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U.S. Businesses Face Challenges As Trump Threatens To Reignite Trade War


President Trump posted a pair of tweets yesterday, and today stocks tumbled around the world. In the U.S., though, they were down sharply before recovering. They were reacting to a new threat by a president who is clearly frustrated with the slow pace of trade talks between the U.S. and China. Trump warned, U.S. tariffs on Chinese products could go up this Friday. News like that hits home for Stephanie Nadeau. She owns The Lobster Company at Kennebunkport, Maine, and it's one of many American businesses that rely on Chinese customers. Welcome, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE NADEAU: Hi. Nice to be here, Ailsa.

CHANG: So before these tariffs kicked in in 2017, what share of your lobsters went to China?

NADEAU: About 50% of my business was China 'cause I focused on that sector of the business.

CHANG: And now what proportion of your business - what proportion of your lobsters go to China?

NADEAU: Zero. I can't sell a lobster to China. I can't compete with Canadians.

CHANG: So you have lost half of your business.

NADEAU: Yes, with no end in sight.

CHANG: And that's because the tariff on lobsters is so much higher when they come from the U.S. than when they come from Canada.

NADEAU: Yes. I mean, it's an insurmountable difference. I sell Canadian lobsters most of the year. I probably sell more Canadian lobsters than I sell U.S. lobsters. But I can't sell Canadian lobsters to China either, which is kind of defeating the purpose. And conversely, they made it so the Canadians could sell a U.S. lobster as a Canadian. So it's like you got double screwed. That's really disheartening.

CHANG: Have you been in touch with your buyers or your former buyers in China? What have they been telling you?

NADEAU: We've tried to keep in touch with them all along because it's always been - you never knew when this was going to end. There was no defined end. And it's just gone on and on and on. And everybody was getting a little hopeful that we might have some resolution in the next couple of months. And we had the tweets this weekend, which pretty much put the kibosh on that. So you sink back into despair.

CHANG: I imagine you have been tracking very closely every development of these trade talks. Have you reached out to the Trump administration or any members of Congress to tell them that things are getting extremely tight for the lobster business now?

NADEAU: Yes. We've had - you know, when it first started, there was some congressional interest. But I mean, nobody can do anything, right? I mean, the Trump administration doesn't appear to listen to anybody but Donald Trump.

CHANG: There is wide bipartisan support for the U.S. taking a tougher line with China. But what sort of deal would you like to see?

NADEAU: I mean, I'd be happy if they just took away the 25% tax so I could compete on a level playing field, right? The tariffs they imposed on our lobsters in China never bothered anybody because it was equal for everybody, so it was no harm, no foul. I don't expect to get a better trade tariff rate than the Canadians when this is over, if it's ever over. You just can't sit here and wait forever.

CHANG: Yeah. So if things continue the way they are for a few more months, is there a real threat that you guys will go out of business?

NADEAU: Yes. If this continues throughout the fall, I am seriously considering closing my business at the end of this year, yes.

CHANG: If you did have a chance to talk to the president at this moment, what would you like to say to him?

NADEAU: They keep moving the goalposts, (laughter) right? I mean, who knows? It doesn't make any sense. It didn't make any sense in the first place, right? It's like you start a fire, and then try and put the fire out, you know? So all he's going to do is take out the infrastructure that moves U.S. lobsters and keeps the money in U.S. pockets and decreases the U.S. trade deficit. We just gave it all to Canada.

CHANG: Stephanie Nadeau is the owner of The Lobster Co. in Kennebunkport, Maine. Thank you very much for joining us.

NADEAU: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.