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Trade Imbalance Needs To Be Dealt With, Indiana Growth Official Says

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Trump administration decided last night to delay imposing steel and aluminum tariffs on the European Union, Canada and Mexico until at least June 1. The administration also says permanent exemptions for Argentina, Australia and Brazil are in the works, though those agreements have yet to be finalized. Now, President Trump has taken an aggressive approach to imposing tariffs on all kinds of imports over the past few months, and this has made people like Tim Eckerle uneasy. He's the executive director of the Grant County, Ind., Economic Growth Council. And when the president announced the tariffs earlier this spring, Eckerle was concerned for businesses in his region that buy lots of foreign steel. Those companies feel the heat from foreign competitors when costs here rise.

TIM ECKERLE: We have a manufacturer who manufactures component parts for the semitrailer world. So they - as soon as they were - those tariffs were announced, their suppliers announced price increasing. Now, their customer has an international competitor who is producing the same semitrailer in an offshore location, and their steel pricing already had an advantage.

GREENE: All right. So Tim Eckerle worried about these tariffs. But as we talked more, it was clear that despite his concerns, he does see some nuance in this whole debate. He says it's true that China has been distorting the global markets for steel and aluminum.

ECKERLE: There is an imbalance. And I think that, you know, the administration has made it clear that they understand there's going to be some short-term pain. Hopefully, we avoid a full-scale trade war, and I think that's everybody's greatest fear in terms of talking to manufacturers.

GREENE: But it sounds like in a way you sort of are hearing the president on this, that there might be some short-term pain to try and fix this imbalance with China, and maybe that's what some companies in your community are feeling.

ECKERLE: The pressure for international competition has been such a grinder out there. And, again, it's just another one of the many factors, you know, that are out there that companies are facing in today's world. And so the fact that there is one component being dealt with is kind of welcome.

GREENE: So you're welcoming the president's action here.

ECKERLE: As far as we know, yes. There's going to be a price to pay because the consumer will pay a higher price for finished, good steel.

GREENE: What is your message to critics of the president, you know, maybe both in your state and outside Indiana who just think that these tariff threats are a terrible thing that could really wreak havoc on the economy?

ECKERLE: You know, this is one of those things where both sides is correct. It's one of those where it's a cautionary tale. And at the same time, there's an imbalance that needs to be dealt with. Now, how do you get that - those serious discussions and serious agreements where you recognize both sides?

GREENE: I got to tell you, Mr. Eckerle, in this political climate to hear someone say both sides are correct is very - is incredibly refreshing.

ECKERLE: (Laughter) Well, you know, I was with a very staunch ideologue who said his basic concern is that both sides will stop talking to each other. Both sides in a way have well-founded reasons, and it's just a matter of trying to work together as opposed to working at each other.

GREENE: That was Tim Eckerle of the Grant County, Ind., Economic Growth Council. He spoke with us from the studios of Indiana Public Radio in Muncie, a place where I had the pleasure of visiting a few days ago. Hey, thanks for the warm welcome, IPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.