After President Trump and China President Xi Jinping agreed to halt trade tariffs last weekend at a post-G20 meeting in Buenos Aires, we connected with Harlan Stone, founder of the American Consumers & Workers Justice Coalition (ACWJC) and president of the Multilayer Flooring Association (MFA), to get his take on what it means for the industry.
FT: What was your gut reaction to the news? Stone: Having spent the last week in Washington, my gut reaction was very positive because I think that there's a lot of energy in the Congress to try to protect the American people from any collateral damage from a trade war. What I saw is the president wanting to assert his strength, which is appropriate with a large and powerful country like China. On the other hand, restraint to ensure that the negotiation is indeed a negotiation and that the effects are not inordinately a burden to American consumers, workers and small and medium sized businesses, which is what the law says it should make. So, I'm encouraged. I'm not just reading the headlines. I've been working on this project since July and we've been trying to engage as many of the elected officials as we can and we see a great movement across a bipartisan lines to limit the negative impact on the American economy and particularly consumers and workers in small and medium size businesses. It’s a little bit to me of a David and Goliath [story] and where we are the David and it feels like we're winning.
FT: What do you anticipate will happen next?
Stone: From our coalition’s point of view, the next steps are to continue to advocate in Washington with our elected officials that there needs to be a robust, efficient and well-funded exemption process for the categories that should not be included in this trade war. There were exemptions made when they announced the 200. There has been exceptions in the steel and aluminum industries. There are so many consumer-facing products and that could have a big negative effect. Our goal is to continue to advocate. I believe that the right people in Washington working in the administration are in charge of this negotiation.
FT: What can other leaders in the flooring industry do to help you?
Stone: Those that joined our coalition will be encouraged to write letters to their elected officials to express how this might affect them, and those that are not yet members of our coalition and believe in the continued free flow of LVT from China into the U.S. market can easily get in touch with me or the coalition.
I think if we all united, we will win. We will win this and that will allow the continued growth of LVT to proceed unimpeded. Because if we cut off or increase the cost of all the ordered LVT, we will do a lot of harm to the flooring industry.
FT: What should business owners do in the meantime?
Stone: My answer is have confidence continued to buy any continued throughout the process that consumers want the most. Do what your customers want. Give them great value product that is waterproof, beautiful, easy to install and high performing.