OREM — International trade is growing concern for many Utah small businesses as the impact of sanctions imposed by the Trump administration impact the bottom line of companies in the Beehive State and across the nation.
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, focused on the problem during an International Trade Conference Thursday in the Sorensen Student Center at Utah Valley University, which included a panel discussion on tariffs. Curtis said trade and tariff policies in Washington are currently affecting businesses in Utah, but the ultimate goal is to help firms and producers nationwide prosper in the long term.
"It's very clear that this is a big deal and that it's hitting them in substantial ways, especially small businesses," he said. "One of our responsibilities is to talk about what is happening to them, understand what is happening to them and move through this (process) as quickly as possible to get them to the other (positive) side of this."
In June, the Trump administration imposed a 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent tariffs on aluminum from Canada, Mexico and the European Union. The move was preceded in January by tariffs on foreign-made solar panels and washing machines. In September, the president levied more than $200 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods, one of the country's top international trading partners, which retaliated with sanctions of its own.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, $568 million in Utah exports to China are being threatened by retaliatory tariffs, explained Miles Hansen, president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah.
"An analysis by WTC Utah shows that the state industries primarily affected by Chinese retaliatory tariffs include aluminum recycling, ranchers and beef processing, plastics manufacturing and agriculture," he said.
Since the tariffs were imposed, the major impact has been felt by small- and medium-size businesses across the country, threatening the survival of many, Curtis said.
"If they can survive, there is good news and hope on the other end," he said. "But the biggest question is can we get them through this period?"
"We have to," he added. "We don't have a choice."
Curtis said getting the tariff strategy to work in the United States' favor will require strengthening relationships with other trading partner countries to provide the manufacturing services so heavily relied upon through China right now and to work hard at getting new trade agreements in place, such as the revised North American trade deal that was renamed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
"The stronger our relationship is with Mexico, with Canada, with Europe and these other trading partners, the less dependent we are on China," he said. "We can adapt, but the pace is very, very difficult for us."
He noted that refining the former North American Free Trade Agreement is critical for the nation to move forward to the next phase of establishing new policies for global trade and economic growth.
"We should cheer and be grateful that we are having some success with our good partners," he said.
Meanwhile, beside tariffs and trade policy, the conference also included discussions on global e-commerce and export workshops.
Sam Simmons, vice president of operations at PMD Beauty in Draper, said having the opportunity to meet with experienced businesspeople involved in international markets would likely help broaden the network of contacts that can help companies like his expand globally.
"All the stuff they are talking about is (what) we're trying to figure out how to do," he said. "(E-commerce) is a complicated world and (governments) don't make it any easier."
He noted that different countries have varying regulations on importing and exporting, which make online commerce challenging. However, he said as e-commerce becomes more established, regulations will likely adapt to allow greater ease of international trade online.
"The duties and the taxes (are complex)," he said. "And part of it is the infrastructure is still fairly new to ship something clear across the world in an effective manner. Business is still trying to figure out how to solve that problem."
Mike Rich, the founder of Action Trak, a supply chain and inventory software firm based in Orem, said protection of intellectual property is something his company is very concerned about, especially with countries like China known for being among the bad actors in the global marketplace. He said without some governmental intervention, many U.S. companies will be targets of rogue actors looking to steal their technology.
"It's going to stifle potential expansion," he said.