Free trade campaign moves beyond agriculture

A diverse coalition of industries is banding together to ensure Washington, D.C., gets the message on the real-world harm of Trump’s trade war.
Carol Ryan Dumas

Capital Press

Published on September 12, 2018 12:05PM

Brian Kuehl

Brian Kuehl

Efforts launched last year by Farmers for Free Trade to give farmers a voice and educate the public on the benefits of trade among a growing sentiment of protectionism is broadening its reach.

Growing concern among other industries over the negative impacts of the Trump administration’s tariff war has united more than 80 leading trade associations — representing thousands of businesses and workers — to join FFT to form Americans for Free Trade.

The multi-industry coalition will focus its efforts in a multi-million-dollar campaign aimed at opposing tariffs and highlighting the benefits of international trade to the U.S. economy.

The Tariffs Hurt the Heartland campaign will build on the work FFT and the National Retail Federation have been doing for months on the tariff front, Brian Kuehl, FFT executive director, said, during a telephone conference with the media on Wednesday.

The campaign will shed light on the issue through town hall events in multiple states to highlight the impacts of tariffs on businesses, manufacturers, farmers and families. It will also expand FFT’s media campaign and appeals to the administration and Congress, he said.

When Trump’s tariff threats started, people thought it was a negotiating tactic that would soon subside, he said.

Instead, the administration’s subsequent actions have drawn retaliatory tariffs that those speaking on the conference call said are having dire consequences on many U.S. business sectors and families.

“Trade is not a light switch; you can’t just turn it off and turn it back on. You can’t get it back overnight,” Kuehl said.

Tariffs are causing real harm, he said.

“Congress needs to play a bigger role, and this president needs to be de-escalating the trade war and get us back to trading,” he said.

“Without trade, there literally is no agriculture in America,” he said.

The tariffs are certainly a priority for the retail industry, David French, senior vice president of government relations for the National Retail Federation, said.

“Tariffs are taxes paid for by Americans,” he said.

Retailers are trying to figure out how to set prices in the face of tariffs. But retail is a very low-margin business, and prices to consumers are likely to rise, he said.

Tariffs are a huge problem for all affected businesses in planning ahead, acquiring foreign goods and increased costs — as well as the real threat of lost sales, lost market share and employee layoffs, those on the call said.

Some on the call said the tariffs affect 85 percent of their products with a 25 percent increase in costs.

The campaign will amplify the voices of American families, workers, farmers and businesses being hurt by the tariffs, beginning with where they have already caused great harm — at the grassroots level in the American heartland, coalition members said in a letter to the U.S. House and Senate.

It will kick off next week with events in Chicago, Nashville, Pennsylvania and Ohio to highlight the need to de-escalate the trade war.

The coalition represents U.S. manufacturers, farmers and agribusinesses, retailers, technology companies, service suppliers, natural gas and oil companies, importers, exporters and other supply-chain stakeholders.

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