Harleys and bourbon and blue jeans, oh my!
That could be either:
1) The imagined reaction of someone coming across a group of concertgoers hanging out in the parking lot before a show by a southern rock band.
2) American manufacturers’ quite reasonable response to news that our trading partners are threatening to impose tariffs on those products — and more — in reaction to President Donald Trump’s call for steep duties on imported steel and aluminum.
Tariffs on Harley Davidson motorcycles, made not far from House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Wisconsin district. Tariffs on Kentucky bourbon, distilled and aged in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state. And on blue jeans, the quintessential American export.
Simply put, what those threats add up to is a clear message to the White House: If you want a trade war, you’ll get one. And then some.
Here was European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, speaking in Hamburg, Germany:
“So now we will also impose import tariffs. This is basically a stupid process, the fact that we have to do this. But we have to do it. We will now impose tariffs on motorcycles, Harley Davidson, on blue jeans, Levis, on Bourbon. We can also do stupid. We also have to be this stupid.”
Closer to home, the message was the same. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “We are impressing upon the American administration the unacceptable nature of these proposals that are going to hurt them every bit as much as they will hurt us.”
Interestingly, it’s our allies and trading partners who responded most quickly, and harshly. China, the nation that Trump was hoping to strike with his steel and aluminum tariffs, has been mostly silent.
Trump’s decision to impose the tariffs took many by surprise, including not a few in his own administration. Top officials had been lobbying the president to cool his jets, and had believed that they’d made some real progress. But then Trump announced the coming imposition of the tariffs from out of the blue.
The haste explains why there were no real details, only the top line amounts — 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum. In the immediate aftermath, many questions still remained. A few: Would certain nations be exempted? Some finished products? Would there be carve-outs for some partners?
On Friday, Trump sought to answer all of those questions by saying that everything, and everyone, would be subject to the tariffs. End of story.
We’ll see, of course, if that holds. There are few things to get lobbyists’ attention more than an announcement that leaves lots of blanks, with the fundamental details still to be filled in.
Though it’s possible that the White House will stand firm on Trump’s call to impose the tariffs on all steel and all aluminum from all corners of the globe, on both raw materials and finished products, betting that there’ll be changes ahead, that more than a couple of exemptions will be forthcoming, wouldn’t be terribly unwise.