WNA President Skip Bliss, publisher of The (Janesville) Gazette. Submitted photo
WNA President Skip Bliss, publisher of The (Janesville) Gazette. Submitted photo

By Julia Hunter, Wisconsin Newspaper Association

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a tremendous victory for newspapers across the country, the International Trade Commission voted Wednesday, August 29 to reverse tariffs imposed on newsprint imported from Canada. The vote was unanimous.

"This is clearly a victory for the newspaper and printing industry in general," said WNA President Skip Bliss, publisher of The (Janesville) Gazette. "To me, this is a victory for America. The newspaper industry faces a lot of challenges and this was one of the most critical. The industry owes a thank you to its readers and advertisers who helped us in this fight. We appreciate the support of Congress and look forward to the continued support of our readers who realize that a free press is so critical to democracy."

Preliminary tariffs were first imposed in January after a trade case was brought by the Washington state-based paper mill NORPAC. The tariffs drove up the cost of newsprint by nearly 30 percent, forcing many newspapers to reduce their print distribution and cut staff.

On Aug. 2, the Department of Commerce revised the tariffs to slightly lower levels but, ultimately, upheld them. Today's decision reverses that determination.

"The united front from our industry to fight the tariff has paid off," WNA Executive Director Beth Bennett said. "The decision today to repeal the tariff on Canadian newsprint is a huge victory for the future viability of the newspaper industry. I'd like to extend my sincerest thanks to everyone who worked so very hard to defeat the tariff at both the state and federal level. The member newspapers of the WNA played a critical role in the eventual outcome that we celebrate today, they are to be congratulated."

WNA Foundation President Andrew Johnson was one of two publishers to testify at the ITC's July 17 hearing in Washington, D.C. Nineteen members of Congress also voiced their opposition during the hearing. 

"The WNA is so thankful that the commissioners saw the truth behind the reasons for the tariff and did the right thing," said Johnson, publisher of the (Mayville) Dodge County Pionier, the Campbellsport News and the Kewaskum Statesman. "This is a great day for newspapers."

Several WNA members have been vocal opponents of the import tax. Bliss denounced the tariffs in an Aug. 9 New York Times article. Multimedia Channels CEO Patrick Wood discussed the tariffs' detrimental effect during a CNBC segment that ran earlier this month after Wood appealed to readers of his newspaper.

The ITC will release its final report, which will include an explanation of the commission's reasoning, on Sept. 17. Cash deposits will be refunded to newsprint manufacturers, though that is expected to take several months.

Statement by National Newspaper Association on International Trade Commission vote against newsprint tariffs:

“We are immensely gratified today by the International Trade Commission’s vote not to impose permanent tariffs upon the North American newsprint supply. The paper markets serving community newspapers can soon begin to move back to market pricing without the heavy hand of government imposing taxes upon the primary suppliers of newsprint,” said National Newspaper Association President Susan Rowell, publisher of the Lancaster (SC) News.

“We will not know until mid-September the commission’s rationale for its vote of 5-0 against continuing newsprint tariffs. We understand it will take a couple of months for the preliminary tariffs to be unwound and credits to be issued back to those companies who had paid duties at the border since last January. But it is an enormous relief to know that the ITC does not find a basis for continuing sanctions.

“Our efforts to educate the commission about the realities of today’s printing and publishing world were part of a large coalition of industries, led by the News Media Alliance and Resolute Inc., which supplies much of the U.S.-produced newsprint. The leadership of the law firm Covington and Burling and contributions of time and talent by so many publishers, editors, communicators of all sorts, and members of the public who joined a petition against the tariffs were all contributors to today’s result. We are particularly grateful to Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King of Maine, and Rep. Kristi Noem of South Dakota, and all of their co-sponsors for introducing the PRINT Act of 2018 in support of our views.”