I had the privilege of engaging in a dialogue on how to understand and navigate the U.S.-China trade war for Arkansas’ economy recently in Little Rock at a workshop hosted by the Arkansas Association of Asian Businesses (AAAB). The audience (see Figure 2) of this event included business owners, professionals, nonprofit organization executives, college professors and government officials. It was a content-rich dialogue, even though not everyone has had the same level of impact from the ongoing trade dispute.
Although I am not a business owner or exporter, the trade war has impacted me in the following ways: 1) my employer, a multinational manufacturing company in Northwest Arkansas, is directly affected by the trade uncertainty; 2) more than half the members of the AAAB, of which I am the founder and president, are experiencing the effects of the trade war; 3) as a Chinese immigrant in the United States, I feel disappointed and frustrated from time to time when the world’s two largest economies do not seem to get along at the government level; and 4) as a consumer, I am expected to pay more than I used to for consumer goods as tariffs go up.
The trade negotiation progress updates almost daily, and the two sides are expected to reach a Phase One agreement soon. In the midst of uncertainty, are there ways to help us, as individuals and local communities, feel more empowered? I think the answer is “yes,” and the following are three things I think we can do now.
- Engage in community-based dialogues: Although trade deals are made between countries, trade wars impact many individual businesses at the local level, mostly those with an international footprint or that rely on materials or other inputs from abroad. Trade also has a butterfly effect on local governments, as it influences companies’ staffing, sourcing and expansion plans in the short- and long-term; as a result, it can alter the tax base, population change and even the community’s growth. Therefore, various local stakeholders should have every interest in sharing knowledge and brainstorming ways to mitigate the negative impacts from the U.S.-China trade war. For example, in our audience, there were a couple of members of a Chinese company who arrived Little Rock from China just the night before the “U.S.-China Trade War” workshop. They had planned to open a manufacturing operation in Central Arkansas, and because of the trade war, their efforts have stalled, even though they had already purchased some of the real estate properties. This company was grateful for the event, as it helped them gain insight about the trade war, how to do business in Arkansas, and to network.
- Acquire knowledge from different angles: At this workshop, speakers shared their knowledge about the U.S.-China trade conflict in different formats (see Figure 2). For example, Anna Ashton from the U.S.-China Business Council shared her observations of the development of the trade talks. Derek Haigwood, a soybean farmer in Arkansas; and Matt Bell, a solar company owner, shared their first-hand experiences as exporters and business owners. Rudy Ortiz of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission enlightened the group with the technical aspects of how to seek exemptions from the raised tariffs. These different perspectives can help us be more well-rounded in understanding the issues and more intelligently seek ways to minimize the loss if the higher tariffs were to apply.
- Take the opportunity to build better relationships: Most of the business practitioners affected by the issue are those who have traveled between U.S. and China. They tend to agree that there is a tremendously skewed perspective in each country’s media about the other, and negatively so. Xenophobia exacerbates the tension of the trade conflict, and the relationship between the two countries is at risk of deteriorating further. The trade deals, no matter what the two countries settle on, eventually will be applied across the board. But I believe the competitive edge favors companies with strong relationships — a company that takes the time to build a human-level relationship with their partners overseas. When doing business with China and the Chinese market, this is especially the case, as the culture puts relationships at the center of most considerations, and business is no exception. As an immigrant from China, I have worked to gather the community around the platform of the AAAB to maximize the opportunity of positive relationship building, and hopefully to overwrite the untrue stories from the media.
In the end, although individuals and local communities have little control over how the U.S.-China trade policy will settle in an agreement, there are measures, like the ones mentioned above, we can take to be empowered.
Yang Luo-Branch is the founder and president of Arkansas Association of Asian Businesses (AAAB).
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in op-eds are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Arkansas Money & Politics or About You Media Group.