FRANKLIN PARK, Ill. (Reuters) - Nestled in an industrial park near the end of the runway of O’Hare International Airport, Metal Box International Inc. should be one of the winners of a little-known trade war over toolboxes.

The glass entranceway to Metal Box InternationalÕs toolbox factory is seen in Franklin Park, Illinois, U.S., February 21, 2018. Picture taken February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Timothy Aeppel

In January, the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled Chinese imports had harmed domestic producers of big tool chests sold in retail stores, prompting the Trump administration to slap anti-subsidy duties of up to 95 percent on Chinese boxes. That could jump far higher later this year, after the administration decides whether to add anti-dumping duties on top of the anti-subsidy charges.

“This is a game changer for us,” said Mitch Liss, one of the owners of the privately held company, who said regaining just a small slice of the Chinese business would make the factory boom.

Metal Box International is one of only two remaining U.S. producers of such boxes. The other is Waterloo Industries, a far larger company recently acquired by Stanley Black & Decker Inc, the global tool producer.

So if retailers were going to start buying American again to avoid the mounting duties, it would almost certainly be visible at this factory.

It hasn’t worked out that way. There was a small uptick after the January ruling, Liss said, but so far no boom in orders. After spending $300,000 on new equipment in a surge of optimism, he put plans to buy additional machines on hold and has not added any new workers.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s move last week to crack down on steel and aluminum imports is threatening to boost costs for Metal Box International as well as Stanley Black & Decker, which uses those metals to fashion similar tool chests.

Stanley Black & Decker declined to talk about whether it was seeing any impact on its business from the new toolbox duties, though a spokesman told Reuters the International Trade Commission’s decision could mean “increased volume in the plant, which can translate into growth in U.S. manufacturing jobs.”

A spokesman for Home Depot said he would not discuss the company’s tool chest sourcing “for competitive reasons.”

The current battle over steel and aluminum tariffs underscores the risks and complexity in trade disputes, which often pit America’s love of cheap imports against its desire to protect blue-collar jobs. Winners and losers aren’t always initially clear.

Tariffs on steel and aluminum could help some U.S. workers - United States Steel Corp cited the prospect of tariffs this week as its reason to restart a mill in Illinois, for instance.

For a graphic, click tmsnrt.rs/2Fc94hU

But as a consumer of steel, Liss said the metal tariffs will hurt him but quickly adds that he understands why industries are looking for protection from cheaper imports.


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