Why cripple the US economy with tariffs when it’s hitting full stride?
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The American economy is roaring. As Americans have returned to the workforce, unemployment has fallen to lows rarely seen in the last 50 years. Job growth is strong – 201,000 jobs were created in August – and some employers are even having trouble finding workers. Earnings are up, and last year median household income hit a new high of roughly $61,400. And of course, last quarter’s 4.2 percent GDP growth undercuts any notion that the “new normal” constrains us to tepid 2 percent growth.

In the face of these positive indicators, the administration seems determined to snatch failure from the jaws of success by escalating its trade war with our top trading partners.

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Even before the announcement of new tariffs on $200 billion worth of imports from China, trade barriers were already having dire consequences for American businesses, workers and consumers.

Howard-McCray manufactures commercial refrigeration and product display units for grocery stores, delis and other customers. Tariffs on the steel, aluminum, condensing units and electrical components the company uses to build its products have cut the company’s profits 8 percent.

Especially maddening is that the tariffs have hardly affected Howard-McCray's international competitors. If the trade war continues, the Philadelphia-based firm will be unable to compete with its foreign counterparts and will have to consider cost-cutting measures, such as workforce reduction, decreased benefits, deferred salary increases and reduced spending on research and development.

For other businesses, cutting employees isn’t theoretical. Lawncare accessories manufacturer Brinly-Hardy Co., a 125-year-old, Indiana-based company, laid off 75 employees because of an earlier round of tariffs.

Grandall Industries in Ohio postponed hiring at least 30 new workers after tariffs increased by one-third the cost of steel used in the company’s products. Vollrath Co. in Wisconsin also stopped hiring in response to aluminum price increases driven by tariffs.

One report found that tariffs as high as 25 percent on imported vehicles and parts would cost more jobs than they’d protect. “About three jobs would be lost elsewhere in the economy for every U.S. motor vehicle job gained,” the Trade Partnership report states.

Farmers, dairy producers and distillers have been hit hard by retaliatory tariffs from China, the EU, Mexico and Canada. Soybean prices have plummeted while dairy, beef and poultry inventories are piling up in warehouses across the country. The administration’s farm assistance has done nothing to offset the potentially permanent damage to trade markets.

On top of fewer jobs for American workers and less income for farmers, families will find their budgets stretched as prices rise for everyday goods. We’ve already seen double-digit price increases for washing machines following tariffs imposed earlier this year. Soon, Americans will be paying more to furnish a new home or nursery, repair a car, own a pet, buy groceries or even purchase necessities like toilet paper. Shopping bills will be higher, and those costs will start to add up, erasing savings provided by tax reform.

Stories such as these are playing out all over the United States. As representatives of small business owners, workers, farmers, manufacturers and consumers, we maintain that Americans rely on free trade. Unfortunately, we are seeing the negative effects across the country as businesses lay off workers in response to the rising costs of tariffs.

Proponents of tariffs say they are necessary to deal with unfair trade practices committed by other countries. But punitive measures have done nothing to end these practices; instead they will do more damage to American businesses, workers and consumers than they’ll ever do to the offending countries. We should be resolving these disputes through existing international trade agreements and organizations instead of inflicting harm on our own people.

Tariffs and other trade barriers represent a destructive force for an otherwise thriving U.S. economy. Instead of imposing new tariffs, lengthening this trade war and isolating America from its allies, we ought to be eliminating all trade barriers and doing everything we can to keep the good times rolling for all Americans.

Deirdre T. Flynn is executive vice president of the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers. Sandy Kennedy is president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association. Brian Kuehl is executive director of Farmers for Free Trade. Nathan Nascimento is executive vice president of Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce. Matthew R. Shay is president and CEO of the National Retail Federation.