The end of any year is not only a time to look back at what happened and why, but also an opportunity to cement plans heading into the new year. Though as the rubber industry heads into 2018, there are many things that currently are uncertain.
A lot of that centers around activities in Washington, where many agenda items remain unsettled that will impact greatly companies in our industry going forward.
Of course, the item at the top of all of the newscasts are the House and Senate tax bills that will have an effect on all companies, big and small.
But that's hardly the only topic that will be watched closely.
At or near the top of that list for the manufacturing community is the ongoing re-negotiation talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement. The U.S. currently is asking for an 85 percent regional content (up from 62.5 percent) and 50 percent U.S. content—there is no current U.S. content requirement—to qualify for duty-free status in the three nations.
Canada's chief NAFTA negotiator calls the demands unworkable. At 85 percent, he says auto makers wouldn't be able to access enough North American content to qualify. That in turn could lead car firms to move offshore and pay the relatively small 2.5 percent duty to import cars into the U.S.
Though many groups disdain NAFTA, over the years it has brought a certain level of stability as firms from all three North American nations have adjusted and found ways to survive and prosper under the system. Many fear radical changes will upset that equilibrium in a way where nobody wins.
The U.S. automotive industry also is looking at an uncertain future, though the sector appears to be ending 2017 on an upswing. The seven-year streak of year-over-year light vehicle sales will end in 2017—sales are off 1.4 percent through November—but monthly totals for the month were the third highest of the year. And even with the end of the streak, the domestic auto industry—fueled by a continued strong light truck market—is on track to top 17 million units for the third consecutive year.
It appears that 2017 also will end without a nominee to the head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a post that has gone unfilled since January. The U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association is concerned over the agency's instability, both writing a letter to the Trump administration urging a candidate to be nominated and, more recently, to NHTSA asking that a number of outdated federal tire regulations be cut.
If that's not enough uncertainty, there's still the matter of how far the Environmental Protection Agency will go in rolling back regulations in a variety of industries. And no action was taken on the much-needed infrastructure initiative that was a campaign pledge of the president that could be an economic boom for a number of sectors, including rubber.
One thing that's not uncertain: 2018 will begin with quite an extensive "To Do" list.