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Farm Equipment Manufacturers Across U.S. Worry About Tariffs on Aluminum and Steel

“We’re not really that big, so we can say that this impact has been a seven-figure impact for us in the last year, and that’s a substantial amount of money.”

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Workers ride through an aluminum ingots depot in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, China, Sept. 26, 2012. President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on aluminum and steel in March of 2018, with the goal of boosting U.S. production. VOA

Their iconic blue-colored planters and grain cars are recognizable on many farms across the United States. They are also easily spotted in large displays, some stacked one on top of the other, in front of Kinze’s manufacturing hub along Interstate 80, where, inside buildings sprawling across a campus situated among Iowa’s corn and soybeans fields, the company’s employees work with one key component.

“Steel is the lifeblood of Kinze,” says Richard Dix, a company senior director. “We’re a factory that’s essentially a weld house. We cut, burn, form, shape, cut, paint steel.”

Steel now costs more, the result of a 25 percent tariff on the material imported from most countries, including China.

“When there is a tariff on steel it cuts rights to the core of our fundamental product construction,” says Dix.

In March of 2018, President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on aluminum and steel, with the goal of boosting U.S. production and related employment.

While there has been a modest benefit to the domestic steel industry, Dix says increased costs are negatively impacting smaller manufacturing companies like Kinze.

“We see the bills that come in from our suppliers are higher based on those tariffs,” Dix explains. “Not just in steel but also in a lot of the electronics, rubber commodities and other agricultural parts we buy from China as well. Those tariffs take their effect on our cost structure, on the profitability for the family, through our employees, and now to our dealers and on to our customers.”

Those customers are mostly U.S. farmers who use some of Kinze’s products to put soybean and corn seeds into the ground. Soybean exports in particular are now subject to retaliatory tariffs imposed by the Chinese, one of the biggest export markets for U.S. farmers, which has sunk commodity prices and contributed to another year of overall declining income for U.S. farmers.

FILE - farmer Michael Petefish walks through his soybeans at his farm near Claremont in southern Minnesota.
farmer Michael Petefish walks through his soybeans at his farm near Claremont in southern Minnesota. VOA

​That means many are less likely to purchase the products Kinze makes.

“The market is substantially down,” says Dix. “The farmers don’t have that level of security they need to go out into the dealerships and buy that equipment. We get a one-two punch. We pay more for the product that comes into us and therefore on to the customer, and then we have a reciprocal situation where we can’t export what was advantageous to us.”

These are some of the concerns Dix explained to Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst, who participated in a roundtable discussion at Kinze along with farmers and others in Iowa impacted by tariffs. It was part of a “Tariffs Hurt the Heartland” event hosted by Kinze, and organized by the group Americans for Free Trade along with the Association of Equipment Manufacturers.

Ernst says the personal stories she gathers from these meetings go a long way in helping President Donald Trump understand the impact on her constituents.

“He has a very different negotiating style,” she told VOA. “He wants to start with the worst possible scenario, and negotiate his way to a good and fair trade deal, but again sharing those stories is very important and yes it does have an impact. I think the president does listen.”

Ernst says she is encouraged by news from the Trump administration on developments in negotiations that lead her to believe the trade dispute with China, and the related tariffs, could end soon.

“When I last spoke to [U.S. Trade Representative] Robert Lighthizer, he had indicated that the deal with China is largely done, it’s just figuring out the enforcement mechanism, and that is what the United States and China are really bartering over right now.”

But Kinze’s Richard Dix says one year under tariffs has already taken a toll on the company’s operations.

“We’re not really that big, so we can say that this impact has been a seven-figure impact for us in the last year, and that’s a substantial amount of money.”

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It’s an amount that Dix says, so far, hasn’t been passed on to Kinze’s customers, or the employees.

“We have not actually had any direct layoffs that are attributable to this tariff situation, but we’re all tightening our belts.” (VOA)

Next Story

US Shoe Industry Urges Trump to Exempt Footwear from Tariffs

The industry imported $11.4 billion worth of shoes from China, although some manufacturers have been shifting production elsewhere, especially to Vietnam and Cambodia

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A man wearing Nike shoes uses his smartphone near an advertisement for U.S. lingerie maker Victoria's Secret in Beijing on May 21, 2019. VOA

More than 170 American shoe manufacturers and retailers, including such well-known athletic shoe brands as Nike, Under Armour and Adidas, urged President Donald Trump on Tuesday to exempt footwear from any further tariffs he imposes on imported goods from China.

The lobby for the shoe industry, the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, told Trump in a letter that his proposed 25 percent tariff on shoes imported from China “would be catastrophic for our consumers, our companies and the American economy as a whole.” The industry imported $11.4 billion worth of shoes from China last year, although some manufacturers have been shifting production elsewhere, especially to Vietnam and Cambodia.

It said the proposed tariffs on shoes made in China could cost U.S. consumers more than $7 billion annually on top of existing levies.

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It said the proposed tariffs on shoes made in China could cost U.S. consumers more than $7 billion annually on top of existing levies. Pixabay

“There should be no misunderstanding that U.S. consumers pay for tariffs on products that are imported,” the 173 companies said, rejecting Trump’s frequent erroneous statement that China pays the tariffs and that the money goes directly to the U.S. Treasury.

Trump has been engaged in a string of reciprocal tariff increases with China on imported goods arriving in each other’s ports as the world’s two biggest economies have tried for months — unsuccessfully so far — to negotiate a new trade pact.

After Trump imposed new 25 percent taxes on $200 billion worth of Chinese products earlier this month, he also set in motion plans to impose a new round of levies on virtually all Chinese imports, another $300 billion worth of goods, including shoe imports, clothing and electronics.

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The industry imported $11.4 billion worth of shoes from China last year, although some manufacturers have been shifting production elsewhere, especially to Vietnam and Cambodia. Pixabay

The U.S. leader said that if American companies did not like the tariffs on Chinese imports, they could move their production inside the United States or to another country whose manufactured products are not taxed when they are sent to the U.S. But the footwear lobby rejected Trump’s suggestion.

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“Footwear is a very capital-intensive industry, with years of planning required to make sourcing decisions, and companies cannot simply move factories to adjust to these changes,” the industry told Trump.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office has published a list of products that would be covered by the expanded tariffs and set a hearing for June 17. (VOA)