Tariffs on Canadian newsprint “will cause permanent harm to newspapers, printers and book publishers,” Sen. Susan Collins testified Tuesday.

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, as well as U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, were among more than a dozen lawmakers who testified Tuesday before the International Trade Commission against tariffs on Canadian newsprint that already are having a devastating effect on newspapers.

Collins, a Maine Republican, said that while she supports fixing trade laws that will “protect American jobs and industries,” she fears the newsprint tariffs will have the opposite effect.

“The tariffs will hurt the U.S. paper industry because they will cause permanent harm to newspapers, printers and book publishers, shrinking the U.S. paper industry’s customer base,” she said in her testimony. “In fact, the tariffs will likely lead to less production of newsprint by U.S. manufacturers as customers cut their consumption once and for all. This is simply not the way Congress intended the trade laws to work.”

Added King, an independent: “The press is the only industry in America with its own line in the Constitution and the First Amendment, and what you’re considering today is a very unusual case that brings into conflict two principles that are important to the establishment of the country. One is, you have to obey the law, and the law is in regards to tariffs. But the other principle is the First Amendment, and I would argue that these two principles run into one another. They are in conflict. This is a special case.”

The International Trade Commission is an independent, quasi-judicial federal agency that advises both the legislative and executive branches on trade policy.

President Trump, who has been increasingly aggressive on trade, ordered the tariffs after a paper producer in Washington state, North Pacific Paper Co., filed a complaint alleging that Canadian competitors can sell their newsprint at unfairly low prices because of government subsidies. The value of U.S.-purchased Canadian newsprint in 2016 was $1.27 billion.

Poliquin, who represents Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, said the tariffs pushed for by North Pacific are unfair to other paper manufacturers, including some in Maine.

The tariffs so far have increased newsprint prices by as much as 25 percent, which is significant for many newspapers and publishing companies because newsprint is typically the second-largest expense, behind personnel.

Lisa DeSisto, CEO and publisher of both MaineToday Media and Sun Media Group, which collectively publish more than a dozen daily and weekly newspapers in Maine, said she was appreciative of the support offered by Collins, King and Poliquin on this issue. MaineToday Media owns the Portland Press Herald.

“The tariff has triggered a dramatic increase in the cost of newsprint – our second-largest expense after personnel,” DeSisto said. “Cutting back the number of pages to offset the increase means less local news coverage for our communities.

“While we are taking steps to offset the increase, including offering a voluntary early retirement program to our employees, the best outcome for newspaper readers, advertisers and our employees would be to see this tariff suspended.”

Collins, King and others warned that if the tariffs become permanent, something the trade commission is debating, newspapers across the country could be forced to cut staff or go out of business. Most newspapers already have been grappling with declining advertising revenue for more than a decade as more consumers are getting their news online.

“Some newspapers in my state have already reduced the number of pages they produce and the newsworthy events they are able to cover,” Collins said in her testimony. “This is much more than a mere financial setback for one industry. For many of our small town and rural newspapers, these tariffs, if finalized, would harm the dissemination of information about our communities, our government and the world around us.”

Collins has introduced a bill, the Protecting Rational Incentives in Newsprint Trade – or PRINT – Act, that would suspend the tariffs on newsprint while the U.S. Department of Commerce studies the health of the printing and publishing industries. The bipartisan bill has 29 co-sponsors, including King and Poliquin, who praised Collins for raising the issue.

It’s not clear what impact Tuesday’s testimony could have on whether the newsprint tariffs will be made permanent, although the Trump administration is not likely to be sympathetic to the newspaper industry, which the president routinely criticizes.

 

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