Arkansas lawmakers consider meeting to discuss tariff impacts on the state

by George Jared (gjared@talkbusiness.net) 394 views 

Steel wire panels produced at Bekaert's plant in Van Buren, Ark.

Democratic Party of Arkansas chairman Rep. Michael John Gray, D-Augusta, believes state residents should know fully the impacts of President Donald Trump’s tariffs with China, the European Union and other countries.

Gray sent a letter to State Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, and Sen. Ronald Caldwell, R-Wynne, the chairmen of the Agriculture, Forestry, and Economic Development committees in the state legislature to call a committee meeting with lawmakers and include leaders from the steel, agriculture and other industries.

Gray told Talk Business & Politics the billions in proposed tariffs will impact the steel and agriculture sectors, but there will be trickle down impacts that haven’t been discussed. Consumers will likely pay higher prices for goods that are the direct subject of a tariff, or those made with goods that a tariff has been placed upon, he said.

“This isn’t political. … Our constituents need to know what the ripple effects are going to be,” he said.

Douglas told Talk Business & Politics he received the letter and spoke with Gray. There may need to be a meeting, but it won’t likely happen until later in July or early August, he said. Finding a time when all stakeholders can attend may be a challenge, he said. The looming tariffs could drive soybean prices down and international steel up, two things that could negatively impact the pocket books of many Arkansans, he said.

“It’s concerning for sure,” he said.

Arkansas’ leading ag crop is soybeans, and the state is the top rice producer in the country. The state is also one of the top poultry producing states, and when international agriculture markets are disrupted it has the potential to hurt the state’s economy, he said.

Steel prices could impact Bekaert, a foreign-owned company with operations in Arkansas. The company, which has plants in Rogers and Van Buren, makes steel wire that is used in tire production. Gov. Asa Hutchinson told Talk Business & Politics last week the state will try to get an exemption for Bekaert, but if it doesn’t, the added costs will likely be passed along to customers, Douglas said. There isn’t a domestic supplier for the type of steel wire used by Bekaert and it’s one of the company’s main arguments for an exemption.

Belgium-based Bekaert announced in April it plans to expand its Van Buren facility. It employs around 380 at the Van Buren operation, and the expansion is estimated by the company to add 40 jobs paying an average of $20 per hour. Of the $16 million, $6 million is for construction and $10 million for new equipment. The Belgium-based company primarily makes in Van Buren fence products and high-strength wires used for highway safety. The plant was built in 1976. Bekaert also has a plant in Rogers.

The political environment is hyper partisan, but this is an issue that will impact nearly everyone in the state in some way, Gray said. State lawmakers can’t change federal trade policies, but legislators have a duty to inform citizens and industries leaders what they can expect in the coming months, he added.

“Hopefully, we can set a meeting,” he said.

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