Trade rhetoric heats up, US boating industry feels brunt

By Tony Esposito
Thu Aug 9 2018, 14:30 PM

NMMA president says export markets are essentially frozen

With almost daily changes on the frontlines of the trade war, the president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) is warning that “tariffs aren’t going away any time soon”, and the impact is already being felt in the US marine industry.

Last Friday, China announced new tariffs on approximately $60bn worth of US exports – including boats, for the first time – in response to the Trump Administration’s proposed increase of tariffs from 10 to 25% on US$200bn in Chinese goods. On Tuesday, the administration announced its final list of $16bn in Chinese products that will face a 25% tariff starting August 23.

“The tariffs are hurting US manufacturers and workers and consumers more than they are hurting the Chinese,” NMMA president Thom Dammrich told IBI on Tuesday. “Talk to any aluminium boatbuilder; aluminium prices are up 30%. Talk to any manufacturer who exports boats, with millions and millions of dollars in cancelled orders. [The tariffs] are impacting right now. The export markets are essentially frozen,” he said.

The NMMA notes that while a number of marine products were included on the new Trump tariff list, floating docks were granted an exemption. The trade group is encouraging members to continue to communicate with elected officials and federal trade agencies while continuing to file for exemptions.

“The whole exemption process is terribly flawed and there are almost no exemptions being granted at this time,” Dammrich said.

Because of the potential tariff increase, the administration has extended the deadline for submitting comments and requests to testify to 5 September and 13 August respectively.

Dammrich offered that with about 15% industrywide US boat exports, refocusing on the domestic market – where an exceptional year is 5% growth – “is a pretty tough challenge”.

Trade is difficult and nuanced, Dammrich said, cautioning against over simplifying the practice. “We complain about China subsidising the steel and aluminium industries. Other countries complain that we subsidise agriculture,” he said, “so, if you really want free and fair trade, where countries aren’t subsidising industries and tariffs are zero, that going to be some pretty radical change.”

The trade group leader said the marine industry has long supported free and fair trade and that China will likely have to change its practices on protecting American intellectual property and currency manipulation as a starting point to negotiations.

“We’ve got to get to the negotiating table. If you’re not talking and just putting more tariffs on each other, I don’t see how that gets us where we need to get,” he said.