Small Business Owner Fears U.S.-China Trade War Will Destroy Her Company Mary Buchzeiger's auto parts company may be fighting for its life if it doesn't get relief from Trump's proposed tariffs. "They're attacks on U.S. companies that are using Chinese goods," she says.

Small Business Owner Fears U.S.-China Trade War Will Destroy Her Company

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This next story underlines an awkward reality of the trade battle between the United States and China. When Americans import Chinese goods, what's really happening is this - an American business is using Chinese goods and making a profit. So as President Trump imposes tariffs on China, NPR's John Ydstie met an American business owner who thinks they could destroy her American company.

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: Mary Buchzeiger came to Washington on a mission. It's not a place she visits often.

MARY BUCHZEIGER: I'm not a political person. I'm not in politics. I don't - you know, this is my first go-round in Washington. The last time I was here, I was 13 years old for my eighth-grade trip. (Laughter).

YDSTIE: Now she's here again, sitting in a cafe a couple of blocks from the Capitol building, preparing to plead her case before Trump administration trade officials. Buchzeiger owns and runs a business founded by her father, Lucerne International, in Auburn Hills, Mich. It's a small parts supplier, but it's a big supplier for Chrysler's Jeep brand.

BUCHZEIGER: We make all of the hinges that go in the Jeep Wrangler. They're all Class A forgings. Our company is actually one of the only ones in the world that can produce Class A forgings.

YDSTIE: Class A forgings are parts visible on a vehicle's exterior.

BUCHZEIGER: It's polished jewelry on the outside of a vehicle. It can't have defects in it - nicks, scratches, dents, dings, anything like that. It's got to look pretty.

YDSTIE: Check out the door hinges on the next Jeep Wrangler you see. They came from Lucerne International. Those hinges, and about 90 percent of the parts Buchzeiger's company supplies to U.S. automakers would be hit by a 25 percent tax under President Trump's tariffs. The tariffs are supposed to protect U.S. businesses, but Buchzeiger doesn't see it that way.

BUCHZEIGER: They're attacks on U.S. companies that are using Chinese goods.

YDSTIE: And that's the rub. Buchzeiger's company produces most of its parts in China.

BUCHZEIGER: I would love to be able to manufacture these parts in the U.S. We've tried. But here in the United States, there is not one company that can handle even half the volume of one part-number that I produce because there's no capacity left for manufacturing here.

YDSTIE: Buchzeiger has searched for factories in the U.S. several times. Currently she's investigating the possibility of a plant in Flint, Mich., where she was born. But if the tariffs hit now, she fears she'll be out of business before that could even happen. A couple of hours after our conversation, Mary Buchzeiger sat down in a government hearing room to tell her story. She had five minutes to make her case for an exemption before a panel of trade officials. Audio recording wasn't allowed, but we talked to her as she left the hearing room.

So how'd it go?

BUCHZEIGER: I think it went well. And I got the message across, and it was exactly what I expected. I'm hopeful that they heard our message.

YDSTIE: And here are a few lines of her plea to trade officials.

BUCHZEIGER: The tariffs proposed by President Trump would cripple my business and many like it in the Midwest. I'm fighting for the life of my company and for the livelihood of my employees, and I'm fighting to protect an intricate auto-supply chain that creates hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs.

YDSTIE: Buchzeiger is a Republican, and she says she hopes President Trump will get the message that his tariffs could harm businesses and workers in Trump Country. If or when those tariffs will take effect remains unclear. So for now, Buchzeiger can only wait and hope.

John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington.

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