Local leaders say Trump tariffs threaten Mobile economy

Mobile County

President Donald Trump says his new tariffs on adversaries and allies alike will protect American jobs. But the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, most economists, and those with a finger on the pulse of Mobile’s economy say the impact will be just the opposite.

“Right now it scares me to death,” says Jimmy Lyons, Director of the Alabama State Port Authority.

Mobile set a record for exports last year with more than 22 billion dollars worth of products leaving the port. About 17-percent of those exports, however, now face retaliatory tariffs from China, Mexico, and Canada.

“We’re so linked with Canada and Mexico,” Lyons said.

He thinks the trade war will certainly impact Alabama’s top agricultural export.

“Our grain elevator here, most of what they do, is soybeans to China,” Lyons said. “So I could see it if not killing, greatly diminishing our business.” China set retaliatory tariffs on several U.S. agricultural products, including soybeans.

Lyons says a $60 million automobile terminal planned for the state docks is now in jeopardy.

And he worries about steel exports. Mobile right now trails only Houston as an American steel port.

More than 2,000 people work at steel mills in Mobile County. AM/NS Calvert – part of the former ThyssenKrupp facility – imports raw steel from Brazil and other countries and exports much of its finished products, meaning it could be doubly hit. The company, though, is taking a wait and see approach.

AM/NS Calvert spokesman Scott Posey send this statement to News 5: “The implications of these measures for our operations and our customers are complex. We are evaluating the market dynamics created by the…  trade measures and potential retaliatory measures.”

Lyons, however, is more direct.

“I’m worried about our steel business,” he said.

So too is Chamber of Commerce President Bill Sisson.

“Mobile has always looked outward to build its economy,” said Sisson. “We’re such an export-oriented port and so any sort of tariff war or skirmish is going to cause uncertainty. And uncertainty is not good for business.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has calculated that only five other states will suffer more from the trade war than Alabama. It claims 567,500 jobs in the state are related to global trade. The Chamber is encouraging people to contact Congress, but Lower Alabama’s Bradley Byrne, usually a staunch supporter of the president, is already on board

“If a trade war gets out of hand, it could have a very significant negative effect on the national economy and the economy in this region,” Byrne said.

Lyons and Sisson also worry about the tariffs’ impact on inflation and how that could hamper home building and other construction projects, including the proposed new Interstate 10 bridge over the Mobile River.

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