State Politics

Trump's tariffs may hurt Rick Scott. The case study is a can of beer.

Gov. Rick Scott campaigns in Hialeah for the U.S. Senate

Florida Governor Rick Scott visits Interstate Beverage Corp in Hialeah as part of his campaign rollout for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, April 10, 2018.
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Florida Governor Rick Scott visits Interstate Beverage Corp in Hialeah as part of his campaign rollout for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, April 10, 2018.

Anheuser-Busch is synonymous with St. Louis, but what’s not as well-known is that the beer company has long had a big operation in Jacksonville, quenching Florida’s thirst.

Since 1974, the king of beers has produced aluminum beer cans there, cranking out up to 2,500 a minute — a thriving operation that it says is threatened by President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.

A year ago, Anheuser-Busch opened a metal container plant that makes aluminum bottles, adding 75 jobs with the help of state incentives from Gov. Rick Scott, who clutched scissors at a ribbon-cutting in May of last year and was on hand for a ground-breaking ceremony in 2015.

Everyone was all smiles.

Then came the tariffs. Trump on June 1 imposed a 25 percent steel tariff and 10 percent aluminum tariff on Mexico and Canada as a way to reshape the North American Free Trade Agreement. Other tariffs were slapped on the European Union and other countries.

In the middle of a U.S. Senate race, Scott is suddenly caught between the president he supports and the business community that has backed him for eight years but which staunchly opposes Trump’s trade policy as bad for jobs.

One of Scott’s biggest allies, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, says Trump is inviting a trade war with U.S. allies and that the tariffs could put Florida’s economy at risk — jeopardizing the cornerstone of Scott’s agenda as governor.

Scott has said virtually nothing about a subject that could have serious implications for an economy he has spent eight years nurturing.

“I think it is important that we have free trade, but it has to be fair,” he said at a Tampa visit in April. “If we’re trying to sell there [another country], we should have the same opportunity as they have the right to sell here.”

Scott’s opponent, Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, who toured the Jacksonville plant in April, says the brewer is “quite agitated” over Trump’s actions.

“You put a 10 percent tax on aluminum and that adds up to real money for the consumer,” Nelson said.

In a statement, Nelson said: “Starting a trade war with our closest allies is the last thing we should be doing. No one wins in a trade war, especially hardworking families who may have to pay more for the goods they buy every day.”

Scott’s campaign has not responded to a Herald/Times request Tuesday for more details on his position. Scott was raising campaign money in San Francisco on Wednesday.

While the chamber will remain a stalwart supporter of the Republican governor, its position could force Scott to take sides on tariffs.

After Trump signed proclamations imposing the tariffs, America’s allies have responded with intense criticism and retaliatory trade sanctions of their own.

The European Union said Wednesday it will impose new duties on a wide array of U.S. products, including another popular beverage and Florida’s most iconic product of all — orange juice.

Talk about a pocketbook issue: The cost of a six-pack of beer could emerge as a flashpoint in Florida’s U.S. Senate race.

“Because beer is increasingly packaged in aluminum cans, the proposed 10 percent tariff on aluminum will likely cost U.S. brewers millions of dollars, making it more difficult to grow and further invest in our U.S. operations,” Anheuser-Busch said recently. “We urge the administration to consider the impacts of these decisions on the thousands of hard-working Americans and the millions of beer drinkers that make up the U.S. beer industry.”

Peter Quinter, a Florida lawyer who heads the customs and international law group at the GrayRobinson law firm, said Florida residents could feel the impact of Trump’s tariffs in a lot of ways.

“The effects will be everywhere — the construction of a building, an A.C. unit, a can of beer,” Quinter said. “Steel and aluminum are the basis of much of what we use. Everything will go up.”

Scott has advocated increased trade with foreign countries as a way to grow jobs. He has promoted Florida ports as engines for increased global trade and has long championed economic incentive programs to attract jobs to Florida, despite opposition in the state Legislature.

Anheuser-Busch’s Jacksonville brewery opened in 1969 and is its fourth-largest brewery. The company employs about 800 people in Jacksonville.

According to the Department of Economic Opportunity, Anheuser-Busch received incentives worth up to $2.6 million for the Jacksonville metal container plant, which represented a $170 million investment by the company.

“I look forward to seeing Anheuser-Busch’s ongoing success in Florida as we continue to fight to bring more important jobs like this to our state,” Scott said in a statement issued by his office last year.

Contact Steve Bousquet at Follow @stevebousquet.