President Donald Trump has ordered new tariffs on steel and aluminium imported to the US to begin in 14 days, prompting fears of a trade war. Officials in the US boating industry are concerned that retaliatory tariffs threatened by the European Union could have a negative impact on the export of US-built boats and marine engines.
As he signed the executive order, Trump vowed to fight back “against an assault on our country” by foreign competitors. He did, however, exempt Canada and Mexico from the tariffs while the three countries negotiate changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Trump also mentioned earlier in the day that Australia and “other countries” might be spared the tariffs. “The penalties might go up or down depending on the country and I’ll have a right to drop out countries or add countries. I just want fairness,” he said in an earlier cabinet meeting.
Business leaders fear that this could lead to a global trade war. More than 100 Congressional Republicans wrote to Trump on Wednesday, asking him to reconsider "the idea of broad tariffs to avoid unintended negative consequences" to the US economy and workers.
“We fear this could be something significantly impactful to the boating industry,” Nicole Vasilaros, vice president of legal and federal affairs for the NMMA, told IBI. “The consequences of a trade war for our industry are severe, especially with the EU specifically mentioning US boats in their retaliatory tariff list.”
In 2017 US boat and engine exports were up over 9%. Western Europe is the country’s second biggest export market. In 2016, exports of boats and marine engines to Western Europe were valued at $366m.
Besides boats and marine engines, the EU list ranged from iconic American products like Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Kentucky bourbon down to peanut butter, cranberries and orange juice.
Vasilaros said that the industry has been closely following two cases making their way through the Department of Commerce and International Trade Commission that could impact US aluminium boat manufacturers. The dumping cases could result in a 56% duty on imported aluminum along with a 40% counterveiling duty.
“We were initially concerned about the impact on our aluminium manufacturers with these duties,” said Vasilaros. “Now we’re seeing that even the fibreglass boat builders could be impacted. What started out as something that caught the attention of our aluminium manufacturers could suddenly effect the whole industry.”