April 19, 2019
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Maine companies are feeling the consequences of Trump’s steel tariffs

Fred Bever | Maine Public
Fred Bever | Maine Public
Hussey Seating President and CEO Gary Merrill in his company's steel fabrication area.

North Berwick sports-seating manufacturer Hussey Seating is sounding alarms about the effect that President Donald Trump’s steel tariffs are having on its bottom line – a concern independent Maine Sen. Angus King said is widespread in the state and beyond.

Hussey CEO Gary Merrill said his company and many steel-based businesses in the Northeast depend on Canadian suppliers for raw materials, and that the tariffs that the White House announced recently will damage revenues at the company, which employs 300 people.

“It’s a significant impact to us,” Merrill said. “A lot of our backlog is already in place, and we’ve quoted those jobs with the old pricing in place. So it will affect our bottom line this year. And then going forward we’re going to have to pass those costs on to our customers because there’s no way we can absorb them and it could impact our competitive position with our competitors, especially our foreign competitors.”

Trump’s recent trade action includes a 25 percent tariff on Canadian steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum. Merrill said that the commodities market started reacting to the expected tariffs months ago, and between them and other market forces, Hussey’s steel costs have already spiked 45 percent this year.

“We’re used to dealing with high energy costs, we’re used to dealing with high tax structure, with low unemployment and an aging workforce,” Merrill said. “But this caught us out of the blue a little bit, that steel was going to go up that much, that quickly.”

“Hussey seating is an example but there are probably a hundred others in Maine and thousands across the country,” King said.

King said he wants to see changes in the nation’s trade relations, but the president should use a scalpel, not a chainsaw.

“I’ve talked to companies up in Aroostook County that make steel countertops, a company in Augusta that fabricates steel for construction,” he said. “It’s going to be a significant increase in the cost of everything that involves steel and aluminum, from beer cans to high-rise buildings. … And that doesn’t even take into account the likelihood of retaliation.”

King said Canada has already slapped a tariff on maple syrup imported from the U.S., and he is worried that further action by that country or others will result in a net loss of jobs in the United States. But he said the Republican-controlled Congress is showing little taste for defying Trump on the issue. In a recent press statement, White House officials said the tariffs have “already had major, positive effects on steel and aluminum workers and jobs, and will continue to do so long into the future.”

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.

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