Supporters are quick to describe the benefits of the Utah Inland Port. They don’t often talk about the threat a trade war poses.

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) The site of the former city landfill on the north side of I-80 between 5600 west and 7200 west in Salt Lake City Friday March 30, 2018. The proposed inland port project could be built on this site.

President Donald Trump’s tariffs on trade partners are a risk to the global trading port that state leaders have quickly moved to create in northwest Salt Lake City, according to one of the project’s biggest supporters.

“It’s too soon to know how it will play out,” Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and former leader of the World Trade Center Utah, said in late June.

“It‘s probably not too soon to say that every day we continue moving forward in a trade war with our trading partners and especially our allies,” Miller said. "Every day that there’s less trade is less reason and less opportunity for an inland port in Utah.”

Two weeks later, Miller told the Deseret News “we are in the war, it’s not a potential anymore.”

The comments are a dire warning and a departure from a business leader who has pushed for the creation of the port, which will be one of the largest landlocked ports in the world.

Trump talks nearly daily about levying tariffs on goods from China and European countries. But state leaders haven’t noted the impact of the tariffs on what is being described as the largest business prospect in the state’s history, a network of roads, rails and the airport, where goods for within the U.S. and abroad will flow in and out.

Gov. Gary Herbert, another strong proponent of the Utah Inland Port, has railed against the tariffs and what he says is their negative impact on the state’s economy. When asked about the impact of fees on imported goods — and the fees countries put on U.S. goods in response — the governor seemed caught off guard.

“A trade war?” he asked.

In addition to tariffs already imposed on steel and aluminum, Trump has threatened to slap fees on auto imports. Countries in turn are discussing retaliatory tariffs of their own.

“The state’s in a different position than this administration when it comes to tariffs and international trade,” Herbert said after the question was clarified. “The tariffs I don’t think are helping us. In fact, they may hurt us.”

“We’ll see what that leads to,” he said.

Herbert has asked Trump to reconsider his unilateral tariffs. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he’s “sympathetic” to legislation that would rein in Trump’s power over trade, warning the tariffs with trading partners will hurt the U.S. economy.

Still, the possible slowdown of the extended economic boom didn’t slow the creation of the new and controversial landlocked port, which will be developed over the coming decades.

The Legislature moved quickly to approve legislation that will guide development of about 16,000 acres of private land within Salt Lake City, or about a quarter of the city’s total acreage and much of the remaining developable land. The boundaries also include small portions of West Valley City and Magna.

Cheerleaders have described clogged seaside ports on the West Coast, with commerce delayed as it waits to clear customs on its way to consumers.

The port, supporters say, will allow the goods on massive ships to bypass seaside ports, get loaded onto rail cars and head to the Utah Inland Port. There, the goods would clear customs on the way to their final destinations.

Backers also envision attracting companies to build manufacturing warehouses within the port’s boundaries, attracted by a friendly business tax climate and quick access to interstates, rail lines throughout the West and an international airport.

The state beat Arizona to the creation of the first major such port in the West. Herbert said he plans to bring the port authority board together by month’s end. It will then hire an executive director. Miller hopes the group will then commission studies on port business and environmental impact.

Meanwhile, the governor hopes the president’s actions and comments on trade are just hyperbole.

“Trump has his own way of doing things. He’s kind of the proverbial bull in the china shop,” Herbert said. “He hits you up the side of the head with a two-by-four to get your attention and then seems to dial back a bit.”

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