PRESS EDITORIAL: Newsprint tariff damage is harbinger of trade war pain to come

Press room workers, graphic designers, reporters, ad sales reps, editors, office staff, drivers, photographers, anyone who makes his or her living as an employee of an American newspaper can empathize with the fears being voiced by employees and owners of U.S. businesses that will suffer in the trade war set in motion by President Donald Trump.

The cost of the material that is essential to the existence of newspapers—newsprint— has been driven up more than 30% by a tariff imposed in January by the Trump administration on newsprint supplied by Canadian paper mills.

For most U.S. newspapers (including Ozaukee Press), these suppliers are the only practical source of the groundwood paper on which their products are printed.

The tariff was approved by the Commerce Department to accommodate the Washington state paper-making corporation that asked for it.

This beneficiary of the tariff, the hedge fund-owned North Pacific Paper Co., is able to supply only a fraction of the U.S. newsprint demand.

Most of it has to be supplied by Canadian sources.

The overall impact on American employers, workers and consumers is so negative that the newsprint tariff defies explanation, except to see it as a show of acting on Trump’s “America first” campaign theme.

A bill calling on the Commerce Department to put the newsprint tariff on hold has been introduced in the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is levying tariffs on foreign-made steel, aluminum and other imported materials and products.

Some American businesses may benefit in the short term, but the list of those that will be hurt directly by the tariffs or will suffer in the trade war that will likely follow is long and wide.

Wisconsin will be hit hard.

Farmers here are already being hurt by duties put on U.S. agricultural exports by Mexico in response to Trump’s tariffs.

State food manufacturers, including the cheesemakers who buy most of the milk produced by Wisconsin dairy farms, fear retaliation by the European countries and Mexico that make up a large part of their markets.

State breweries are hurt by tariffs on the aluminum they need for cans.

Harley Davidson, headquartered in Wisconsin, has been singled out by European trade authorities for retribution with punishing import duties on motorcycles.

The trade organization representing manufacturers of outdoor lawn cutting and snow moving equipment in Wisconsin and elsewhere predicts consumers will be the biggest losers in the looming trade war.

The rationale for the Trump trade war is so weak—current tariffs among the European countries and the U.S. are essentially equal—that it is widely interpreted as a show of bluster and swagger to inflate the campaign caricature of an America-first warrior.

Some defenders of Trump’s trade tirades suggest this behavior is merely a negotiating tactic in line with the president’s deal-making modus operandi of issuing outrageous threats in the hope of getting a small concession that will allow him to declare victory and celebrate it in photo ops featuring hugs and kisses with reconciled enemies.

This crude approach to negotiation has failed in the past, and the countries affected by his tariffs seem in no mood for his hugs and kisses.

Trump’s primitive notions about influencing international trade have been instructive in one way—they have demonstrated the extent to which he has hijacked the Republican Party.

Free trade as an essential ingredient of free market capitalism has long been a fundamental Republican principle, one that has never been more valid than in this time when the health of national economies depends on that of the global economy.

Where are its defenders now?

Well, there are few left in Congress.

The list of sponsors of the bill that calls on the Commerce Department to stop charging the newsprint tariff in consideration of “the negative impact of the tariff on our hometown newspapers” is made up mainly of Republican House members.

Their colleagues in both parties should be sounding the alarm over the looming trade war.

They should start by reminding the White House that the last trade war instigated by the U.S. ended badly—with the Great Depression.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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