Readers mixed on potential domestic freight impacts of new tariffs

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What will be the impact on freight volumes of new import tariffs?

Almost 40 percent of readers virtually shrugged their shoulders at the above Hot Buttons poll question, posed as new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum were going into effect. They were imposed not only on such products coming in from developing economies but longtime trading partners in the European Union, Canada and elsewhere. Most such readers just didn’t know enough to be certain of the effects, but 16 percent of total poll respondents were more certain with their shrug.

Among them was a reader commenting as “BW9” under the poll at OverdriveOnline.com, who noted “there won’t be any significant impact” of new tariffs, some also targeted at other goods imported to the United States from China.

The largest share of respondents (39 percent cumulatively), however, saw a potential negative impact for affected segments of the industry hauling in freight niches where tariffs were coming into play, such as the aforementioned steel and aluminum. The uptick in freight volumes of recent history was “fun while it lasted,” noted “MrBigR504” under the poll, adding, “I swear, this guy at 1600 Pennsylvania!”

The Trump administration’s calculus with the tariffs, extended also to a basket of imported goods more targeted in their application to a wide variety of products coming from China, is a hope they will provide a long-term boost to U.S. businesses that manufacture such goods within the country. Global competition from cheaper labor, among other factors, it’s no secret, has hit U.S. manufacturing over several decades, though manufacturing output has continued to grow with automation just as employment in the sector has fallen dramatically over the years. Positive freight impacts from the tariffs could result, too, with more manufacturing here for consumption domestically or for export, about a quarter of readers noted.

For plenty U.S. truckers, though, continuation of the status quo of robust trade without added tariffs stands the best chance of creating a sustaining a solid freight environment, if poll results are any indication. Since announcement of the tariffs, trade tensions have escalated among countries as U.S.-made goods are getting hit with retaliatory import tariffs in a host of nations, with the potential to raise prices for a variety of things everywhere; 23 percent of readers believed negative impacts on freight volumes moving through the country would result industry-wide, an additional 16 percent believing such declines would occur but would be limited to particular freight segments.

One anonymous commenter saw inflation, a “gift to industry and big business,” as the ultimate goal of trade tension escalation. “The goal is to artificially boost worldwide inflation rates,” the commenter stated. “Eventually the tariffs will go away, but the higher prices will not go away.”

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