The Great Depression Didn’t Kill This Firm. Trump’s Tariffs Might

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports hammered lawn-equipment manufacturer Brinly-Hardy Co. of Indiana. His duties on Chinese imports could be the “nail in our coffin” for the firm that started in 1839 making horse-drawn plows and survived wars and the Great Depression.

“We are caught in the middle of this trade battle,” Jane Hardy, the company’s chief executive officer and fifth member of her family to run the business, said during a hearing Tuesday in Washington. “Our U.S. manufacturing jobs and our 179-year history should not be considered acceptable collateral damage.”

Hardy was among the company and trade association executives testifying during a two-day hearing on the next round of U.S. duties on $16 billion of Chinese imports, after the administration imposed tariffs of 25 percent on $34 billion in goods July 6.

With Trump already targeting an additional $200 billion in products with 10 percent tariffs after China retaliated, most executives are pleading for relief from duties they say are a tax on consumers that won’t achieve the president’s goal of changing China’s behavior on trade.

Brinly-Hardy, which makes residential and commercial lawn and turf equipment for Home Depot Inc. and other stores, saw its raw material costs jump by as much as 37 percent because of Trump’s metal tariffs imposed in March -- even though the company buys only domestic steel, Hardy said.

The company also imports some components and finished products, Hardy said. The administration ignored its pleas to remove tariffs on wheels and other parts among the Chinese goods hit with a 25 percent tariff on July 6, and the proposed $16 billion list includes commercial-grade fertilizer spreaders sold to landscape contractors, she said.

Already the company has made “significant” firings and salary cuts, eliminated a second production shift, and can’t continue to sell the spreader at a higher cost with the tariff -- threatening its profitability and ability to remain in business, she said.

Hardy pleaded with a U.S. Office of Trade Representative panel to exclude the spreader from the goods targeted for duties and allow her firm and its 200 employees to survive.

“We have felt the pain of the current trade war enough,” Hardy said. “Please prevent the closing of another U.S. manufacturer by not imposing tariffs.”

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