Newsprint rolls

Amid all the talk of a high-stakes trade war with China, Europe and our North American neighbors, much of the attention is focused on steel and aluminum and automobiles. But lost in most stories is a more humble, but arguably just as important, product – paper.

The U.S. Department of Commerce has imposed a tariff on imported paper of as much as 32 percent. The move was not part of the complex geopolitical maneuvering of the more high-profile tariffs, but rather the result of a single complaint of unfair competition from Canada, filed by a New York hedge fund that owns a single paper mill in Washington State.

North Pacific Paper Co. in Longview, owned by financial firm One Rock Capital, complains that Canadian manufacturers have an unfair advantage since they can rely on raw materials from state-owned forests and draw on cheap power from hydroelectric dams. Never mind that the rest of the American paper industry disagrees and does not support North Pacific Paper, the Commerce Department levied a series of ever-stiffer tariffs starting earlier this year.

Why should you care?

The tariffs will make the books and magazines and newspapers you read more expensive to produce. Higher costs mean higher prices for consumers and fewer jobs in those industries.

Newspaper and magazine publishers across the U.S. are already feeling the pain, since paper remains their second-largest expense behind only salaries. The Tampa Tribune, for example, said in April that it was facing up to $3 million in unbudgeted extra costs and announced the layoff of 50 employees to make up for it.

A number of small, family-owned newspapers have said the higher costs could put them out of business entirely.

It’s no secret that the last decade has not been kind to traditional paper-based news, with steep falls in both revenue and staffing. But newspapers remain a vital source of news and information, particularly in small markets such as Napa County, where there are not multiple sources of highly local news available.

Despite drops in circulation, the printed product remains the primary source of revenue for newspapers, and the industry as a whole employs more than 600,000 people nationwide. Just as the economy is recovering and newspapers are finally beginning to find their financial way in the new digital era, this unnecessary new blow could be extremely damaging, or even fatal, to our surviving newspapers and magazines.

There is hope. A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers has introduced the PRINT Act (the “Protecting Rational Incentives in Newsprint Trade Act of 2018”) to stop the tariffs. As of Tuesday, however, neither of California’s senators nor Rep. Mike Thompson had signed on to cosponsor the bill, though Thompson told us he is concerned in general about the recent waves of tariffs imposed by the Trump administration.

We ask you to contact your members of Congress to support the act, and we urge Congress to act swiftly before it is too late to save jobs and entire newspapers imperiled by these tariffs.

For information on the tariffs and links to contact your legislators, visit stopnewsprinttariffs.org.

Local news and information are vital for our communities and our democracy. These tariffs, which benefit just one hedge fund in New York, make it that much more difficult to continue to bring you that news.

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The Napa Valley Register Editorial Board consists of Publisher Brenda Speth, Editor Sean Scully, and public members Cindy Webber, Ed Shenk, Mary Jean Mclaughlin and Chris Hammaker.