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AICPA Survey: Business Executives Worry About Higher Risk of Trade Wars

  • Some 38 percent of those surveyed expressed concern about potential trade conflicts
  • A global economic slowdown and rising costs were cited as top risks
  • Most business executives have a neutral view of Brexit’s impact on their companies

NEW YORK – Some 38 percent of business executives said they were worried about potential trade conflicts between the United States and major trade partners, with nine percent describing themselves as significantly concerned, according to an American Institute of CPAs survey of CEOs, CFOs, controllers and other senior-level CPAs in business and industry.

Forty percent of those surveyed said their business would be impacted by the imposition of U.S. tariffs or by potential retaliation from trading partners. Of that group, 22 percent said they would face a significant business impact, while 57 percent said they would experience a moderate one. The risk of a global economic slowdown, rising business costs, and rising prices on goods or services sold were top reasons for concern.

The trade-related questions, a section of the second-quarter AICPA Economic Outlook Survey, were asked May 8-23, before the U.S. Administration’s May 31 announcement of steel and aluminum tariffs for some trading partners.

“While optimism about the U.S. economy remains high, we did see a slight dampening of enthusiasm in the past quarter in part because of trade concerns,” said Arleen R. Thomas, CPA, CGMA, managing director of Americas Market, Global Offerings & CGMA Exam, Management Accounting for the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. “Most business executives – 52 percent – said a more protectionist approach to trade policy would have a negative impact on the U.S. economy, while only 16 percent feel it would have a positive impact.”

Greatest concern about rising trade tensionsPercentage
Global economic slowdown35
Rising cost for my business20
Rising prices on goods or services sold19
I don’t have concerns11
Less availability/prohibitive pricing of imported products5
Greater barrier to entry in global markets4
Not sure3

Asked about Brexit, the United Kingdom’s planned withdrawal from the European Union, 84 percent of business executives said they expected it would have a neutral impact on their business. Four percent said it would have a negative impact, while one percent said it would be positive. Another 10 percent said they were unsure of its implications.


The second-quarter AICPA Business and Industry Economic Outlook Survey was conducted May 8-23, 2018, and included 831 qualified responses from CPAs who hold leadership positions, such as chief financial officer or controller, in their companies. The overall margin of error is less than 3 percentage points. A copy of the report can be found on aicpa.org.