AUGUSTA — The trade war with China began as an attempt to push back against China’s ongoing violations of global trade rules. Unfortunately, the tariffs have left American consumers, workers and businesses paying the price.

From small Main Street shops to major corporations, U.S. businesses depend on a complex global supply chain to provide American families with the products they need at the prices they can afford. Here in Maine, our storefronts are no exception.

As president and CEO of the Retail Association of Maine, I’m in a unique position to read the economic pulse in our area based on my frequent conversations with retailers across the state.

Take Ken Keiran, owner of Union Farm Equipment, which sells machinery ranging from American brands like Cleveland-based Cub Cadet to Japan’s Kubota. To cope with rising costs, he’s had to increase prices on multiple products, not just finished goods from China but also U.S.-manufactured products that include Chinese parts and materials. In addition to imports from China, his assortment of heavy equipment like tractors and farm implements have been hit by new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.

Ken says the impact of trade has already been felt and is likely to be felt for a while. He says the public needs to realize that tariffs are a tax ultimately paid by American consumers. As his suppliers increase their prices because of the tariffs, those increases have to be passed along to consumers and are also reducing his already-slim profit margins – limiting wages he can offer his workers and reducing his ability to grow his business.

My conversations with other retailers across the state have been unanimous: Tariffs are hurting their businesses. Facing rising costs and with few viable sourcing alternatives, retailers have been forced to raise prices or delay investments, all while operating under a climate of uncertainty. Throughout Maine, business owners are suffering under the weight of tariffs, and the uncertainty is wreaking havoc on their bottom lines.


Over at a third-generation family-owned outdoor gear store, the owners are among the many retailers across the country who have been importing merchandise early to try to beat the increased tariffs.

Their suppliers warned them last September that they needed to immediately start bringing in 2019 merchandise they normally would not import until spring or face higher costs for footwear, sports clothing and outdoor gear.

They moved up their purchasing, but front loading spring merchandise so early and carrying additional inventory longer will eat into their profits. And higher inventories increase financial exposure if the merchandise doesn’t sell. Without a clear end in sight, the tariffs have forced them to take a calculated risk that clearly puts a strain on their business.

On a national scale, the trade war has wreaked havoc on financial markets and led to unnecessary and unprecedented constraints on the economy. Last October alone, American businesses paid $6.2 billion in tariffs – a monthly record.

While I am encouraged by signs of progress surrounding the ongoing negotiations between the United States and China, the administration’s slow pace of action and lack of a clear strategy is hurting Maine businesses.

Holding China accountable for trade abuses is an important policy goal, but tariffs are hurting the very people the administration claims to be helping. If the tariffs continue, there will be severe reverberations across our country and our local communities. Ultimately, it’s American business owners and consumers who are the casualties of this trade war.

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