Editors note: CPA board member Burl Finkelstein is featured in this article on our trade conference last month in March.
While trade tensions have left some companies feeling uneasy, especially those with a global footprint, others are applauding the Trump administration’s “America First” stance. And a contingent of those supporters gathered at the White House last month during the Coalition for a Prosperous America annual trade conference.
[Phillip Bantz | April 11, 2019 | Corporate Counsel]
Burl Finkelstein, executive vice president and general counsel at Kason Industries Inc. in Georgia, was among the attendees of the annual trade conference for the Coalition for a Prosperous America last month.
The nonprofit organization’s members were given access to several trade officials, including U.S. Trade Ambassador Robert Lighthizer and Peter Navarro, assistant to the president and director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, along with a few lawmakers, including Sen. Marco Rubio.
One of the in-house leaders in attendance was Burl Finkelstein, executive vice president and general counsel at Kason Industries Inc. in Newnan, Georgia, which makes hardware for refrigeration and food service equipment.
Finkelstein spoke with Corporate Counsel Wednesday about his history with the coalition and his takeaways from the meeting. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Corporate Counsel: What attracted you to the coalition?
Burl Finkelstein: I joined after I dropped out of NAM, the National Association of Manufacturers, because NAM somewhat refused to take a do-no-harm-to-domestic- manufacturers policy and trade position. The multinationals and globalist companies in NAM, which are the bigger companies there, wanted free trade and open borders and any advantage they can get. And the domestic manufacturers were going out of business. They were losing their customers. The globalist companies can game the system however it’s set up, they can take advantage of it. And, typically, domestic producing companies can’t take advantage of it. All they do is end up losing their market because they can’t play in both directions very well.
CC: Which industries were represented at the meeting?
BF: CPA is a unique group because it’s such a cross section of odd bedfellows. CPA represents domestic manufacturing, farmers and ranchers and it also represents organized labor, the AFL-CIO [American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations] and Teamsters have representatives in CPA. They’re people who typically I wouldn’t want to keep even at arm’s length. But everybody has an interest in keeping jobs in America and benefiting American workers and keeping American industry productive and competitive.
CC: What were the highlights of the group’s talks with Peter Navarro and Bob Lighthizer?
BF: They talked about Section 232 tariffs [on steel and aluminum], protecting the country for national security reasons, and about how the tariffs on steel and aluminum were working, actually. We talked about if the 232 tariffs should be expanded to other areas that are somewhat strategic to our economy and national security. We also talked about the USMCA [United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement] and, for the most part, we supported what was on the table presently.
With Navarro, we talked about the Reciprocal Trade Act, to try to get a bill through Congress that he’s promoting, and we supported it, to review how trade is working with specific countries and then add tariffs where trade is getting out of balance. And if we didn’t achieve balance in trade, we’d have mechanisms in place to take measures to achieve the balance. We’re big supporters of that.
CC: What did they say about expanding 232 tariffs?
BF: If it was necessary to do it on specific things, electronics and things like that that were necessary for national security—the chips that went in cameras and things like that that the Chinese ended up having a back door into—those issues for national security should be addressed, possibly through tariffs.
CC: Was there talk about ratcheting up tariffs on China?
BF: That was one of the discussions, but since that’s under negotiation now on a number of different fronts, we didn’t really talk specifics about what’s coming and not coming. But we talked a lot about the negotiations with China, which are still on despite what the media is talking about. China typically has been the biggest culprit in cheating on trade practice with the U.S.
CC: What did Rubio have to say?
BF: [Rubio] was inspiring to us, because a year ago he was an ardent free trader. And he gave a speech talking about how important it is for the U.S. to have production here, to make jobs here, to keep our economy up, to give people a step into the middle class by having those jobs. He gave a thoroughly encouraging and optimistic speech.
CC: Any revelations or surprises during the meeting?
BF: I was favorably impressed that the CPA group had so much access and credibility with the White House and with the people at the top of trade policy now. We started out really as a grassroots group. Now, the CEO, Michael Stumo, he can pick up the phone and talk to Dr. Navarro. Dan DiMicco, our chairman, was part of the transition team giving advice to the Trump cabinet on trade. [The meeting] reinvigorated me. I’ve been going to Washington, D.C., now for at least 15 years. And basically each time I go there to meet with our representatives and others, we’re going there to beg them not to take further actions that are going to cause us to lose our livelihood, and some agree with us and some don’t, but it’s usually going back every year and saying I’ve managed to keep this business another year and please don’t do anything that promotes offshoring, that takes our business away.
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