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The Advocate's Reiger Road printing plant in Baton Rouge.

Advocate staff photo by KAREN MARTIN

We have spoken before in these pages about the merits of free trade, and perhaps no economy benefits more from exports and imports than Louisiana.

Free trade has enjoyed bipartisan support since the Great Depression, and it has made America more powerful and more prosperous. While some jobs have been lost in lower-paid positions, overall the nation has benefited enormously from ready access to raw materials from abroad. Our farmers and our manufacturers alike need export markets to sell the products of American ingenuity.

Today, we write about an attack on free trade that is specific to our company and our industry.

The paper which newspapers like The Advocate use to keep our communities informed comes from mills in the United States and Canada. The newsprint industry is competitive, with a number of companies vying for business. Newsprint is one of The Advocate’s biggest expenses and directly impacts the cost of your newspaper.

Over the past year, prices have gone up more than 20 percent.

Those market conditions hardly suggest that a foreign power is working to undermine U.S. manufacturers by unfairly subsidizing a product. But that’s exactly what a single American manufacturer is claiming in a complaint filed by a paper mill in Washington state owned by a hedge fund.

The mill seeks drastic tariffs on Canadian newsprint, which could raise prices by another 30 percent or more. The remaining manufacturers and their trade group, the American Forest Products and Paper Association, are on the other side — opposed to unjustified tariffs. So is the newspaper industry, and more than 1,100 titles have signed letters critical of retaliatory import duties.

Normally, the alignment of buyers and most sellers on the same side of a tariff issue would be persuasive to the U.S. Commerce Department. But with an anti-trade and anti-media administration in Washington, that outcome is less certain. We see this as an exploitation of the trade rules. 

The newspaper industry is in fragile shape at a time when the nation’s need for truthful, uncompromised news coverage has never been greater. A tariff promises to meaningfully and unnecessarily increase the cost of newsprint — for the benefit of a single hedge fund in New York and to the detriment of Louisiana and the rest of America.