WMC survey: Tariff fight might be worth it

Even though many Wisconsin business leaders acknowledge the economic pain brought President Trump’s tariffs, a majority of Wisconsin business leaders support them, according to a semi-annual economic survey conducted by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. WMC found that 67 percent of respondents either strongly or “somewhat” support tariffs imposed on China, while 47 percent said they are having a negative effect on business.

WMC President and CEO Kurt Bauer was surprised by the strong support for tariffs on Chinese goods, but he notes most of the 204 respondents favor fair global trade and they trust President Trump on economic issues. Trump has repeatedly cited unfair trade practices by China, including currency manipulation and the theft of intellectual property, as justification for the tariffs.

While China has responded with reciprocal tariffs that have most negatively impacted Wisconsin’s farm economy, Bauer notes the U.S. opens its markets to foreign competition with the expectation of reciprocal treatment. “The general sentiment expressed in this survey is that something drastic needs to be done to force a change,” Bauer states.

Despite the downside of a trade war, most respondents are bullish on the economy overall, as 50 percent say they will add staff in the second half of 2019, but that’s down from the 55 percent in December. Ninety percent said their business was profitable during the last six months and 93 percent predict their business will be profitable during the next six months.

According to the survey, labor availability and health care costs remain the Wisconsin business community’s biggest concerns.