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Moderated by RVIA President Frank Hugelmeyer, former Florida Congressman Bill McCollum, a Republican who led the impeachment efforts of former President Bill Clinton, and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, once head of the Democratic Party, participated in a political panel discussion as part of the Committee Week & Advocacy Day event. (Photo by Cable Risdon)

More than 120 RV industry executives are “storming Capitol Hill” in Washington D.C. today (June 6) as part of the RV Industry Association’s (RVIA) 17th Annual Advocacy Day, a traditional political outreach that culminates the association’s 2018 Committee Week and entails nearly 150 meetings with congressional leaders and federal agency representatives.

As part of Advocacy Day, RVIA this evening hosts the 5th Annual RV Caucus reception at which RV industry executives will mingle with more than 200 guests, including members of the Congressional RV Caucus and their senior staff members.

Following Committee Week, held Sunday through Wednesday (June 3-6) at the Mayflower Hotel, RVIA’s board will meet Thursday in D.C. to finalize a number of issues that emerged during the week while also setting the Reston, Va.-based trade group’s agenda for the rest of 2018. The Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) board of directors also met for a regular session during the week at a separate D.C. venue.

Tuesday’s Committee Week agenda, meanwhile, included a presentation by political journalist Mike Allen, co-founder of Axios.com, as well as a lively panel discussion that featured former Florida Congressman Bill McCollum, a Republican who led the impeachment efforts of former President Bill Clinton, and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, once head of the Democratic Party.

Top of the mind at this year’s committee meetings were details regarding RVIA’s new “RV Experience” (RVX) event set to take place March 12-14, 2019, in Salt Lake City, Utah, as the industry continues to finalize plans for an event at which the latest products and concepts are showcased on the brink of the camping season. RVX is being introduced to help fill a void in the industry’s annual agenda following the decision by RVIA’s board of directors five months ago to terminate the traditional National RV Trade Show held each winter in Louisville, Ky.

Trade tariffs imposed recently by the Trump administration on a wide array of imported goods were also a hot topic in D.C., particularly during the Public & Legislative Affairs Committee session on Tuesday morning.

“The top topic of the meeting, of course, was the tariffs on the steel and aluminum imports and what position the industry should take, which is really just one of continuing to lobby on the Hill and making members of Congress and the administration aware of the potential negative impact as our products rise in cost and the negative effect it’s going to have on our economy,” said Committee Chairman Derald Bontrager, president of Jayco Inc., a Middlebury, Ind.-based subsidiary of Thor Industries Inc.

To move the needle on an issue of this magnitude, Bontrager said he expects it will ultimately take “a big broad voice from everybody in the industry” beyond the industry-friendly RV Caucus, with which RVIA works on a regular basis.

At the same time, Canada’s RV industry contingent in attendance at Committee Week remained solidly opposed to these new U.S. trade policies. “Any prolonged uncertainty over the cost of producing RVs, which will result in higher pricing to RV consumers in both the U.S. and in Canada, will most certainly adversely impact our industry,” Shane Devenish, executive director of the Canadian Recreational Vehicle Association (CRVA), told RVBUSINESS.com. “Families are enjoying the RV lifestyle in record numbers and we are urging government to negotiate without the threat of tariff penalties.”

Likewise, Eleonore Hamm, president of the RVDA of Canada, and Sam Parks of Camp-Out RV in Stratford, Ontario, anpast chairman of RVDA of Canada, said the tariffs threaten progress forged recently by Canada’s RV industry, which found its footing last year after a period of sluggish sales.

“We had just gained roots again; 2017 was a stronger year and we seemed to be back on the plus side again,” Parks said. “The tariffs are going to have some negative effect on us, though. They’re going to be a challenge to our industry in Canada. It’s going to increase pricing. It will also be a challenge to our manufacturers in Canada. We certainly are hoping that there is some mediation or resolution to this tariff issue that we have right now. We anticipate price increases very shortly, which, again, get passed down to the consumer level and it will have a negative effect on our economy.”

Echoing Bontrager’s sentiments, Hamm called on the RV industry across North America to present a unified front regarding the impact of tariffs on both markets.

“The majority of the RVs that are sold in Canada are manufactured in the U.S. – probably 99% of them – and a lot of our raw materials come down to the U.S., get made into RVs and come back into Canada as a finished product. So, obviously, the tariffs will just increase the cost of products,” said Hamm. “We’ve been campaigning in our Advocacy Days about having a fair trade agreement in terms of NAFTA, and now, on top of that, the tariffs put us at a disadvantage and will make product ultimately more expensive for the consumer, which is not good.”