Hard work pays off in America. But an unbalanced playing field can mean not everyone has a fair chance. Unnecessary trade barriers, for instance, distort our economy by increasing the price of raw materials. Aluminum is a prime example of how these tariff-induced price increases impact small businesses across the country.
As part of the response to historic inflation, some economists have advocated for the repeal of retaliatory tariffs that have driven up costs to both businesses and consumers. Far from being an esoteric federal issue, it is an important one to working families not just in Adams and Jefferson Counties, which I represent, but across the state. As we recover from the past few years of economic uncertainty, our elected officials at all levels must work to create the environment for our economy to grow and help our communities thrive. Fortunately, there is an effort underway to pass federal legislation that would eliminate Section 232 tariffs, reducing the price of aluminum and other goods, and helping to drive down artificially high costs.
There is no question that Section 232 tariffs have drastically increased the price of aluminum. Since they were passed in 2018, the price of aluminum has climbed from $1,600 per ton to around $2,500 per ton. This affects key industries such as manufacturing, agriculture and construction which have no choice but to pay these exorbitantly higher prices for this essential metal. This not only increases the operating cost for these businesses but translates to higher prices for consumers. For example, breweries must pay more for cans and kegs while restaurants and pubs must increase prices to accommodate their more expensive inventory. The resulting thinner profit margins threaten these businesses’ viability at a particularly vulnerable time. My district is home to a great many such businesses, owned and staffed by our friends and neighbors; ultimately, our entire community is negatively affected.
Through my time serving as Chair of the Colorado State House Finance Committee, I understand the intricacies of how the economy operates as a whole, and can appreciate just how harmful these tariffs can be. The canning and beer industry alone is a major economic driver in the Centennial State, generating $3.2 billion in wages and $1.6 billion in taxes. Aluminum is a critical component of this industry, and already one of its most expensive inputs. Adding to its cost through the imposition of tariffs places an enormous financial burden on these businesses and threatens the livelihood of thousands of Coloradans who make their living in the industry.
Eliminating Section 232 tariffs is not a panacea to inflation but does offer something concrete that our federal government can do right now to provide some directed price relief, as tariffs are inherently inflationary by increasing the price of imports. The simple fact is even with these tariffs the U.S. produces very little aluminum domestically — just 2% of primary aluminum globally, as outlined in a report released from the Congressional Research Service in October — and is therefore dependent on imports for this critical metal.
The harm from tariffs goes beyond just aluminum; for instance, Section 232 tariffs on both aluminum and steel cost the U.S. manufacturing sector 75,000 jobs from 2019-19; all Section 232 tariffs enacted in 2018 amounted to a $1 billion tax increase on the U.S. housing industry that year, and cost 426,000 jobs. Combined, Section 232 and Section 301 tariffs have cost the beer industry more than $1.4 billion from 2018, and the American agricultural sector $13.2 billion in annualized losses in agricultural exports in just the first year that they were imposed.
Fortunately, relief is potentially in sight. Sens. Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) have introduced legislation that would repeal these levies, and reform the way in which they are imposed. The Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act marks a major step in removing these artificial expenses on businesses and subsequently lowering consumer prices. It also, importantly, returns the authority for imposing tariffs to the legislative branch, limiting the temptation to use them simply as a convenient political weapon by the executive.
The economy is complex, and some economic problems are outside of the control of government to help solve. But many are, and embracing free trade, repealing retaliatory tariffs and adopting a more prudent, thoughtful approach to trade policy are among the things that Congress can do to help ensure American prosperity. I urge my federal colleagues to support the Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act, and help Colorado’s businesses, workers and consumers all have a fair shot at benefiting from their hard work.
Shannon Bird represents District 29 in the Colorado State House, and serves on the Joint Budget Committee