing newspapers – rose by about 6.5 percent. That cut into the budgets of newspaper publishers across the U.S. However, the expense didn’t stop there.

Costs have increased steadily into the double digits and could reach as high 30 percent. That extra expense could force newspapers to cut staff, limiting their ability to cover local news.

For some small and mid-sized papers serving rural areas, it could be an existential crisis and, if those papers close, residents would have no source for local news. There are plenty of sources and platform options for state, national and international news. However, if you're looking for local, as in on-your-street, in-your-neighborhood news, you'll only find that in your hometown newspaper.

Why did this tariff suddenly emerge? West Coast newsprint manufacturer, North Pacific Paper Co., petitioned the U.S. Department of Commerce for it, saying the Canadian producers had an unfair advantage.

There’s a major flaw in that argument: It’s simply not true.

North Pacific is one of the relatively few companies that produces uncoated groundwood paper, the grade typically used to print newspapers. Because no new investment has been made to create new plants in the U.S., newspapers rely on Canadian companies to fill the void.

There also is a local company that produces the uncoated groundwood paper, Resolute Forest Products in Catawba. The York County company is the largest North American producer with nearly 500 employees in mills across the U.S. and Canada. Resolute supplies over a dozen newspapers in South Carolina.

Resolute also opposes the tariff.

A spokeswoman from Resolute said the company recognizes the tariff is harmful to the newspaper industry and could shrink the market for newsprint, benefiting North Pacific at the expense of newspaper companies and readers across the U.S.

There’s another reason this tariff is bad. From an environmental standpoint, we should all favor importing Canadian paper products. It protects our trees. In the U.S., and particularly in our area, hyper development has made clear cutting all too common. In no time at all, acres of woods disappear. Canada, with its vast forests and sustainable practices, has an endless supply of trees.

The South Carolina Press Association and the National Newspaper Association are emphatically opposed to the tariff and lobbying for a reversal. They have powerful allies in South Carolina’s Congressional delegation and we’re glad to see those elected officials are taking up the cause.

Rep. Ralph Norman, (R-Rock Hill), sponsored a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer urging them to “consider the negative impact that any trade remedy would have on the U.S. newspaper and commercial printing industries, as well as the overall U.S. paper manufacturing industry.”

Thirty-four House members endorsed the letter. Also, Michele Exner, spokeswoman for U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-Charleston), said, “Senator Scott is encouraging the Commerce Department to look very closely at the negative effects this tariff could have on local economies and newspapers across the country.”

We applaud both Norman and Scott for seeing through the flimsy protectionist alarm sounded by North Pacific Paper Co. and using their influence to help right a wrong. If they are successful, their constituents should be proud.

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