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Decrying Trump’s tariffs in Conn.

August 1, 2018

Prices for metal have climbed in the last few weeks at Glyne Manufacturing Co. in Stratford, a small maker of aerospace parts with about 20 employees.

“I can’t necessarily tell if it’s the effects of tariffs or the people providing us with material are increasing prices,” said Ben McGalliard, whose family owns the business. “We’re a small player in this market... It’s sort of been a problem at this point.”

Sort-of a problem, not a full-blown crisis. Hard to sort out since the supply chain for aerospace materials, as with so many industries, is truly global.

Similarly, Terex Corp., the Westport-based global manufacturer of cranes and other materials handling equipment, sent a letter to customers in March, saying the newly imposed U.S. tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel would lead to price increases. But Terex profits remain strong.

That’s a tiny sampling of the effects of the Trump administration tariffs on goods coming in from Canada, Mexico, China and Europe — and the tariffs other nations are slapping on us in retaliation.

In the bigger picture, Connecticut can expect to gain perhaps 200 jobs as the tariffs on aluminum and steel from Canada protect workers here, said Phyllis Yaffe, the Canadian consul general in New York at a forum on tariffs and trade Tuesday, sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Connecticut.

And the cost: “You will lose about 5,000 jobs in Connecticut,” Yaffe said .

Wow. That’s 5,000 jobs not necessarily at companies directly affected by the tariffs but throughout the economy, as President Donald Trump’s shortsighted trade policies lead to higher prices and tighter profits.

“Closing the door behind us will not grow our businesses, it will not grow our economy,” Yaffe said.

She was joined by Yumin Zhao, acting consul general in New York from China, and Diego Gómez Pickering, the New York consul general from Mexico. All three agreed — the latest round of escalating tariffs, including about 800 products to and from China, are hurting the world economy and hurting the United States’ standing in the world.

I was moderator of the event at Infinity Music Hall in Hartford.

Trade war? Yaffe was the bluntest of the three, saying the escalating is “not a war but a skirmish.” Pickering, who holds the rank of Ambassador, having represented Mexico in the United Kingdom, was adamant: “There’s definitely not a war going on at all...There’s not a single trace.”

Zhao was not at all apologetic about China’s response. “We don’t need a war and we don’t want a war but once a war was imposed on us, China couldn’t not respond,” he said. “Misjudgment leads to wrong policies.”

Whatever we call it, it’s coursing through the economy in ways that, as at Glyne, are hard to pinpoint. The core dispute relates to Trump’s view of the North American Free Trade Agreement as unfair to American workers, and his view of that China acts as a rogue regime, stealing intellectual property and blocking the sale of U.S. products in China.

The only way to undo the effects of the tariff escalations is with costly and possibly illegal subsidies, as we saw with Trump’s new attempt to make up for the hit to farmers by throwing $12 billion their way — just in time for the midterm elections.

The consuls general tread lightly on the pace of progress in talks — in contrast to comments made by Trump administration officials, who in recent days have painted a rosy picture. “I’m a little skeptical,” Yaffe said, in part because of the administration’s demand for a 5-year sunset of any agreement.

No business can invest for the long term based on a 5-year horizon, she said.

And as for the Trump administration claims that the steel tariffs are justified based on national security, one person in the audience guffawed. “If you’re laughing, I agree with you, it’s disconcerting,” she said.

But Pickering said, “There’s still talks. There could be no talks at all.”

In the biggest picture, the consuls general agreed that U.S. global influence is waning in several ways under Trump. Zhao suggested — in contrast to some reports — that China is not aggressively expanding its own influence around the wold, and that the largest nation is eager for the United States to step back up.

Is it irreversible? No, Yaffe said. “We’ve seen this movie before and I can tell you that remakes are very popular,” she said — with the experience of a film and TV executive, which she is.

Back in Stratford, the president of another aerospace parts manufacturer, Dave Cremin at Straton Industries, said he’s seeing some metals suppliers unable to promise prices beyond 60 days, but not much effect so far.

As for Trump’s tariffs, Cremin said, “We got their attention. Internationally everybody is listening now. Maybe this is going to be okay…I see no need to panic.”

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