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US-China trade tensions continue to cloud US construction industry outlook

Published by , Editorial Assistant
World Cement,

According to GlobalData, the potential escalation and retaliation in the ongoing US-China trade war could significantly impact the US construction industry if no deal between the two countries is reached in the coming months.

The immediate impacts of the tariffs that were imposed by the US government last year on a wide range of Chinese products, along with tariffs on steel, aluminium, and Canadian lumber, are already being felt by the industry. Many of the Chinese goods required to construct houses and other buildings in the US are still subject to a 10% tariff imposed by the US government last September. This 10% tariff added to Chinese goods was expected to increase to 25% on 1 March 2019, but in late February President Trump announced that he would delay applying additional tariffs on Chinese exports, citing "substantial progress" in trade talks between the two countries.

Chinese tariffs on US products could also curtail investment in new construction projects in the US. For example, in October 2018 the construction of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal project in Louisiana was put on hold by Australia’s LNG Ltd after the Chinese government set a 10% tariff on US LNG exports.

Local steel producers are currently not able to increase production to meet the demand that is being met by foreign suppliers. As a result, contractors will experience delays in supplies if they switch to local producers. At the same time, government efforts to reduce regulatory costs are expected to lower construction costs in the long term, but not sufficiently to offset higher costs for building materials.

It is a major concern for contractors that they may be forced to find new suppliers and pay higher prices for materials if they cannot source what they expect from existing suppliers. It will be necessary for contractors and subcontractors to incorporate higher prices and price risks into their bids. To avoid raising costs to customers, contractors could also start to cut corners in the building process, comprising the safety and durability of projects.

“Any rise in tariff rates will lead to higher costs of imported building materials,” said Dariana Tani, Construction Analyst at GlobalData. “This could result in slower growth and job creation in the construction industry and affect infrastructure spending, disrupting supply chains and companies’ operations, as well as reducing investment and putting more projects and construction loans at risk.

“Around half the value of US imports consists of intermediate goods, such as raw materials, machine parts, industrial inputs, and capital equipment. Most of the Chinese imports currently subject to tariffs fit this category. By increasing the tariff rate on these products, the Trump administration is in effect imposing a tax on US contractors in the form of higher building materials costs.

“Even though there are signs that a trade deal between the two countries could be on the horizon, many challenges remain. There is no indication that the existing tariffs will be reduced any time soon, and the longer the existing tariffs remain in place and their effects go on, the more risk the construction industry will experience. In addition, a significant degree of policy uncertainty is threatening investment, and productivity in the industry, as President Trump has not yet specified what the new deadline for raising tariffs will be. Even if a trade agreement is reached in the near term, it will lack the required enforcement to ensure that Chinese officials will commit to the structural reforms that the US government is demanding, especially in terms of policies related to intellectual property in the technology industry."

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US cement news Cement news 2018