Tariff panel

Former U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany (Fourth from left) leading a panel of local experts and business leaders in a discussion on President Trump's tariffs Thursday in Lafayette.

New tariffs imposed by the Trump administration have cost Louisiana businesses and residents $85 million since the tariffs began and more than $19 million just in October, according to data from the nonpartisan Tariffs Hurt the Heartland. 

Former U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany and others discussed what effects tariffs have had on the state's economy Thursday during a panel discussion at the Petroleum Club.

Businesses and taxpayers have paid $85 in additional tariffs, including $19 million in additional tariffs in October, according to the group's data. Many businesses cover the additional charge, but others pass charges onto the consumer, said Matt McAlvanah with Tariffs Hurt the Heartland. 

The monthly import data is calculated using data from the Census Bureau, and the monthly export data is compiled based on Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Agriculture data. As part of the Tariff Tracker project, Tariffs Hurt the Heartland is releasing data on how individual states have been impacted by increased import tariffs and declining exports.

State businesses, farmers and manufacturers have faced $39 million in new retaliatory tariffs, data showed.

"Tariffs are taxes,” Boustany said. “Using tariff policy in a broad brush way starts to have detrimental impacts on businesses, on farmers, that are very significant.

“We've heard of bankruptcies from family farms that have been in the same family for generations. The same from manufacturers that are on the verge of bankruptcy because certain imports they need to do what they do are being affected by this kind of broad brush tariff policy."

Boustany was joined by Robert Landry, the vice president and chief commercial officer for the Port of New Orleans; Troy Wayman, president and CEO of One Acadiana; Edward Hayes, a trade attorney; Andy Begneaud, partner at Begneaud Manufacturing; Stephen Waguespack, president and CEO of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry; and Angela Marshall Hofmann, co-founder of Farmers for Free Trade.

Tariffs have hit agriculture, manufacturing and shipping industries hard, panelists said. Robert Landry, vice president and chief commercial officer for the Port of New Orleans, said tariffs on steel have led to even harsher outcomes for the state's soybean farmers, who were already hurting from a 25 percent tariff China placed on U.S. soybean in retaliation for U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods.

"Steel gets imported into the United States through New Orleans and up the Mississippi River,” he said. “Then those barges ship grain down to be exported to the rest of the world. The lower Mississippi River still accounts for 55-60 percent of grain exported out of the United States.

“So that supply chain function is critically important... Because fewer steel ships are coming into the Port of New Orleans, consequently, fewer ships are available to load grain outbound."

Other industries in Louisiana have not been affected, but it has brought a wave of caution among business owners who fear an escalating trade war. Wayman said the Lafayette area reported $954 million in exports in 2017.

"We represent some 900 companies, and it would be dishonest to say we've heard a significant outcry from those companies on the tariff issue,” Wayman said. “Now what we have heard is a lot of caution on the issue and caution does not equate to good economic development. Exporting brings outside dollars into our area"

Trade supports 475,500 jobs in Louisiana, according to Tariffs Hurt the Heartland, and Boustany noted that trade makes up 25 percent of Louisiana economy. One out of every 5 jobs is affected by tariffs.

"We're seeing a spike in farm bankruptcies,” Boustany said. “Because if we're going to deal with China in the geopolitical sense of things, we need a strong growing economy... We don't want to go into this slipping into a recession, and that's the risk if these tariffs are taken to their full conclusion.”

Acadiana business today: State taxpayers paid more than $85M in tariffs, group says; Asian restaurant to open in former Rodizio Grill location

Follow Dan Boudreaux on Twitter, @dan_boudreaux

Business Reporter