Broad coalition unites against Trump tariffs

Broad coalition unites against Trump tariffs
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A diverse group of businesses from farmers to retailers are ramping up their fight against President TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency MORE's tariffs, which they warn are hurting businesses and the broader economy.

Nearly 100 major trade associations on Wednesday launched a multimillion-dollar nationwide campaign that will lobby Capitol Hill and organize events around the country to push back on Trump's trade policies. 

Since Trump started imposing billions of tariffs earlier this year on everything from washing machines to steel and aluminum, business groups have been outspoken in their opposition, arguing it would cost jobs and stall the booming economy. 

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Trump has largely ignored that pressure, arguing that U.S. consumers and businesses will have to bear some short-term pain for long-term benefits. 

But the new beefed-up coalition aims to step up its efforts two months ahead of the midterm elections.

The group, Americans for Free Trade, will kick off its initiative next week with events in Chicago, Nashville, Tenn., Pennsylvania and Ohio to highlight the importance of global trade to the U.S. economy.

Adding to its firepower, the coalition is teaming up with Farmers for Free Trade, a group backed by the nation’s largest agriculture commodity groups.

“This campaign will show how tariffs are squeezing the average American family and community from every direction,” said Brian Kuehl, executive director of Farmers for Free Trade.

The campaign intends to highlight how businesses, farmers and workers are harmed by tariffs with town-hall style events, grass-roots outreach to Congress and the Trump administration, social media, and digital advertising.

To push Congress, the new coalition sent a letter to House and Senate leaders urging them to join events in their districts and states and take a more active role against Trump's tariffs.

"While we agree that there are issues that need to be addressed with key trading partners, tariffs are the wrong approach to bring about meaningful change," the groups wrote.

"Every day, companies large and small are sharing their stories of the harm the tariffs and ensuing retaliation are causing across all sectors of the American economy."

The coalition's campaign will ramp up this fall as businesses express growing concerns about tariffs pushing up prices heading into the vital holiday shopping season.

Small business owners made that case to reporters on Wednesday.

Tiffany Zarfas Williams, the owner of the Luggage Shop of Lubbock in Lubbock, Texas, said 85 percent of the products she sells in her store — from luggage to backpacks — are all on the proposed list of tariffs.

"The thought of 85 percent of what I currently sell in my store having a 25 percent increase in price, it's just really overwhelming and hard to imagine what that looks like when we enter the fourth quarter, which of course like most retail stores is my busiest time of the year," she told reporters during a call Wednesday. 

"The fact that all of this is hitting us at such a crucial time is definitely disturbing in an of itself."

Williams said she wished her industry was not so dependent on China, but the reality is that 84 percent of luggage and travel goods are made in that country, and it is unlikely production could be moved easily. 

Chris Cowger, CEO of Cedar Electronics in Chicago, called his company the poster child for the unintended consequences of tariffs. 

At the end of last year, Cedar moved some of its production back to the United States. 

But critical components to build its products are mostly sourced in China and have been hit with a 25 percent tariff.

"We're actually now being penalized for moving that manufacturing back to the U.S. and from an all-in business case perspective would have been better off to have left it overseas where it was before," he said. 

Trade groups said they worried about a drop off in consumer spending.

“The most recent proposed list of [Chinese] goods subject to tariffs would damage consumer spending during the vital holiday shopping season as well as toy companies of all sizes, particularly small businesses," said Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of The Toy Association.

David French, senior vice president of government relations at the National Retail Federation, said tariffs will force retailers to make tough decisions on pricing over the holidays.

"Remember that retail is a very low-margin business, so when the prices on the goods that retailers are purchasing go up the prices for consumers are likely to go up as well," French said. 

"We're just starting to see the impact of the steel and aluminum tariffs at a consumer level now," he continued. "It's certainly not 100 percent clear what the timeline is for the next round or two of tariffs will be, but the earlier these tariffs hit the more likely they can show up in prices in some way or another." 

Trump has put a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum from most top U.S. allies, including the European Union, Mexico and Canada, for what the administration says is national security purposes.

The 28-nation EU, as well as North American Free Trade Agreement partners Mexico and Canada, have retaliated against U.S. products in response.

Separately, Trump has imposed tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese products and has threatened two more batches, one of $200 billion and most recently another $267 billion, on Chinese imports. That would more than cover all the imports China sends the U.S. every year.

“The administration’s tariffs-only trade strategy is failing with China,” said Dean Garfield, president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council, which represents the nation's largest technology companies.

“Tariffs have had little impact on the Chinese, but are already harming American consumers, workers and communities."

“Every sector of the U.S. economy stands to lose in a trade war,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation.

“The stakes couldn’t be higher for American families, businesses, farmers and workers threatened by job losses and higher prices as a result of tit-for-tat tariffs," he added.

Updated at 4:23 p.m.