SKOWHEGAN — Officials at Sappi Fine Paper on Tuesday applauded passage of a bill reversing a recent court decision that prevented the federal government from cracking down on the illegal trade actions of countries, including China.

The court decision and the bill have a direct impact on Maine paper mills owned by Sappi, which has a mill in Skowhegan, and NewPage Corp., which has a mill in Rumford, according to a release Tuesday from U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District.

Passage of the bill in both the U.S. House and the Senate clears it for the president’s signature, Michaud said.

“Sappi applauds the leadership of the Maine congressional delegation,” Jennifer Miller, executive vice president for Sappi’s coated paper business and the company’s chief sustainability officer, said in a release. “Countervailing duties help level the playing field and allow our world class mills and our employees to continue to produce exceptional product.”

Under the Fair Trade Act, the U.S. Commerce Department can impose tariffs against a country’s imports that have been found to be unfairly subsidized. The import fees imposed under World Trade Organization rules are intended to neutralize the negative effects of government subsidies.

The act overturns a December federal Court of Appeals decision that prohibited tariffs against certain countries, including China.

Michaud, chairman of the House Trade Working Group, has been pushing for similar legislation since 2010.

“Passing this bill will ensure that the Commerce Department has the authority to apply tariffs on illegally subsidized goods from China,” Michaud said Tuesday from the House floor. “For the state of Maine, passing this bill will protect the countervailing and anti-dumping duties in place on coated paper imports from China.”

From 2002 to 2009 China provided more than $33 billion in government subsidies — many of them illegal — to its paper industry. As a result, China overtook the U.S. as the world’s largest producer of paper and paper products, according to Michaud.

He said the growth of China’s paper-making sector has hit Maine mills hard. Since 2008, Maine workers from both Sappi Fine and NewPage companies have become eligible for assistance after they were laid-off as a result of increased foreign imports.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

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