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NM papers protest planned newsprint tariffs

New Mexico’s entire congressional delegation is urging the Trump administration to back off its planned tariffs on Canadian newsprint, saying the extra costs could force some small newspapers out of business.

U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján, Steve Pearce and Michelle Lujan Grisham wrote to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross this week, saying the tariffs announced earlier this year would be “catastrophic” to newspaper publishers.

Separately, the Albuquerque Journal has also written to Ross, urging him to drop the proposed tariffs.

“The proposed duties endanger our company’s ability to continue providing high-quality local journalism in our communities,” Publisher William P. Lang wrote in the letter earlier this year.

The Commerce Department has made a preliminary decision to impose duties of up to nearly 10 percent on Canadian companies that ship newsprint to U.S. publishers, contending the paper is being subsidized by the government. Only a handful of mills still produce newsprint in the United States.

Although a final decision is not due until August, the Commerce Department required the companies involved to make cash deposits based on the preliminary rates.

Prices already have begun increasing. Brian Fantl, vice president of the Albuquerque Publishing Co., which publishes the Journal, said newsprint prices in the past year already have risen from about $580 per metric ton to $680 and that shipping times also have increased.

According to the delegation’s letter, the increased costs could force some small, local newspapers, already under financial pressure because of changes in the industry, to shut down.

“The newspaper industry is facing duties on Canadian newsprint and changes to the cost of shipping, which could be catastrophic for publishers in the southwest. These changes will result in nationwide increases in newsprint prices,” the lawmakers wrote.

Eight New Mexico newspapers — the Alamogordo Daily News, Carlsbad Current-Argus, Deming Headlight, Las Cruces Sun-News, Las Vegas Optic, Los Alamos Monitor, Ruidoso News and The Farmington Daily Times — are among more than 1,000 community newspapers that signed onto a letter protesting the decision with the Commerce Department.

The tariff was set in motion based on a request from the North Pacific Paper Company, or NORPAC, a Washington state-based newsprint producer.

In a statement to the Columbia Journalism Review, NORPAC CEO Craig Anneberg said, “While we understand the concerns recently surfaced by some newspaper publishers, we strongly disagree with the notion that their industry requires low-priced, government-subsidized, imported newsprint from Canada to sustain its business model.”

The Commerce Department on Tuesday issued a news release saying it had made a “preliminary determination” that some Canadian companies had been “dumping” paper in the U.S. at below fair market value, though not to the level alleged by NORPAC. The Commerce Department said the “dumping” ranged from 0 percent to more than 22 percent below fair market value.

NORPAC had claimed some of the companies were selling paper as much as 50 percent below market value.

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