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Editor’s Note: Newsprint Tariffs Overturned

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While Trump’s trade war against China has gotten most of the attention, owing to its scale and the fact that lots of rare-earth metals and crucial medical equipment come from there, another trade dispute has quietly raged all year: tariffs on newsprint. Bear with me, because I know this sounds extremely boring.

When the North Pacific Paper Company, a mill in Washington State, kvetched that the Canadian government was unfairly subsidizing its competitors north of the border, the U.S. Commerce Department slapped a 20-percent tariff on Canadian imports. This set in motion a chain of events, not unlike the beginning of The Phantom Menace (which I know is a bad movie, but keep on bearing with me).

Like any unilateral action of this nature, it’s wrapped in populist rhetoric as valiant support for U.S. workers — even though we’re governed by corrupt plutocrats like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and everyone involved is keenly aware of the president’s feelings toward the media.

And all it really did was give North Pacific and other American paper mills breathing room to jack up rates. Consequently, since January, papers up and down the West Coast have been clobbered — not by Craigslist, not by cyclical declines in advertising as Google and Facebook hoover it all up, but by a series of incremental increases for the cost of putting ink on paper. And it’s not just papers like the Examiner or mouthy alt-weeklies that have been affected: Small community newspapers, many of which are vital to Northern California’s various ethnic constituencies, are getting hammered, too.

I’ve resisted writing much about it, partly because the situation has been in flux and partly because it’s just sad. It doesn’t feel good to tell a valued freelance contributor, “I’m sorry, I can’t say yes to this great idea you just had. We’re paying 25 percent more for paper now, so I have to watch the budget — even for stories that only run online.”

But today, the five-member International Trade Commission overturned the tariffs. According to The New York Times, the Commission said it has “determined that a U.S. industry is not materially injured or threatened with material injury by reason of imports of uncoated groundwood paper from Canada that the U.S. Department of Commerce (Commerce) has determined are subsidized and sold in the United States at less than fair value.”

It’s entirely possible the Commerce Department will fight this, or that Trump will simply ignore it. (He’s currently playing Mexico off of Canada to disrupt NAFTA, so who really knows?). But this is a positive development, for sure.

In the meantime, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a 232-year-old metropolitan daily, ceased printing its Tuesday and Saturday editions this week. That leaves Pittsburgh as the largest U.S. city without a true daily paper.

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Peter Lawrence Kane @wannacyber

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