Trump Tariffs And Business In The Cape Fear Region

Jul 23, 2018

The trade war with China and other U.S. allies is hitting close to home, as Bladen County just earned a unique distinction. According to research by the Brookings Institution, Bladen County ranks 4th among all U.S. counties that could be hurt by President Donald Trump's tariffs. 

The report states that counties with small populations will be hit because they usually depend on one industry for jobs – the way Bladen County depends on agriculture and Smithfield Foods. But it's a lot more than pork being slapped by tariffs.

At Bradford Products in Leland, steel is the name of the game. Mark Miller is the company’s Chief Financial Officer.

“We're a manufacturer of stainless steel pools, spas, therapy vessels, steam rooms, saunas. We sell to primarily the commercial industry, resorts, hotels, developments all across the world. We have participated in projects in Kuwait, in Qatar, did the Four Seasons in Moscow, the Embassy Gardens in London as well as quite a bit of work in the Caribbean, Florida.”

Business is good. The 150 employees are busy. Since the last recession, the company has grown. But a trade war, and tariffs, can change that.

“Many of our producers of the stainless steel do buy steel from outside of the country to produce that product. And so there's a piece of that 25 percent tariff.”

Miller is not alone. Across the Cape Fear Region, and the state, businesses are scrambling to figure out the impact that the shifting trade landscape could have.

The Trump administration has imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from the European Union, and also Canada and Japan.

And President Trump has announced he is ready to raise U.S. tariffs on $500 billion worth of Chinese imports. Earlier this month, the U.S. levied tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods. With such moves, comes retaliation. Those countries slap tariffs on imports from the U.S.

Dan Soques is an economist at the University of Carolina – Wilmington. He says those in and around the agriculture business could also take a hit.

“It's agricultural, it's animal products. So pork is going to be, is one of the primary targets in terms of retaliatory tariffs from China, not only China, but now from the EU. Tobacco is going to, you know, hit not just Elizabethtown, but other counties as well.

He says 25% of pork produced in this state, is exported.

“Our largest exporters' by far Canada, for North Carolina, after that, Mexico and China.”

“There's really nothing good that can come out of trade wars.”

John Hayes is the Executive Director of the North Carolina Foreign Trade Promotion Council. He says the back and forth tariffs know no borders, when it comes to effects on businesses. From the Port of Wilmington, to a mom and pop hardware store in Bladen County…

“Then, it certainly would, it would impact trade here and the port and then that's just the most obvious one, but it affects little, little companies, small, medium and large firms actually, in North Carolina that rely on those products to be a part of what they're selling.

And when you import something that's all of a sudden 25 percent more, it's going to change the way in which you’re thinking about manufacturing. And then at the same time, your buyers will say, ‘wait a minute, that there's just too expensive.’”

Last week in a letter to President Trump, Gov. Roy Cooper described the damage being done to North Carolina’s farmers and manufacturers by the Administration’s escalating trade war. He said that the state’s manufacturers could be harmed by rising costs of aluminum and steel and emphasized the damage already being done to the state’s agriculture industry – particularly pork and tobacco farmers.