BCA hosts Tariffsx Hurt the Heartland town hall

by | February 8, 2019 9:00 am

Last Updated: February 8, 2019 at 8:43 am

Panelists discuss the potential and realized harm from tariffs at the Tariffs Hurt the Heartland town hall hosted at BCA.

The Americans for Free Trade and Farmers for Free Trade held a town hall meeting in Manning on January 31 at Bicycle Corporation of America (BCA). The “Tariffs Hurt the Heartland” movement is a bipartisan, grassroots effort which is moving across the nation.

Manufacturers, trade organizations, agriculture producers, business owners, workers and consumers across the U.S. are joining the movement to educate citizens on the damage tariffs can do to a thriving economy.

The event held at BCA included a panel discussion, which included Jon Gold, Vice President, National Retail Federation; Arnold Kamler, Chairman & CEO, Kent International Inc.; James I. Newsome III, President & CEO, South Carolina Ports Authority; Sarah Thorn, Senior Director, Global Government Affairs, Walmart; Brince Manning, Director of Congressional Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce; John F. Long, Owner, Overbridge Farm, LLC; and Angela Marshall Hofmann, Co-Founder, Farmers for Free Trade.

BCA stopped production during the event, allowing employees to attend the lunchtime event, listening to how tariffs can hurt South Carolina, including Clarendon County, while they enjoyed a fried-chicken lunch.

Throughout the event, panelists shared their concerns and hopes with regard to the ongoing tariff situation.

New tariffs were brought up in early 2018, as the current administration vowed to stop intellectual property theft and bring jobs and sales back to America. Tariffs were to begin in September at 10 percent on $200 billion of Chinese goods. However, a truce in the trade war was called in early December. Talks are ongoing, but if terms cannot be agreed upon, tariffs are set to rise to 25 percent in early March.

Many businesses across the state and country will be affected by this, as tariffs will hurt not only consumer goods but also materials used in manufacturing products in the U.S.

“The tariffs had the intended effect to help American businesses,” said Kamler, who has to import many of his bicycle parts from China. “We’ve created a lot of jobs, and it’s our long-term plan to make our own frames, forks and handlebars here ourselves. But we cancelled some of these plans because of steel tariffs.” BCA is, however, moving forward with its expansion plans in Summerton.

Kamler states the tariffs on imported steel didn’t have the effect of letting American steel suppliers aggressively pursue more business. Instead, they raised prices, further hurting even the companies who were already using American steel.

“It’s not just penalizing China,” said Kamler. “It’s hurting American companies.”

Manning states the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is also deeply concerned with how the tariffs will affect imported non-consumer materials.

“The U.S. Chamber is all about job creation, a rolling economy and whatever helps accomplish that,” said Manning. “Tariffs don’t help. I’m here because tariffs are a big problem.” Manning further states the major concern is now retaliatory tariffs. He asserts other countries have imposed $40 billion in tariffs on the U.S. at this time, dropping U.S. export rates, which studies show could cost 470,000 American jobs.

“I hope to see more unity,” said Manning. “The business world as a whole is more powerful than just the Farm Bureau, the U.S. Chamber or the NFIB. If we can all get together, we’ll be much more powerful, particularly on issues such as this one.”

Newsome looks at the imports and exports in and out of the Port of Charleston on a daily basis. He asserts we’ve been in an inclining trade for many years. Even with the new tariffs, shipping has continued to rise. However, he insists this is the precursor to a drop, as much of the incline is from companies shipping early to beat the higher tariffs which may come. He states some companies have shipped as much as 20 percent more than normal.

“Probably South Carolina is more dependent proportionally upon global trade than any other state,” said Newsome. “Just look at Michelin, BMW, Volvo and more, as well as agriculture exports.” Newsome further states, it differs by industry.

“We don’t really know what the outcome will be,” said Newsome. “The longer it goes on, the bigger the uncertainty.”

Thorn recognized Walmart has a deep commitment to maintaining low prices, allowing their customers to purchase valued products at affordable prices. Her concern is the tariffs on incoming goods, as well as incoming non-consumer goods which impact manufacturing costs, will cause the prices of some products to go up, hurting American household budgets.

“Twenty-five percent of what’s produced on American farms goes to markets outside the United States,” said Thorn. “We need these international markets. We need to be able to export. We need good terms of trade. We need to be treated fairly, and we need to treat people fairly.”

Thorn brought another long-reaching concern to the table. Large retailers such as Walmart often purchase American agricultural products to ship to their international locations, further supporting American business and trade. However, if tariffs make this no longer financially possible, these large retailers will have to seek agricultural products in other countries, building new relationships. Should the tariffs eventually be lifted, these retailers may not come back to American agriculture, as they already have vendor relationships built in other countries.

“The unintended consequences are hurting middle Americans, and it’s hurting people in the heartland,” said Thorn.

Long, as a long-term farmer, raised a valid point regarding moving industry to other countries. He states the common rhetoric is many businesses will move overseas to overcome the tariff issues. While he insists moving a large manufacturing plant or retail business isn’t quite that simple, he further states its veritably impossible for farms. He, too, is deeply concerned regarding reciprocal tariffs which will affect exports.

“South Carolina agriculture is the number one economic driver in our state,” said Long. “A recent study was done which said agriculture added $41.6 billion to our state’s economy and hundreds of thousands of jobs.” He asserts the products he produces are showing little or no profit.

“As a farmer, I’m always optimistic, and we’re hopeful something will get better,” said Long. “But right now our market is failing. We need free trade; we don’t need trade wars.”

Dalton Tresvant, Deputy District Director for Congressman James Clyburn, attended the event.

“We want to hear from constituents,” said Tresvant. “They can tell us how tariffs adversely affect them. Once we obtain information from them, the Congressman can make his position clear.” Tresvant asserts Clyburn finds his constituents’ needs with regard to the tariffs as important.

“How many have a cell phone on you?” asked Hoffman. “You can take action today. You can weigh in with members of Congress by texting Tariffs Hurt to 52886.”

To learn more about the Tariffs Hurt the Heartland effort, visit www.tariffshurt.com.

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