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Trump Tariffs Could 'Devastate' Outdoor Gear Companies, Warns Industry Group

Photo of backpacks. / JackF
The newest round of tariffs on Chinese goods could cut into profits and lead to rising costs at REI and Patagonia.

Increased tariffs on Chinese goods will ‘devastate’ outdoor recreation companies, an industry group warned in a letter sent to President Trump Wednesday.

The Outdoor Industry Association, a trade group representing over 1,300 companies, including REI and Patagonia, argued that the administration’s new round 25% tariffs on kayaks, bicycles, backpacks and other outdoor gear will raise costs for U.S. businesses and cut into profit margins.

Amy Roberts, executive director of the Boulder, Colo.-based group said it would be a “devastating blow” to the $887 billion outdoor recreation economy that helps to generate 7.6 million jobs.

“This means less money for new domestic jobs and the design and development of innovative new products,” Roberts wrote in the letter to Trump. “It may also force small and medium-sized businesses to shut their doors.”

The tariffs are part of an ongoing trade war with China, whom the Trump administration argues has stolen U.S. intellectual property and flooded the market with cheap goods. The tariffs are meant to both punish China and make locally-made products more attractive to American consumers.

But it takes a long time for supply chains to transfer out of China, according to Rich Harper, manager of international trade at the Outdoor Industry Association.

“While there might be some interest in outdoor companies to shift some of these supply chains, it takes months and even years, in some cases, to be able to do that,” he said.

The outdoor recreation economy makes up about 2% of the nation’s GDP. The first round of 25 percent tariffs on Chinese goods were implemented last Friday. A second round on footwear and apparel is expected in the coming months.

Correction 8:33 a.m. 5/20/19: A previous version of this story misidentified Amy Roberts.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
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