President Donald Trump's decision to levy tariffs on steel and aluminum imports is causing concern and uncertainty in South Carolina — home to about 400 auto-related companies, the state's Commerce secretary told state senators Tuesday.
"Uncertainty always brings concern in business," state Commerce Department Secretary Bobby Hitt said.
Trump has announced tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum to take effect in late March, saying they are necessary to protect U.S. jobs.
However, critics fear the tariffs could cost some U.S. workers their jobs and have pointed to South Carolina — home to several major automobile manufacturing plants, including BMW in Spartanburg and the soon-to-open Volvo plant in Berkeley County — as a potential loser.
On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported European auto executives are warning tariffs could cut their investment in their U.S. plants, threatening U.S. jobs. That could include Volvo and BMW, whose CEO Harald Kruger said last week, "Should we face tariff barriers, it will have an impact on jobs in the United States."
South Carolina is a free-market state, Hitt said Tuesday. "Anything that limits the free market could have some impact on us."
Hitt, who previously worked for BMW in public affairs, said he remembered when former President George W. Bush imposed steel tariffs in 2002. "It presented some challenges to BMW ... because we needed to get waivers for those tariffs because there was not steel available in this country that matched production requirements we had."
Hitt told lawmakers he has met with several company executives and knows "there's been air traffic in the governor's office seeking his (Gov. Henry McMaster's) support."
"Every national article I've read that talked about which .... states ... would have impact if these tariffs were put in .... South Carolina was in that list," he said. "So, yes, there's concern. There's uncertainty. But, as yet no, impact."