In a letter last Friday, U.S. Senator Angus S. King, Jr. (I-Maine) pressed U.S. Trade Ambassador Ron Kirk for answers about the Canadian government's distribution of $124.5 million in what appear to be illegal trade subsidies to the Port Hawkesbury Paper Mill in Nova Scotia that are responsible in part for the elimination of 45 jobs at the NewPage Paper Mill in Rumford, Maine.
The trade subsidies, which Senator King believes are in violation of established World Trade Organization rules, enabled the Port Hawkesbury Paper Mill to flood the North American market with tons of highly subsidized supercalendered paper. On Wednesday, February 27th, the NewPage Paper Mill announced the lay-off of 45 employees, citing a drop in demand for #5 Coated Paper, a product often substituted for supercalendered paper.
"In Maine while we work to support new jobs and manufacturing we find ourselves having to defend at every turn the traditional sectors that have been the economic and cultural lifeblood of our state," wrote Senator King. "The paper mills and workers are not looking for a handout, they do not need to rebuild their communities, they have a well-paid workforce, and they kept jobs in this country even when it might have been easier to move them overseas; they have fulfilled their part of the bargain. The mills are facing a crisis and need to know that we have their back."
Senator King specifically asked Ambassador Kirk, whose agency has been working to obtain answers for months, to concretely demand an explanation from Canadian officials:
"It is difficult to explain to my constituents why this initial inquiry is taking over five months. The Canadians know whether or not they provided these subsidies; and my constituents know that as each day that passes there is more damage to our domestic paper industry, putting their jobs and communities on the line."
As outlined at the conclusion of the letter, Senator King also plans to share this information with the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center, which is tasked with enhancing enforcement of unfair trade practices.