The U.S. Commerce Department has upheld recently imposed tariffs on Canadian newsprint despite warnings that the import taxes could be devastating to the already struggling American newspaper industry.

The revised tariffs unveiled Thursday are lower in most cases than those originally imposed this year but still would slap an anti-dumping border tax as high as 16.9 percent on one Canadian paper manufacturer.

Newspaper executives in Maine said their Canadian newsprint suppliers already have raised prices as a result of the initial tariffs.

The International Trade Commission, an independent, quasi-judicial federal agency that advises both the legislative and executive branches on trade policy, still could reduce or eliminate the tariffs. It is expected to render a decision on the matter by mid-September.

Congress is overwhelmingly opposed to the tariffs, including all members of Maine’s congressional delegation.

Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, as well as Rep. Bruce Poliquin, were among more than a dozen lawmakers who testified July 17 before the trade commission against tariffs on Canadian newsprint that newspaper publishers say are already having a devastating effect.

“The industry itself is already facing pressure on multiple fronts, and this is not going to help,” said Faith DeAmbrose, president of the Maine Press Association board of directors and managing editor of the Penobscot Bay Press newspaper company in Stonington.

DeAmbrose said newsprint is her company’s second-biggest expense after employee wages and benefits.

President Trump, who has been increasingly aggressive on trade, ordered the tariffs after a paper producer in Washington state, North Pacific Paper Co., filed a complaint alleging that Canadian competitors can sell their newsprint at unfairly low prices because of government subsidies. The value of U.S.-purchased Canadian newsprint in 2017 was $1.21 billion, according to the Commerce Department.

Reade Brower, owner of the Portland Press Herald and other Maine dailies and weeklies, said it’s possible the reduction in tariffs could provide some relief to newspapers, but he was hoping the Commerce Department would do away with them altogether.

“The tariffs have created havoc for this industry,” Brower said. “They were unnecessary, uncalled for, and only benefited one company on the West Coast.”

Alan Baker, publisher of The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander weekly newspapers, said the Maine newspaper industry’s major suppliers of Canadian newsprint already have raised their prices as a result of the tariffs. There are no domestic alternatives in the Northeast for newsprint since the closure of Great Northern Paper Co. in Millinocket, he said.

“There isn’t going to be any switching of paper companies, because everybody is short of paper,” Baker said.

Brower is acquiring both of Baker’s publications.

The Commerce Department considered two different types of tariffs before Thursday’s ruling: “anti-dumping” and “countervailing duties.”

Anti-dumping occurs when a foreign manufacturer sells goods in the U.S. for less than fair value, causing injury to the U.S. industry. Anti-dumping cases are company-specific, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website. The duty is calculated to “bridge the gap back to a fair market value,” it says.

Countervailing duties cases are established when a foreign government provides assistance and subsidies, such as tax breaks to manufacturers that export goods to the U.S., enabling the manufacturers to sell the goods cheaper than domestic manufacturers. The duties are calculated to duplicate the value of the subsidy, according to Customs and Border Protection.

The Commerce Department only levied an anti-dumping tariff against one Canadian paper-maker, Catalyst Paper of British Columbia. It set an anti-dumping tariff for Catalyst of about 16.9 percent. All other Canadian paper companies are exempt from the anti-dumping tariff, the department said.

The department set a range of countervailing duties for Canadian paper manufacturers, including 3.4 percent for Catalyst, 9.8 percent for Resolute Forest Products, 9.5 percent for Kruger Inc. and 0.8 percent for White Birch Paper. All others would be required to pay countervailing duties of about 8.5 percent, it said.

That leaves Catalyst with the highest total tariff at 20.3 percent, and White Birch with the lowest at 0.8 percent.

Many newspapers in Maine get their paper through a co-op called the Publishers Associated to Gain Economy Cooperative, which has two suppliers: Resolute and White Birch. Both paper companies already have raised their prices because of the tariffs, Baker said. It remains to be seen whether White Birch will now lower its prices since its tariff is now negligible.

Baker said he doubts it.

“I think the answer is, ‘You would hope,’ and ultimately the response from them is, ‘Well, it’s a matter of supply and demand,’ ” he said. “My guess would be that there will be no lowering.”

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

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Twitter: @jcraiganderson

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