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Port officials worry that president's tariff proposal will kill business

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

Veteran dockworkers are bracing for the possibility of fewer hours and possible layoffs if President Trump imposes new tariffs on steel and aluminum.

While the president says the move will help the domestic steel industry, a Tulane economist questions the wisdom of the move.

"I hope he changes his mind, and doesn't do the tariff. We need the work," said veteran dockworker Lionel Davis Sr.

President Trump says he will impose a 25% tariff on all steel imports and 10% on aluminum, and officials say the Port of New Orleans will feel the impacts.

"Steel and London Metals Exchange metals are our biggest commodity in break bulk for the Port of New Orleans. We moved about 2.5 million tons of steel last year," said port spokesman Matt Gresham.

The Port of New Orleans alternates between second and third in the country when it comes to aluminum and steel imports, and economists say that will change.

"Consequences are inevitable. There's no way to make this a positive, unless you're a steelworker, or own steel stocks," said Tulane economist Doug Nelson.

As other countries now talk about trade wars, Nelson says the ripple effects will be harmful.

"There will be losses throughout the economy. Steel is used everywhere - cars, earth-moving equipment and ships," said Nelson.

This isn't the Port of New Orleans' first experience with tariffs. Sixteen years ago, the Bush administration proposed one, and the results weren't good.

"A lot of people lost their jobs. They couldn't make it. They lost their homes and everything," said Lionel Davis Sr.

That tariff lasted only a year and was targeted to certain countries.

"President Trump is proposing for these to be essentially permanent, which is insane," said Nelson.

Friday,  the president tweeted, "When a country is losing many billions of dollars on trade, with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win."

But some, aren't so sure.

"When that tariff came, it slowed up a lot on the river," said Davis.

But the president doesn't appear to be backing down.

Tulane economist Doug Nelson says even with the  tariffs,  the U.S. steel industry will not be competitive with countries like Vietnam and Brazil when it comes to making cheap steel. Nelson says the threat of retaliatory tariffs from other countries is especially troubling, and he predicts American consumers will be  hit hard in their pocketbooks.

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