Piles of timber sit

Piles of timber sit, ready to be milled Monday afternoon.

Import duties on Canadian newsprint got a preliminary OK from the U.S. Commerce Department on Tuesday, over objections of many newspaper printers and publishers.

Commerce officials ruled that Canadian paper makers benefited from a 6.53 percent subsidy from their federal government through cheap access to public timber supplies and state tax breaks or financial support. A Longview, Washington, paper manufacturer that petitioned for the trade protection said it would bring back U.S. jobs.

“What the U.S. uncoated groundwood papers industry wants is a level playing field, and this decision is an important step forward for American producers, workers and their families that have been the victims of unfair Canadian trade practices for too long,” North Pacific Paper Co. CEO Craig Anneberg said in an email.

“NORPAC has a world-class facility that can compete with anyone around the world, but we need to be able to compete on a level playing field. This decision will protect American jobs in Washington, Mississippi and Georgia, and may even serve to create jobs in the U.S. as idled paper machines restart," Anneberg's email said.

Anneberg claimed that unfair competition had forced at least 10 U.S. paper mills to close since 2012, reducing the nation’s newsprint production capacity by almost 70 percent. However, other paper producers have blamed their woes on the publishing world’s increasing shift toward paperless, digital delivery.

For example, a study of Maine’s once-booming pulp paper industry noted that its 15,000 jobs had fallen 66 percent between 1990 and 2013 even while production continued to rise.

Frenchtown had an active pulp mill until 2010, when Smurfit-Stone Container closed its plant as part of corporate consolidation. However, that facility produced liner board for packaging, not newsprint.

More than a thousand U.S. printers and publishers, along with the American Forest and Paper Association, asked the government to leave newsprint exports alone. They argued that falling paper demand had more to do with a changing business world than foreign paper prices.

“(O)ther factors have affected newspapers as well, including: a loss of automobile dealerships during the Recession, a loss of department stores, a consolidation of banks and a general shrinkage of retail outlets as large discount houses have subsumed what was once a thriving Main Street,” one group of 54 small publishers wrote. “These businesses were big advertisers in newspapers even a decade ago. As they have disappeared from our environment, newspapers have lost revenue and have correspondingly made cuts in their paper consumption to stay afloat.”

Anneberg disagreed.

“While we understand the concerns recently surfaced by some newspaper publishers, we strongly disagree with the notion that their industry requires low-priced, government-subsidized, imported newsprint from Canada to sustain its business model,” Anneberg wrote. “High-quality journalism in communities across the country should not depend on unfairly traded inputs that cause material injury to a U.S. industry and American jobs.

"We estimate the impact this ruling would have on the cost to produce the average printed newspaper would be less than $.05 per newspaper — a small price to pay to preserve American manufacturing jobs.”

The Department of Commerce will issue its preliminary determination in the companion anti-dumping investigation on March 7, 2018. The department is expected to make final anti-dumping and countervailing duty determinations in July 2018, and the International Trade Commission will make its final injury determination in August 2018.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.