Retaliatory tariffs could put $276.9 million worth of Colorado exports and thousands of jobs in the state at risk, according to a report Monday from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber, normally aligned with the Trump administration on issues like regulation and taxation, launched a website opposed to the federal government’s shift in trade policy under the banner “Trade works. Tariffs don’t.”
“Tariffs imposed by the United States are nothing more than a tax increase on American consumers and businesses,” the chamber said in its report. “This is the wrong approach, and it threatens to derail our nation’s recent economic resurgence.”
Chief among the new U.S. tariffs are a 10 percent charge on imported aluminum and a 25 percent charge on steel the administration argues are necessary for national security and to promote more domestic production.
Those and other tariffs have triggered a strong response from the country’s trading partners, who have retaliated with levies of their own.
Colorado’s economy isn’t as dependent on exports as states with large ports or heavy manufacturing. California, for example, has $5.6 billion of exports at risk in the emerging trade war, while Texas has $3.9 billion.
But trade is important to the state economy. Colorado exported $8 billion in commodities and finished goods last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the chamber study estimates 733,900 Colorado jobs are supported by international trade.
The retaliatory tariffs so far are targeted, meaning specific niches could get hit hard, including pork producers, whiskey distillers and aluminum recyclers.
Colorado exports to Mexico are so far the most vulnerable and they represent about two-thirds of the total at risk, or $187.7 million, according to the chamber’s report.
Chief among those are the exports of pork and related products, worth about $105.8 million fresh and chilled and $15.8 million frozen. Mexican consumers are also big buyers of Colorado cheese at $35.9 million.
Canadian tariffs could put $13.5 million worth of Colorado bread and other baked goods at risk, along with $9 million in aluminum cans and caskets and $5.5 million in soap products.
Exports to China, worth about $30.3 million, face retaliatory tariffs. Almost all of that, about $29.1 million, represents aluminum waste and scrap. China earlier this year banned imports of plastic and mixed paper products from the U.S. If it cuts back on aluminum, that could further strain recycling efforts.
About $8.2 million in exports to the European Union are at risk, led by $4.8 million in steel-related exports. Other tariffs are highly targeted, including including $1.1 million in motorcycles and $624,743 in whiskey production.
Mohammed Akacem, a professor of economics at Metropolitan State University, said the current political incentives and economics incentives around free trade are not aligned.
That explains the rift that has emerged between the nation’s largest business lobby and the administration, normally considered pro-business, on the topic.
“In general, free trade brings more benefits. Of course there are costs and trade-offs,” he said. “One can only hope that cooler heads prevail.”
Higher tariffs don’t necessarily mean consumers in other countries will stop buying Colorado products entirely, especially if producers absorb some of the hit.
But they could make U.S. products less competitive and cost jobs, while the tariffs the U.S. is imposing could contribute to higher prices and stoke inflation, economists have warned.
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