WASHINGTON—Representatives of the tire, auto parts and allied industries reacted mostly favorably to President Trump's State of the Union address, especially to his calls for passage of legislation to fund infrastructure improvements.
However, they expressed some concern over tariffs, trade agreements and other issues such as Trump's call for legislation to establish paid family leave.
"Overall, our members are supportive of President Trump, and I think they supported the speech," said Roy Littlefield III, executive vice president of the Tire Industry Association. "But in parts of that speech he sounded like a Democrat."
In a portion of the Feb. 5 speech, Trump called for "a great rebuilding of America's crumbling infrastructure.
"I know that Congress is eager to pass an infrastructure bill—and I am eager to work with you on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment," he said.
Trump described the former North American Free Trade Agreement as a "catastrophe" and said he had met working people in many states "whose dreams were shattered by NAFTA."
"Our new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement—or USMCA—will replace NAFTA and deliver for American workers, bringing back American jobs," he said.
Trump described his tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods as a total success. "Now our Treasury is receiving billions of dollars a month from a country that never gave us a dime," he said.
"I have great respect for (Chinese President) Xi, and we are now working on a new trade deal with China," Trump said. "But it must include real, structural change to end unfair trade practices, reduce our chronic trade deficit and protect American jobs."
As expected, Trump called on Congress to approve the United States Reciprocal Trade Act, which would give him the authority to instigate line-by-line tariffs on goods imported from countries that he determines have raised tariff or non-tariff barriers on U.S. goods.
"If another country places an unfair tariff on an American product, we can charge them the exact same tariff on the same product that they sell to us," he said.
Trump said he was proud to be the first president to include in his budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave "so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child," he said.
Anne Forristall Luke, president and CEO of the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association, said the USTMA was pleased with Trump's comments on infrastructure investment.
"USTMA supports this undertaking and believe it's critical that the president and Congress establish sustainable, long-term funding for a significant infrastructure package," Luke said.
New infrastructure investment also provides an opportunity for products such as rubber-modified asphalt to gain acceptance in federally funded highway projects, she said.
However, the administration must be cautious in framing its tariff and trade policies, according to Luke.
"Stability and certainty in our supply chain is critical to the competitiveness of U.S. tire manufacturing operations and vital to sustained growth in our domestic operations," she said.
"True to our mission of enhancing the competitiveness of U.S. tire manufacturers, we will continue to oppose restrictive trade policies that would increase the cost or limit the availability of raw materials, other feedstocks and capital equipment, she said.
While tire dealers and retreaders are generally supportive of Trump's economic and business policies, they are split on tariffs, according to Littlefield.
Retreaders are suffering greatly because of competition from cheap Chinese tires, but tire distributors count on having those tires to meet demand in the lower tiers, he said.
The industry is also concerned about the repeal of NAFTA and whether Congress will approve the USMCA, according to Littlefield.
"Look at some of the manufacturers in our industry," he said. "They've invested heavily in building operations in Mexico."
For tire dealers, Trump's advocacy of paid family leave was the most puzzling part of the speech, according to Littlefield.
"In our industry, there are specialists," he said. "We have people who specialize in retreading, or in servicing truck tires. It's not like our people can take 16 weeks off, and they can be replaced temporarily by someone hired off the street."
Driving American Jobs—a coalition whose members include the Auto Care Association, the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, the Specialty Equipment Market Association and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers—issued a statement stressing their opposition to tariffs.
"We look forward to working with the administration and lawmakers in both parties to find common-sense solutions to our problems that do not include tariffs targeting the automotive industry," the group said.
"Getting the policy wrong would needlessly hurt our economy, stifle innovation and put hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk," it said.
SEMA, ACA, MEMA and the Alliance already are on record as opposing the Reciprocal Trade Act. On Jan. 30, they were among 29 associations co-signing an open letter to Congress, supporting the Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act of 2019 (BCTAA).
The BCTAA would require that the president submit to Congress any proposals to levy tariffs against imported products based on concerns of national security.
It also would narrow the concept of "national security" to pertain only to those goods with applications in military equipment, energy resources and critical infrastructure needs.
"This legislation … is critically needed in order to ensure a proper weighing of the overall national interest before tariffs or quotas go into effect," the letter said.
One association that praised Trump's address was the National Association of Manufacturers.
"Our industry is coming off the best year for manufacturing job creation in more than two decades," said Jay Timmons, NAM president and CEO .
"The strength of our union is found in modern manufacturing, so President Trump was right to keep his focus on the men and women who make things in America," Timmons said.
Before the address, the United Steelworkers union urged Trump to honor his promises on trade.
"President Trump has embarked on several trade reform efforts, but the work to secure jobs and prosperity is far from complete," said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. "The administration has made far too little progress to suggest that the president's trade promises have been kept."