Australia’s only copy paper manufacturer, one of the largest remaining employers in Gippsland’s Latrobe Valley, is concerned free trade negotiations with Indonesia could frustrate moves to impose anti-dumping tariffs.
The Anti-Dumping Commission filed its report on paper imports to the federal government on Friday, after a 10-month investigation.
The report is expected to adhere to recommendations of a preliminary report in November, which found Australian Paper had “suffered material injury … as a result of dumped exports of the A4 copy paper exported from Brazil, China, Indonesia and Thailand” and imposed interim tariffs.
In a statement, the company indicated it was concerned recent comments by Indonesian trade officials could influence the outcome and urged the federal government to “hold firm”.
“The confirmation of the Anti Dumping Commission’s findings will be an opportunity to restore fairness to the local copy paper market so that Australian Paper is secure to invest in the future of Latrobe Valley manufacturing,” chief operating officer Peter Williams said. “Any country which has been selling dumped and/or subsidised copy paper into the Australian market has been putting local jobs at risk.”
Senior trade official Thomas Lembong told Fairfax Media ahead of an Australian trade mission to Indonesia this month that Indonesia wanted to remove trade barriers for paper products and “see concrete proof of unfettered and natural trade”.
It echoed an earlier statement from Indonesian president Joko Widodo.
Victorian Labor senator Kim Carr said comments by Indonesia were causing “significant anxiety” in the industry and could have “huge consequences” for Australian Paper’s mill at Maryvale, which supports 1,300 direct jobs.
The Latrobe Valley has lost up to 800 jobs in the past six months with the closure of the Hazelwood coal-fired power plant, which will switch off for good next week. The Victorian government announced a $85m spending package to create new jobs in the region and 150 workers from Hazelwood were transferred to other power stations, but the area still has the highest unemployment rate in the state.
“Gippsland is not exactly booming,” Carr told Guardian Australia. “This is one of the poorest areas in Australia. This is an area that’s suffering profound economic dislocation.”
He accused the Turnbull government of “pursuing an ideological agenda at the expense of blue collar workers”.
“This is at a time when Australian Paper actually wants to expand its production,” he said. “It has a big investment program, but it needs to have the security of ensuring that they can actually sell its products. This is not the sort of behaviour that the Americans would put up with.”
The US imposed 17% anti-dumping duties on paper exports from Indonesia in 2016.
The Maryvale mill received a $92m grant under the Rudd/Gillard government to build facilities to make 100% recycled copy paper, under an agreement that it would supply Australian government departments.
Just under 60% of the A4 paper bought by government departments in 2015-16 was manufactured at Maryvale. Australian Paper also supplies 60% of the paper used by the Victorian government, and finance minister Robin Scott said that figure should rise following recent negotiations to buy recycled paper.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union spokesman Alex Millar said trade minister Steve Ciobo’s comment while in Indonesia that interim duties imposed last year were “being reviewed” suggested the government had “meddled” in the independent commission and were creating further industry uncertainty.
Millar also criticised delays in the commission’s investigation, which stretched the inquiry out to more than twice the length of the mandated 155 days.
The assistant industry minister, Craig Laundy, who has until 16 April to respond to and publish the report, said he would make a decision on its recommendations “as soon as practicably possible”.
“This government is a strong supporter of Australia’s anti-dumping system,” Laundy said in a statement to Guardian Australia. “It supports international trade, but it must be fair trade.”
Source: The Guardian