Just weeks after the Trump administration slapped tariffs on imported solar cells, the president has imposed new levies on imported steel and aluminum. Specialty remodeling trade associations fear these latest tariffs will create a trade war that ultimately hurts the industry — and sales.
The newest tariffs put a 25% tax on imported steel and a 10% tax on imported aluminum with exceptions for Canada and Mexico. A 30% tariff on solar cells was levied in late January. Those tariffs are expected to cost the solar industry 23,000 jobs, according to the Solar Energies Industry Association.
“We want to remind [the president] that the net loss of jobs and the cancellation of projects as a result of his solar tariffs are real and cause damage to America’s energy economy,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO.
But it’s the latest steel and aluminum tariffs that have industry leaders in an uproar, along with some of the president’s own party.
“I disagree with this action and fear its unintended consequences,” said Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan. “We will continue to urge the administration to narrow this policy so that it is focused only on those countries and practices that violate trade law.”
NAHB Chairman, Randy Noel, said the tariffs come a time when the industry is already grappling with 20% tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber along with “record high” costs of other key building materials.
“These tariffs will translate into higher costs for consumers and U.S. businesses that use these products, including home builders,” he said. “Tariffs hurt consumers and harm housing affordability. We hope the administration will work quickly to resolve these trade disputes…”
WDMA previously said it supports elimination of trade barriers including tariffs that hurt market access. The organization said these latest tariffs go against that general stand.
“While we are still assessing the impact on the industry, the tariffs will increase the cost of some materials needed for the production of windows, doors and skylights,” said Michael O’Brien, WDMA’s CEO. “More broadly speaking, we are also concerned about possible trade wars erupting in retaliation and impacting the cost of additional materials.”
NRCA did not have a statement about the tariffs at press time.
Already, it seems the tariffs are creating conditions for the trade war many fear. South Korea, the U.S.’s third largest steel importer, announced it will “deploy all possible means” to fight the new tax. Already it’s fighting the tariffs on solar cells with the World Trade Organization. Other countries will likely do the same in response to steel and aluminum tariffs.
Some in the U.S. Congress, such as Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a Trump critic who is retiring from Congress, want to use legislation to stop the tariffs. “Congress cannot be complicit as the administration courts economic disaster,” Flake said. But so far, there doesn’t seem to be a concerted effort to move forward with such a move.
Even without Congressional action, the tariffs may not last long, said John Gorman, president of the Save Energy Company. “…The president seems to enjoy throwing bombs and then scaling way back, and/or doing an about face on an issue…” he said. “That said, any increase in our costs will trickle down to the consumer and may adversely affect sales.”
Although it seems like uncharted waters to many, this is not the first time steel tariffs have been imposed. For about three years, President George W. Bush imposed tariffs on a variety of steel products beginning in March 2002, before giving them up.
“The failure of these tariffs to work as designed and the economic harm they caused provide a foreboding tale of what we should expect to see result from the Trump Administration’s new tariffs on steel and aluminum,” the Tax Foundation, a leading independent tax policy nonprofit wrote on its website.