© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

U.S. Towns Along Canadian Border Are Caught Up In Tariff Dispute


President Trump has threatened to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement and wants major concessions from Canada. And border towns in the U.S. are really caught between two sides here. We're going to visit Plattsburgh, N.Y., a small city that's integrated its economy with that of Canada. Here's North Country Public Radio's Zach Hirsch.

ZACH HIRSCH, BYLINE: There are 150 Canadian companies in the Plattsburgh area employing about 15 percent of the workforce. A lot of them are manufacturers making things out of parts that crisscross the border several times before the products are finished. Garry Douglas with the North Country Chamber of Commerce says that process is already getting trickier and more expensive. Soon, he says, some businesses will have to pay both Canadian and U.S. tariffs, meaning extra taxes on materials and goods crossing the border.

GARRY DOUGLAS: A lot of companies are starting to be caught already in these nightmare scenarios for which there's no solution.

HIRSCH: Douglas says there's new uncertainty, especially for local manufacturers used to importing Canadian steel and aluminum, which the U.S. hit this month with tariffs of 25 and 10 percent. Douglas says it's hard for the local factories to figure out pricing.

DOUGLAS: It used to be guaranteed prices for 90 days - now guaranteed price for seven days. So you're just starting to see these little impacts on the way suppliers and people are doing business with each other. They're hedging.

HIRSCH: A half-hour's drive north of Plattsburgh on the windy border itself, customs broker Amy Magnus is watching trucks funnel into the U.S.

AMY MAGNUS: Hundreds of trucks cross the border every day. It's very busy for a Wednesday.

HIRSCH: She's on the U.S. side. Her firm, A.N. Deringer, handles cross-border paperwork and the formalities for companies importing and exporting goods. Her clients are dealing with a lot of uncertainty. She says the new tariffs really took them by surprise.

MAGNUS: And these contracts are negotiated sometimes a year in advance, maybe even longer.

HIRSCH: It's been a wild ride, she says, ever since those careful arrangements were disrupted. Former Congressman Bill Owens lives in Plattsburgh. He spent decades promoting cross-border trade. He says Canadian businesses will adapt, and there could even be a positive effect for the area. Owens expects Canadian businesses to move here to avoid sending materials internationally.

BILL OWENS: The fact remains that the Canadians' biggest marketplace is in the U.S. People will find ways around these rules to continue to be able to sell in the United States and make money.

HIRSCH: This trade tiff is also affecting retail shoppers and the people who cross the border to use Plattsburgh services like the local airport. That's where I meet Jacques Juteau, who's from northern Quebec. He says the people who live here are nice, but the Trump administration makes him feel weird about visiting.

JACQUES JUTEAU: We like to come in the state, but I don't know. The way they treat us...

HIRSCH: He's idling in his car at the Plattsburgh Airport, waiting to pick up his daughter. Then she steps off her flight from Florida. Her name is Julie Juteau. She's lived in Tampa for 20 years as a dual citizen. She says because of President Trump, she's on her way back to Canada for good.

JULIE JUTEAU: I promised that when he was elected, I was going to move back, and I'm going to check for a house right now in Canada. (Laughter) I thought it was only a joke, but here I am (laughter).

HIRSCH: If the U.S. wants a trade war, bring it on, she says, adding, we'll just stay home and buy Canadian products instead. That's exactly the kind of response that many in the business community are afraid of. For NPR News, I'm Zach Hirsch in northern New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOONLIT SAILOR'S "FRESH SNOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Zach Hirsch
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.