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Some small firms want Trump to add more tariffs on China

Makers of steel wheels, safes and other goods are trying to get certain products by competitors on proposed list

Columbus, Ohio

PROMINENT US business lobbies are begging the Donald Trump administration not to impose tariffs on Chinese imports, but some small manufacturers are pushing the other way: trying to get more products on the proposed list.

Makers of steel wheels, safes and other products want the US to impose tariffs on goods by their Chinese competitors, which aren't among the products targeted so far. They say the duties the US imposed on steel and aluminium imports raised their costs but didn't affect finished goods made in China and sold here - setting up a potentially damaging Catch-22.

"All we're asking is that the table be levelled and the field balanced so the competition is fair," said Jeffrey Pizzola, chief operating officer of Americana Development Inc, which employs about 400 people in Ohio, Georgia and Indiana to make steel wheels for products including lawn and garden equipment, recreational vehicles (RVs) and trailers.

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Mr Pizzola's call for expanded tariffs counters most requests being received by the US Trade Representative's office, which ask for the duties not to be imposed or for exemptions. Almost 160 comments have been made public so far. The comment period ends on May 11.

More than 1,300 Chinese products, from biscuit ovens to backhoes to false teeth, have been targeted for tariffs in response to complaints about China's theft of intellectual property. That's separate from levies imposed in March on steel and aluminium imports from China and elsewhere on grounds they pose a threat to national security.

The Trump administration has indicated it's willing to negotiate with China amid fears about a trade war that's rattled financial markets and showed the sometimes unintended domino effects of protectionist trade actions. If steps toward a truce were to fail, the tariffs could be imposed after a public hearing on May 22.

The National Retail Federation, Information Technology Industry Council and more than 100 other groups have formed a coalition to oppose the tariffs. They argue that the US levies and possible tit-for-tat retaliation from China on US goods will lead to higher prices for US consumers that in turn hurt the US economy and cost jobs.

The combination of trade actions proposed by Mr Trump is prompting unique responses from the small manufacturers, said Dean Pinkert, a Washington trade attorney and former commissioner of the US International Trade Commission.

Americana Development and the Champion Safe Co of Provo, Utah, said in comments to the Office of US Trade Representative that their cost for steel has risen by about 25 per cent. That creates an unfair price advantage for Chinese companies that sell finished steel wheels and safes to the US, and so far have escaped the lengthy tariff list, the companies said.

Without tariffs on Chinese steel wheels and wheel assemblies, Americana - one of the last US companies making steel wheels for RVs - will have no choice but to reduce production and staffing, Mr Pizzola said.

Ray Crosby, president of Champion Safe, said that if the playing field isn't levelled, his firm may shutter its production facility in Utah, which employs about 100 people, and join other US safe makers that now manufacture in China. "We've seen our industry disappear over to China," Mr Crosby added.

Other companies argue for tariffs on their Chinese competition because it would help their business and achieve Mr Trump's goal of boosting US manufacturing and employment.

Kason Industries of Newnan, Georgia, makes panel fasteners and hinges for walk-in coolers and freezers. It's asking for tariffs on certain Chinese hinges and parts that contain steel as a large part of their value, said Burl Finkelstein, Kason's vice president of operations.

Mr Finkelstein said because Chinese companies are government subsidised, they're able to sell a finished product for less than his cost to purchase steel. A tariff on fabricated products would help equalise the cost of making products in the US, he noted. "It's much easier to go overseas," Mr Finkelstein added. "We're not taking the easy way out."

Radionic Industries Inc is a 78-year-old Chicago company that's the last in the US to make fluorescent lighting ballasts, according to president and chief executive officer Jeffrey Winton. He's asking for a tariff of as much as 50 per cent on magnetic ballasts imported from China, even while saying that history shows protectionist actions don't work.

"A significant tariff increase on these products would clearly increase our production and sales volume, and bring about the hiring of more American workers," Mr Winton argued.

The call for levies on a wider range of products validates the concern of tariff opponents that efforts to change Chinese behaviour and protect US industries can have unintended consequences and raise costs, according to Rufus Yerxa, president of the National Foreign Trade Council and a former deputy director general of the World Trade Organization and deputy US Office of Trade Representative. "This can't be a mechanism to start raising tariffs on everything," Mr Yerxa said. "There'd be no end to it." BLOOMBERG