Trade, tariffs big concern for boating

Industry also worried about ethanol, tax policy

Trade policy – an area that barely registered as a concern for the boating industry a few years ago – has rocketed to the top of the list for industry worries.

That’s according to the latest Boating Industry survey, conducted via email in January 2019. Those surveyed included dealers, manufacturers, suppliers and others in the industry. One additional note: The government shutdown was going on during most of the survey period and readers also cited that (and potential future shutdowns) as a major concern if it was not resolved. 

Just more than 26 percent said that tariffs and trade policy were the government-related issue having the biggest impact on their business today. That has doubled from the 13 percent who rated it as the top issue last year and more than quintupled since 2016, when only 5 percent said it was their biggest area of concern.

That’s probably no surprise as trade disputes with Canada and other nations have been a major topic of discussion in the industry for the last year.

More than half of survey respondents said that tariffs and other trade restrictions have affected their business in the last year. The biggest concerns, according to Boating Industry readers, were the rising prices of steel, aluminum and other materials that are driving up the costs of production. Canadian dealers also cited the increased price of boats they are attempting to import from the United States for sale there. 

Ethanol, tax policies still big concerns

Ethanol and tax policy, the top issues last year, are still on the minds of those in the boating industry.  

Half of respondents said they are very concerned about ethanol and the Renewable Fuel Standard, about the same as last year. However, only 13 percent ranked it as their biggest concern, compared with 20 percent in 2018 and down from 28 percent in 2016.

Source: Boating Industry survey, January 2019

Twenty percent of respondents ranked tax policy as their top issue, down from 27 percent last year when debate over tax reform was dominating political discussions. Nearly half of readers said it was very important to their business.

When it comes to tax policy, about half of respondents said the 2018 tax cuts have thus far had no effect on their business. Thirty-eight percent said the tax cuts have slightly increased their business, while 5 percent said they have greatly increased business. About 6 percent said it has caused a decrease in revenue.

Sources: Boating Industry surveys (2016-2019)

At 11 percent, water access was the only other issue that more than 10 percent ranked as their top issue. Thirty-six percent ranked the issue as very important. 

For the most part, other issues were relatively unchanged in their importance over the last several years, according to Boating Industry readers (see chart above).

Environmental regulations were the one exception, dropping from 18 percent rating as a top issue in 2016 to 8 percent this year. It’s worth noting that that decline occurred during a Trump administration that has, on the whole, focused on loosening many regulations put into effect during the Obama administration.

Overall, 34 percent of Boating Industry readers said government regulations have hurt their ability to grow business in the last year. The most commonly cited concerns were state and local regulations, tariffs and catch limits.

Taking action

Many Boating Industry readers report they are attempting to affect government policy in some way. Sixty-eight percent have undertaken some sort of action in an attempt to affect public policy. Nearly half of readers have contacted an elected official to express their opinion on issues, while 31 percent have met in person with an elected representative. (Respondents could choose more than one response). Thirty-four percent have responded to a “Call to Action” from an association such as NMMA or MRAA. Fourteen percent have attended a state legislative session, 7 percent have made a contribution to BoatPAC and 6 percent have attended the American Boating Congress.   


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