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More Protectionist Efforts Underway

A news report today discussed new action by the Commerce Department which look suspiciously as a means to deal with some of the negative reaction to its recent actions about coated paper.

By Dr. Joe Webb
Published: April 9, 2007

A news report today discussed new action by the Commerce Department which look suspiciously as a means to deal with some of the negative reaction to its recent actions about coated paper. The two latest acts are against piracy of copyrighted materials, and restrictions on the sales of American movies and other media. The piracy issue has been a problem for a very long time, and while some progress has been made, it is so minor that the problems are still rampant. This is a more popular issue to fight with China about. American media products have restrictions in many countries. Even in Canada, there are restrictions on U.S. magazines in terms of content for postage and other characteristics, such as the origin of advertising. These may have changed a bit since NAFTA, so I am not as well versed on it.

Many countries have laws to “protect their culture” from media in other countries. Commerce's action here is probably more for show than anything. China is undergoing considerable change, and the Internet causes the government great problems. What's more amazing to me is that there was so little outcry against companies like Google and Yahoo! caving in to the Chinese government to limit search terms like “freedom.” The administration seems to be taking these trade actions today much like one might pad their order in a pharmacy to avoid the embarrassment of buying an “unmentionable.” Will there be more acts coming? I believe so. Perhaps cooler heads will prevail.

As a side note, I did receive a draft letter from a trade association member that is being circulated against the coated paper tariff for their members to send to the Commerce Department. It is interesting that there has been no comment from the major associations. The tariff, and broader tariff actions on paper, hurt the competitiveness of commercial printers at home as we compete against new media. The letter also mentions the postal increase as occurring at the same time. As the old joke says, “we're from the government and we're here to help you.” I have received comments by some paper executives about the tariff and will deal with them in an upcoming post.

Dr. Joe Webb is one of the graphic arts industry's best-known consultants, forecasters, and commentators. He is the director of WhatTheyThink.com's Economics and Research Center.

What do you think? Please send feedback to Dr. Joe by emailing him at drjoe@whattheythink.com.

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