To the Editor-
Wisconsin is the leading paper-producing state in America and the Fox Valley is the heart of that production.
Paper companies have been a reliable tax base for our communities and provided thousands of family-supporting jobs for Wisconsin workers. The history of the industry dates back to 1848, when Wisconsin gained statehood and the first paper mill opened in Milwaukee. Since that time the state and industry have been growing together.
However, since the 1993 passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) our industry has been under siege from foreign paper producers who bend or break trade laws to gain an illegal trade advantage. Countries like China and Japan have denied American products market access while manipulating currency and subsidizing entire industries. Those practices give cheaters a trade advantage at home and on foreign markets. An excellent example of that is the coated paper industry.
In 2011, a flood of illegally subsidized coated paper products from China, Indonesia, Australia, Brazil and Portugal were being sold at prices well below production costs. American producers were unable to compete with the foreign prices and as a result lost a huge share of the domestic market. Also, because of those same low prices, U.S. products were unable to compete on foreign markets.
With demand for American coated paper drying up, the industry was forced to cut production, closed paper producing facilities (some permanently) and lay-off thousands of workers nationwide. To stop the hemorrhaging, the United Steelworkers teamed up with Verso, Sappi and Appleton Coated Paper to file a trade case with the International Trade Commission alleging predatory trade practices by the countries named above.
Luckily, the ITC ruled in favor of industry as levied duties against the coated paper products cited in the case. The duties raised the price of imported products to levels that were comparable to domestic coated paper. The duties did the trick and customers began returning to the higher quality U.S. products.
Today, production is just about at pre-2011 levels and most workers have returned to their jobs. But our progress has reached a fork in the road. After duties have been in place for five years, U.S. trade law requires the ITC to begin a new investigation to determine if the duties should be extended. Given an opportunity to respond to the ITC about the charges against them, none of the countries offered a plan to correct the unfair practices.
Because they didn’t, it is likely that as soon as the duties are dropped they will revert to the same practices. For that reason, the Steelworkers are asking the ITC to extend the current duties.
We ask that you support our position by calling you U.S. Representative and Senator to ask them to support extending duties on coated paper products.
Peter Bella, Vice President
USW Local Union 2-116