Deadline looms on the decision to nail or nix tariff on specialty paper used for newsprint

The cost of paper for newsprint is up 26 percent due to a tariff threatening an already struggling newspaper industry, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said Wednesday.

An August deadline looms on whether the tariff imposed in January — and increased in March — will be made permanent. Schumer is pressing U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to reverse course on the duty that escalated the cost of specialty paper from Canada.

The tariffs are a response to a complaint to the U.S. Department of Commerce from one hedge fund-owned paper producer in Washington state. The Northern Pacific Paper Corp., owned by a Wall Street firm, argues its Canadian competitors are taking advantage of government subsidies to sell their product at unfairly low prices.

Schumer said he isn’t opposed to certain tariffs meant to level the playing field, such as new tariffs on Chinese imports. But the case of paper from Canada is different.

“There is no domestic producer of this specialty paper in the Northeast or Midwest, and the product is expensive to ship,” Schumer said. So producers here are forced to import this paper and the tariffs are driving up costs for newspaper publishers and the whole supply chain, he said.

Schumer mentioned Quad Graphics, a company he recently visited in Saratoga that employs about 850 people in making paper inserts. Permanent tariffs would cost the company $90 million annually, meaning higher costs and fewer workers, he said.

“In Upstate New York, we need every job we can get and putting them at risk with bad policy just makes no sense,” Schumer said.

In upstate New York, community newspapers account for 17,000 jobs at 721 publications serving 15 million readers, according to the senator. He talked about the value hometown newspapers bring to their communities and how the tariffs add to mounting struggles of keeping them going.

Rick Emanuel is president and publisher of the North Atlantic Division for GateHouse Media, the parent company of The Chronicle-Express in Penn Yan, Daily Messenger in Canandaigua, The Leader in Corning, Steuben Courier-Advocate in Bath, The Evening Tribune in Hornell, Observer-Dispatch in Utica, and many other weekly and specialty publications in Yates, Ontario, Steuben, Wayne, and Livingston Counties of New York State.

Asked about the impact of the tariffs, Emanuel stated in an email: “Rising paper costs are placing a huge burden on properties, especially small, hometown papers. Next to staffing, newsprint is our second largest expense. If the costs continue to rise at the levels that they have been over the last six months, everyone will have to look at expense reductions to compensate. GateHouse Media owns 684 publications across 38 states.

“This could come at the cost of jobs — affecting already reduced staffing levels. We hope that Senator Schumer’s efforts can help an industry that has long been the champion for taxpayers in their respective communities.”

Schumer was asked in Wednesday’s conference call with reporters whether he thinks the tariff is influenced by President Donald Trump’s attack on the media. Schumer said he doesn’t think so. The tariff did not come from the White House, he noted: “One newspaper company, one hedge fund, got this done,” he said.

“The president cares about jobs and American jobs,” Schumer said. “I hope the White House sees this as we do and goes against it.”