Sep 26, 2019 - Economy

Trump trade war rebounds hard on America's lumber workers

A tractor picks up a large piece of a tree.

Photo: Rnesto Benavides/AFP/Getty Images

Lumber mills in the U.S. have been a casualty of President Trump's trade war with China, as a significant dip in demand has pushed hardwood lumber prices down, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: Chinese buyers were critical for lumber after the 2008 financial crisis, as American construction and furniture production dropped. Now, Beijing's retaliatory tariffs on as much as 25% of lumber and wood imports are draining the U.S. industry.

By the numbers: The percentage of American hardwood exports to China dropped from a peak 54.19% in 2017 to 49.5% in 2018, according to the Department of Agriculture.

  • By this year, that number dropped to 41.34%.
  • As of August, lumber prices fell 20% from the previous year.
  • Other countries are reaping the benefits of the American market's downfall. Russia and Gabon now make up 17% of imports by value, up from 12% through July of 2018.

The Trump administration and Congress have met with industry leaders who are pushing for comparable assistance to what American farmers have received since the trade war began.

  • But the Department of Commerce indicated it has no procedure for distributing such aid, according to the WSJ.
  • “There is no question that these tariffs have virtually destroyed a segment of our industry,” said Steven Anthony, president of Anthony Timberlands.

What's next: The Journal said some companies are pushing U.S. buyers to purchase more hardwood products to make up for the losses.

  • Jim Hourdequin, CEO of Lyme Timber Co., presented an idea: A marketing push similar to the "Got Milk?" ads that the dairy industry famously produced in the 1990s.

Go deeper: The market wants a U.S.-China trade deal

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