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Trump tariffs on Chinese goods may lead to rising costs of Hurricane Florence relief effort

Since late last week, Hurricane Florence has reaped havoc in the southeastern United States and specifically on the Carolinas. Although the hurricane was later denominated as a tropical depression, the heavy rainfall and flooding has led to irreversible devastation across the state. According to state authorities, much of eastern North Carolina has received in excess of 25 feet of rain and is expected to receive more in the coming days. A few days earlier in small towns such as Wilmington, North Carolina’s eight largest city, the entire populous was stranded and cut off by excess flooding.

The death toll rose to at least 20 as rescue operations use helicopters and boats to rescue residents from near-death situations. In the town of New Bern, Mayor Dana Outlaw claims that emergency rescue services have plucked 900 from the water with many more still stranded.

This statistic is only expected to rise as the Department of Health and Human Service declared public emergencies in the Carolinas and Virginia due to common afflictions such as “Trench Foot”, Carbon Monoxide poisoning, and excess mold build up. 

Trump administration confident in FEMA relief effort

All things considered, the federal relief effort from Trump and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has been swift and intensive. Following two poorly handled natural disasters in Houston and Puerto Rico the previous year, both the Trump administration and FEMA would wish to reverse that image. By Trump’s own admission, he is “absolutely, totally prepared” when it comes to providing aid and services to those afflicted by the Carolina floods.

 

However, Trump may be accidently triggering a course of action that will negatively influence the situation for the vast majority of the flood victims.

Trump’s tariffs raise rebuilding costs for flood victims

Since Trump’s initial electoral campaign, he has been fixated on initiating ‘retaliatory’ trade tariffs on US trade partners, with specific reference to China, Canada, and the NATO members. In the last week, Trump has slapped tariffs that will lead to a hike in price for any good imported from China. In addition, Trump only plans to initiate more protectionist measures that result in an additional 10-25% in duties on $200 billion in Chinese goods.

It is very likely that these tariffs Trump has initiated will lead to a rise in the price of the very supplies needed for victims to rebuild their homes and property. While prices will inevitably rise in the event of a natural disaster, given the spike in demand for building materials and the limited supply, many of Trump’s tariffs on lumber and plywood from Canada and China are likely to drive up plywood. Since April of last year, when Trump put in place tariffs of up to 24% on lumber shipped to the US, there has been a 30% spike in costs for imported lumber. Similarly, many of the tariffs on furniture, washing machines, and other home appliances, will also shoot up making it more difficult for the flood victims to replace their home appliances.

Despite Trump’s claims that the tariffs have been largely unnoticeable, the average consumer is already feeling the rise in prices. A study done by the National Association of Home Builders indicates that since Trump’s tariffs in 2017, the average price of a new single-family home has risen by $6,388.

Worse yet, in 2017, it is reported that 41.6% of plywood imports into the United States came from Chinese corporations. Following the implementation of Trump’s 25% tariffs on Chinese imports, it is likely that the cost of plywood will skyrocket, leading to a further additional rise in price for the average property buyer.

Hurricane Florence could potentially end up damaging 759,000 homes in the Carolinas and cost more than $170 billion in rebuilding costs. Homeowners must already confront a plethora of difficulties when dealing with the aftermath of a hurricane such as labour shortages and insufficient insurance to properly cover damage costs. A rise in the cost of homes is definitely not a favourable prospect for them and these tariffs are unlikely to provide any benefit for them.

Unfortunately, the tariffs appear to be an imposition that is here to stay. The administration has said that if China retaliates, the United States will impose another $267 billion dollars worth of tariffs on Chinese imports, effectively making the tariffs encompass all Chinese imports into the country.

Regardless, one would hope that despite the rise in price, the victims of the recent ‘tropical depression’ will be able to properly rebuild their homes