On Wednesday, the U.S. government agency in charge of trade will vote on whether to keep newsprint tariffs in place or scrap them altogether.

The International Trade Commission in Washington will meet at 11 a.m. to decide whether to affirm permanently the tariff on uncoated groundwood paper. Sold as protection for paper-mill workers, the tariffs were requested by only one Washington state paper factory and its private-equity owner, One Rock Capital, based in New York City. The Department of Commerce agreed to the tariff, which  dramatically increased all U.S. newsprint prices.

According to the Wall Street Journal, John A. Georges, 87, partner of One Rock Capital, made the case last year to Wilbur Ross, the secretary of commerce and a former private-equity executive. Georges was president (1981-84) and then CEO (1984-96) of International Paper, and before that spent 28 years with the DuPont Co.; he holds an M.B.A. from Drexel University.

Known on Wall Street as a prominent Greek American financier, Georges is hardly a middle-class worker in need of protectionist tariffs. He and his son Andrew S. Georges both own million-dollar properties.

John Georges’ home in Greenwich, Conn., is offered for $9.9 million, according to Zillow.
Zillow
John Georges’ home in Greenwich, Conn., is offered for $9.9 million, according to Zillow.

The elder Georges owns a home in Vero Beach, Fla., with an estimated value of $5.5 million. His home in Greenwich, Conn., with five beds, seven baths, and 12,863 square feet, is listed for sale for $9.9 million. The price has been cut several times.

His son, 51, also a partner at One Rock Capital, and his son's wife, Heather, own a home in Greenwich listed on Zillow with an estimated value over $7 million.

Ross earlier this month cut the tariff to 16.88 percent from over 22 percent. According to the Department of Commerce, the only petitioner seeking newsprint tariffs is North Pacific Paper Co., owned by One Rock.

Local news publishers want the tariff cut to zero, and argue it hurts American consumers.

"This tariff is extremely onerous, unfair, and totally unwarranted. The damage it is doing to the already fragile state of the economics of newspapers of all sizes across America is severe," said Inquirer and Daily News publisher Terrance C.Z. Egger.

"We are very grateful by the overwhelming support we are receiving from both Sen. Casey and Sen. Toomey on behalf of the newspapers in the commonwealth and encourage them to keep up their efforts," Egger said.

According to Pew Research, the newspaper industry was already in the process of layoffs before the tariff. At least 36 percent of the largest newspapers across the United States — as well as at least 23 percent of the highest-traffic digital-native news outlets — experienced layoffs between January 2017 and April 2018, according to the Pew study.

These were exacerbated by the tariff, put in place in January after One Rock Capital filed its complaint to the Department of Commerce.

Since the tariff went into effect, many smaller newspapers around the country have struggled to handle the increased costs, leading to layoffs and page-count reductions. Newspaper industry groups lobbied Congress and the administration to back off the tariffs, arguing that the measures did more harm than good.

For instance, the Tampa Bay Times announced a series of layoffs that the paper said were a direct result of the higher costs from tariffs. The conservative Washington Times carried an op-ed against the tariffs written by David Chavern and Joel Quadracci, president and CEO of Quad Graphics, the largest printer in the United States.

As for Wednesday's meeting, "We will not know the reasoning for the ITC's decision until mid-September, when it files its final determination," said Paul Boyle, senior vice president, public policy, at the News Media Alliance in Arlington, Va.