Striking a balance between importing products not readily available in the United States and exporting products we make is critical, but the new push to impose tariffs is upsetting the tightrope walk.

Tariffs are the topic at the Polk Goes Global IV: International Trade Symposium, which will be held from 7:30 a.m. to noon November 9, 2018 at Lakeland Linder International Airport.

The Central Florida Development Council, in collaboration with the Lakeland and Winter Haven chambers of commerce, are hosting the event to highlight why global trade is important to Polk County. The CFDC, working with the Lakeland chamber, formed the Polk Global Trade Alliance (PGTA), which it calls the “prime catalyst for the growth of international trade in Central Florida,” in 2016.

“Our goal is to remind attendees that free global trade should be paramount in a healthy transactional system where goods (are) purchased and sold in international markets without barriers or tariffs,” said Javier Marin, director of business development and global trade for the CFDC.

“We all recognize the importance of fair trade, and there are mechanisms by which this can be achieved without entering into trade wars with countries that have historically benefited United States’ companies and consumers,” he said.

This year, President Donald Trump has made headlines by imposing tariffs on foreign countries. In September, he imposed tariffs on $200 billion in goods from China in an escalating trade war with the country. This week, Bloomberg News reported that the president is preparing to impose tariffs on the final $257 billion of imports from China, starting in December, if he and the Chinese leader cannot come to some sort of trade agreement. Such announcements have rattled the stock market throughout the year.

When we impose tariffs, foreign governments often retaliate by imposing tariffs on merchandise U.S. companies sell. In the end, our companies lose as demand for their products decreases as foreign buyers are asked to pay more.

Many people think tariffs benefit local consumers, but when companies no longer can purchase goods at the lowest possible price, the effect can be higher prices.

“Tariffs benefit governments and are a new de facto tax on American consumers because buying companies are forced to increase prices ultimately covered by the domestic consumer,” Marin said. “In as much as we may be able to attract new jobs by making the product domestically, the issue remains that the number of jobs created and their impact on the domestic economy may not offset the cost to consumer as reflected in inflation.”

Marin says “there are no real winners when tariffs are imposed, except for the governments collecting the tariffs.”
Symposium attendees will get to hear from speakers Bill Lane, executive director at Trade for America and a former executive at Caterpillar, and Alice Ancona, director of Global Outreach at the Florida Chamber of Commerce, who will discuss tariffs and their impact on global trade and local businesses. There also will be two panel discussions, one featuring Central Florida business owners, who will present a local perspective, and the second involving foreign representatives who will take a broader look at the international marketplace.

According to The Brookings Institute’s Export Monitor, Polk County (Lakeland-Winter Haven MSA) exported nearly 6.5 percent of its gross domestic product in 2016, accounting for 8,500 jobs here. Freight and port services, agriculture, and fertilizers and pesticides are the leaders in local exports.

The International Trade Association put the value of those exports at $1.147 billion in 2017, up from $375 million in 2005.

The Lakeland chamber hosted the first symposium in 2015, at which time community leaders recognized the need for a more-focused approach on international trade. In 2016, the CFDC hosted the second symposium (now an annual event), and announced the formation of the Polk Global Trade Alliance.

To register for this year’s event, click here.