Editorial: Protectionism pulling plug on U.S. press

Collateral damage from America’s anti-free-trade regime is being felt well beyond the economy.

Countervailing and anti-dumping duties on Canadian softwood lumber exports to the United States are now adding around 20% to the cost of Canadian wood exports to the U.S. That’s having a negative impact on B.C. and other Canadian lumber producers; however, the ruling late last year from the U.S. International Trade Commission that determined softwood lumber imports from Canada were hurting American lumber producers is also raising the cost of house construction south of the border.

But trade protectionism under the Donald Trump White House includes more than products.

In the home of the brave and the land of the free, one of the bastions of that freedom is under siege. Local newspapers, which provide an invaluable voice and forum for the exchange of ideas and information for any community, are disappearing fast. The information they generate cannot be replaced by online news aggregators that pay nothing to distribute it to their subscribers. Cash flow from digital news products has yet to offset the steep declines in print ad revenue, classified sections and other mainstays of the newspaper business. The economic reality for many local and regional publications, their news gathering machinery and the venue for free and open discussion they provide is therefore grim and getting grimmer.

So countervailing duties of up to 9.9% imposed earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Commerce on imported Canadian newsprint is bad news for local publications in the United States that are already struggling to survive. More than 1,000 small and medium-sized U.S. newspapers have consequently lobbied Washington to remove the duties.

Shielding American companies from competition is doing more than eroding bottom lines for their Canadian counterparts. It is damaging the institutions that have made America great in the past and without which the country will be far less than great in the future.