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June 24, 2019

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Casualties of Trump’s trade war have been American businesses

On Aug. 5, Donald Trump took to Twitter to announce that his tariffs were “working big time.”

Try telling that to the folks at Element Electronics, a South Carolina company that assembles televisions.

One day after Trump’s tweeted chest-thump, Element announced it was closing its plant in Winnsboro, S.C., and laying off most of its workers — 126 people.

Why? The company informed the state that the decisions were “a result of the new tariffs that were recently and unexpectedly imposed on many goods imported from China, including the key television components used in our assembly operations in Winnsboro.”

This is working big time?

Of course not, and Element is just one example of how the tariffs are causing real harm to real Americans. Others include the layoff of 130 workers by Mid-Continent Nail, the largest domestic producer of nails; the layoff of 75 workers at the Indiana-based lawn care manufacturing company Brinly-Hardy; and staff reductions at a number of newspapers because of a tariff on Canadian newsprint.

Stories like these are piling up.

Tariffs on solar power components prompted Washington-based REC Silicon, which supplies silicon materials for solar panels, to lay off about 100 employees and cut its production by 25 percent. In Wisconsin, Harley-Davidson announced it was planning to move a portion of its U.S. motorcycle manufacturing operations outside the U.S.

Elsewhere in South Carolina, Volvo cited the tariffs as the reason it might scale back its hiring plans for its new production plant there. As many as 4,000 jobs might not be created.

Businesses big and small are feeling the heat. A Wall Street Journal story last week opened with a look at a five-person electric bike startup in Asheville, N.C., which was forced to postpone plans to establish a dealership network after the tariffs drove up the cost of the motors it uses.

Meanwhile, the tariffs are affecting Americans in the agriculture and food production industries, from Kansas soybean farmers to Florida lobstermen. And while farmers lose critical access to foreign markets and lucrative trading contracts, Trump wants American taxpayers to fund $12 billion in aid to ag producers to offset some of the damage his tariffs have done to their industry.

Then there’s Nevada. The steel tariffs have already prompted concerns here over their effect on the price of steel for buildings and infrastructure projects, but as Trump threatens to tax every product coming from China, the effect in Nevada could be worse than in other states. Nevada is among 23 states for whom China is the largest trade partner.

That being the case, some congressional Republicans — especially from ag country in the Midwest — are watching Trump closely and are making sure the White House is aware of concerns they’re hearing from their constituents.

Whether Trump can be swayed on the issue is anybody’s guess, but Nevada’s congressional delegation, especially Republican Sen. Dean Heller, should be letting him know how the tariffs are affecting Americans. Consumers are already feeling the effects in the form of higher prices, but if Trump follows through on his reckless threat to apply tariffs to $500 billion worth of goods from China, Nevada could be hit especially hard when the Chinese government inevitably strikes back.

Thus far, Nevada has suffered relatively little of the collateral damage that Trump’s trade war has inflicted on businesses nationwide. But if Trump goes all in, that could change.

Nevada’s congressional delegates need to help sound the alarm.