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Tariffs stirring fear at many US points of entry for imports

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Associated Press

To understand why the impact of President Donald Trump’s tariffs could be felt throughout the United States, consider this:

From the West Coast to the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico, at least 10 percent of imports at many ports could be hit by new tariffs if Trump’s proposals take full effect, according to an exclusive analysis of government data by The Associated Press.

Ports and ground terminals in nearly every state handle goods that are now or will likely soon be covered by import tariffs. And port officials fear this could mean a slowdown in shipping that would have ripple effects on truckers and others whose jobs depend on trade.

Since March, the U.S. has applied new tariffs of up to 25 percent on nearly $85 billion worth of steel and aluminum and various Chinese products, mostly goods used in manufacturing.

“Tariffs are working big time,” Trump tweeted recently.

The president has argued that the tariffs will help protect American workers and force U.S. trading partners to change rules that the president insists are unfair to the United States.

At the same time, his administration is preparing to slap tariffs of up to 25 percent on an additional $200 billion in Chinese imports – many of them parts and materials U.S. companies depend on, along with consumer goods – after a public comment period ends Thursday.

These tariffs are the administration’s response to its charges that Beijing uses predatory tactics to try to supplant U.S. technological supremacy. Those tactics include cyber-theft and a requirement that American companies hand over trade secrets in exchange for access to China’s market.

U.S. manufacturers are beginning to respond to the tariffs. On Friday, Ford announced that it has abandoned plans to import a crossover version of its Focus compact car from China to the U.S. because of tariffs that took effect in July. Ford has already said it will exit most of the U.S. car business as it shifts sharply toward trucks and SUVs.

In New Orleans, port officials say a tariff-related drop in shipments is real, not merely a forecast. Steel imports there have declined more than 25 percent from a year ago, according to the port’s chief commercial officer, Robert Landry.

The port is scouting for other commodities it can import. But expectations appear to be low.

“In our business, steel is the ideal commodity,” Landry said. “It’s big, it’s heavy, we charge by the ton so it pays well. You never find anything that pays as well as steel does.”

Port officials were encouraged by this week’s announcement that the United States and Mexico had reached a preliminary agreement to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, hoping it might lead to reduced trade barriers. Canada’s participation in any new deal to replace NAFTA, though, remains a major question mark.