As Supply Chain Issues Persist, Tariffs Remain a Problem for Oregon Businesses

As a state that depends on trade, Oregon has felt the challenges of the past few years more deeply than most. Supply chain bottlenecks, the enormous problems associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, and more have all made it extremely difficult for Oregon’s businesses to get by, particularly small businesses and young companies just trying to get off the ground. 

While things like supply chains and inflation have taken up most of the recent conversations, there is another problem that’s loomed in the background since even before they became mainstream concerns. Tariffs on imports from China – first put in place in 2018 – continue to impose significant costs that severely limit American small businesses’ ability to grow, to hire, and to compete on a global scale. 

It’s something I’ve experienced myself. I founded Austere, a Wilsonville-based technology accessories company in 2019. Just as we were preparing to launch our products, they were hit by the previous administration’s List 3 tariffs, which stuck a 25 percent import tax on the products we need to keep the company running. 

At that point, we were already locked into our agreements with business partners and manufacturers in China, so we had no choice but to move forward and take on the cost of the tariffs. That means since the beginning, 25 percent of our investment into the company has gone to paying tariffs; funds which otherwise could’ve been put toward hiring more staff, developing innovative products, and growing the company.

Making matters worse is the fact that in order to manufacture the products we do that are both as state-of-the-art and as safe as they are, there is nowhere else to go. We can’t move to another country or bring that manufacturing home and still be able to affordably offer our products to our consumers. 

Beyond that, many of our products require certification to ensure that they meet the latest technological and safety standards. Most of the companies that handle the certification process, though, are based internationally – specifically in China. The only way to get that certification, then, is to build the product in China. Going somewhere else is just not an option. 

This is a problem that’s affected businesses both here in Oregon and throughout the United States. In Oregon alone, businesses have paid nearly $900 million in tariffs. Nationwide, that figure is quickly approaching $150 billion.

Leaving tariffs as high as 25 percent in place is simply not sustainable. It completely restricts small businesses’ ability to grow, and in the end make the things that American families need even more expensive. After a summer of inflation, the tariffs need to end now more than ever. 

It is time for our elected leaders to step in. We need President Joe Biden and United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai to act immediately to end the tariffs that have been in place since the Trump administration and finally give American businesses the help they need. In Oregon, we thankfully have leaders like Senator Ron Wyden, who recognized early on that it’s American businesses – not China – who pay the cost of the tariffs, and I’m hoping those leaders work with the Biden administration to end this trade war. 

Freight challenges and supply chain issues still represent significant problems for the U.S., and we need to do everything we can to make things easier on American businesses and families. Lifting tariffs would be the perfect way to start. 

Deena Ghazarian is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Austere.

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