Trade War Starts Changing Manufacturers in Hard-to-Reverse Ways

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PORTLAND, Ore. — When the Trump administration first imposed tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese imports in July, Andy LaFrazia figured it was just another curveball for his company.

“Everyone was saying: ‘Oh, it’s a negotiating tactic. It won’t last long,’” Mr. LaFrazia recalled.

But nearly a year later, the trade war shows no sign of cooling off. So ControlTek, the electronics manufacturer that Mr. LaFrazia runs near Portland, is taking steps to protect itself, a strategic shift that has been repeated in boardrooms and executive suites around the world in recent weeks.

ControlTek is rewriting contract language to make it easier to pass the cost of tariffs on to its customers. It is shifting supply chains out of China where possible, and redesigning products to avoid Chinese components where it isn’t. And as a tiny player in an enormous global industry, it is discovering that there is only so much it can do.

“We’re very much at the end of the whip getting thrown around,” Mr. LaFrazia said.

Despite dire warnings from economists, President Trump’s trade war has so far done little to derail the decade-long recovery from the Great Recession. Economic growth has remained strong, and the unemployment rate last month hit a 50-year low.

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