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Editorial: Trade isn’t a game

Corner Brook Pulp and Paper.
Corner Brook Pulp and Paper. — SaltWire Network file photo

It was, of course, encapsulated in the particularly dry language favoured by the career bureaucrat. No bard here.

But the outcome was the same: a U.S. tribunal unanimously rejected President Donald Trump’s tariffs on Canadian newsprint.

Here’s what the tribunal had to say: “The United States International Trade Commission (USITC) today 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.

“Chairman David S. Johanson and Commissioners Irving A. Williamson, Meredith M. Broadbent, Rhonda K. Schmidtlein, and Jason E. Kearns voted in the negative.

“As a result of the USITC’s negative determinations, no antidumping or countervailing duty orders will be issued on imports of this product from Canada.”

The panel will release its full reasons, reasons that may be additional delicious bureaucratic gravy. The meat and potatoes of the decision are that trade laws are not as simple as the royal prerogative.

For the Corner Brook paper mill, among many others, it was a sweet sort of vindication. The U.S. government brought in wide-ranging duties that not only hurt Canadian newsprint manufacturers but also materially damaged scores of U.S. newspapers, the customers who actually had to pay the tariffs.

This is what happens when you elect a president who lives on Twitter, and tweets things like “trade wars are good and easy to win.”

The truth is that they’re neither good, nor easy to win. American reporters and editors lost their jobs throughout the United States. Newspapers made layoffs to cover the new costs that may never reversed. The U.S. collected tariffs it will have to return, and the “good winnings”? Good luck if you can find even the smallest scrap of silver lining in this cloud of knee-jerk populist bafflegab.

What’s the best way to put it?

Well, how about this? Turns out, the trade emperor Trump had no newsprint clothes.

Let’s see what happens with the American president’s similarly convoluted steel and aluminium tariffs, imposed, so Donald Trump confusingly said, because the sale of such materials from longtime constant allies somehow constituted a threat to U.S. national security. Or the automobile tariffs he’s now threatening, once again, because of a nebulous national security concern that seems like a convenient hook to hang another set of bluffatious threats on.

The wonderful thing is that, in terms of newsprint, cooler heads prevailed. It took a while, and it will probably take a while for steel and aluminium, too.

But hey, here’s Shakespeare, from “Macbeth”:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

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