By DOUG GRAVES
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A month ago, more than 80 trade associations representing thousands of business and workers formed Americans for Free Trade and joined with agriculture groups to launch a multimillion-dollar campaign against tariffs.
Called “Tariffs Hurt the Heartland,” it highlights the negative impact of tariffs on businesses and the benefits of international trade to the U.S. economy. Last week the campaign’s tour made a stop at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, where area business owners, trade experts and a few farmers converged to discuss how tariffs are impacting the state and local economies.
“One-third of my soybeans end up half around the world in China,” said Bret Davis, a soybean farmer from Delaware, Ohio, and one of the six panelists. “That’s every third row going to that country. But I bet we’ve lost $400,000 the past four months due to tariffs.”
Davis is on the governing committee of the American Soybean Assoc. He is a fourth-generation farmer with eight grandchildren and 3,500 acres.
“It’s important enough to the Chinese that three weeks ago, we had 12 large industry buyers at my farm and each wanted to know what our crop was like and how it was doing,” he said. “They spent time in our fields, examining to see if the crop that we had was what they wanted.
“They saw it and they want it. They need it. But with the tariffs it’s become a detriment for both parties. It’s a no-win situation with these tariffs.”
Davis has traveled to 40 counties in 35 years, talking to buyers, and has realized those nations know U.S. beans offer better value and can meet their demand.
“We understand what’s going on with the trade associations and the President gave us a ‘package’ three weeks ago, and we thank him for that. But it’s just a Band-Aid,” he said.
“I’m trying to market my crop three years ahead of schedule. This way I know my bottom line and I can pay back my creditors and pay back the families that work for me. All this allows the farmer to go out and support the community.”
But Davis said he sat down with his personal marketer and looked at his projected income. Over the next 2-3 years he cannot show a profit. “If China doesn’t buy from U.S. farmers, they’ll go someplace else.
“We have picked up our exports to Indonesia and the European Union, but for me as a farmer I know that everyone eats. We just want free trade with the rest of the world and we need a level playing field to do this. I cannot pay my bills with the price that we’re offered today on the world market.”
Maggie Sheely, U.S. Chamber of Commerce manager of Congressional and Public Affairs for the Great Lakes region, addressed the tariff impact on local and state businesses.
“We have heard from so many businesses across the Ohio, Indiana and Michigan region, telling us they can only survive a few more months before they go out of business,” she said. “These are businesses that have expanded 20 to 300 employees, but they see no options going forward.”
Sheely said aluminum prices have increased 10 percent due to tariffs. Citing the steel industry as an example, she said 900 firms totaling 80,000 employees have seen a positive effect with imposed tariffs, while 30,000 firms with a total of 900,000 employees show a negative effect from them.
“In terms of retail woes, people will see increased prices as businesses like, say, Target and Walmart,” she said. “They will be most notable after Christmas season.
“We are keeping a watchful eye on car tariffs, too. President Trump has threatened to put tariffs on cars coming in from Canada. They would be devastating for those in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. We would project a loss of 624,000 jobs in the first three years if car tariffs come to fruition and $350 billion in U.S. imports will be threatened if these car tariffs come to fruition, as well.”
Wally Kandel, senior vice president and Marietta site manager for Solvay Specialty Polymers USA, addressed tariffs and their impact on his company with its contractors.
“Solvay is a global business and there are supply chains that have been developed, but now they’re being disrupted,” he said. “Today there is uncertainty with respect to raw materials and the final product.”
Solvay manufactures more than 1,500 products across 35 brands of high-performance polymers for use in aerospace, alternative energy, automotive, health care, oil and gas and other industries. “We have 24 manufacturing facilities across the globe, with 38,000 employees worldwide and 6,400 here in the U.S. Tariffs would have a huge impact on our operations.”
Ohio State University economist Dr. Ian Sheldon specializes in trade and policy. He is also an ag economist with 36 years of experience.
“I have focused on three things in my career: they are the benefits from free trade agreements, the gains from international trade and the World Trade Organization,” he said. “With this trade war with China, there is a strong potential here for raising consumer prices, especially as these tariffs broaden out to a wide range of consumer products.
“Tariffs definitely push up domestic prices. China is a large importer and when a large country raises tariffs they tend to drive down world prices. And any economist will tell you that a trade deficit means that other countries will pick up the slack.”
Moderating this event was Gordon Gough, Ohio Council of Retail Merchants president and CEO. “Retailers in Ohio have limited resources, so they won’t be able to simply absorb the cost of these new taxes,” he said. “Instead, these costs will show up in the form of fewer jobs and higher prices for Ohioans.
“As businesses brace for the impact of this escalating trade war, they’re rightfully frustrated because American consumers and job creators shouldn’t be forced to pay for the unfair practices of our trading partners. These has to be a better way to achieve a better deal for our country, and we hope the administration will start to heed that message.”
Tariffs Hurt the Heartland is a bipartisan campaign chaired by former Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.). Its backing groups are investing in local ads, town hall events and raising awareness about financial and job losses tied to the ongoing trade war with China.
The advocacy group Farmers for Free Trade (FFT) has purchased $800,000 worth of advertising in an effort to reach farmers it says are watching the value of their hard work decrease each day as tariffs force the price of crops and livestock downward.
“These are messages from farmers to farmers about how decisions in Washington, D.C., are hurting their farms, their neighbors and the economy of rural America,” said Sara Lilygren, president of the FFT board.
The anti-tariff campaigns come as the Trump administration is preparing to impose new duties on another $200 billion of imports from China as part of a broader tug-of-war between Washington and Beijing.