Tariffs on China Could Broadly Affect Clothing and Footwear Imports

With about 33 percent of all clothing and 72 percent of all footwear sold in the United States coming from China, President Trump’s latest volley to impose some $50 billion in tariffs on that Asian country could have a dire effect on the average consumer.

The American Apparel & Footwear Association and 16 other apparel, footwear and retail trade organizations sent a letter to President Trump to oppose the new schedule of tariffs. The organizations estimate that an additional duty rate of 25 percent on clothing would mean the average family of four would end up paying about $500 more to buy basic consumer products every year. And this doesn’t account for price increases other suppliers may charge as they respond to the cost increases.

Imported apparel already is one of the heaviest-taxed categories brought into the United States. The average tariff ranges from 10.8 percent to 14.2 percent while the average tariff on other imported goods is less than 1.4 percent, the trade groups said.

They pointed out that ski jackets, baby garments and tennis shoes face U.S. duties as high as 27.7 percent, 32 percent and 67.5 percent, respectively, but there is no reason to do this because there is little production of these items in the United States.

Duties on apparel, footwear and travel goods account for more than 22 percent of all tariffs collected by the United States. “And to be clear, such duties are paid by U.S. workers, U.S. consumers and U.S. companies—not China,” the letter said.

Whether these tariffs go into effect is still another question. U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady (R–Texas) has said there should be a 30-day comment period to make sure the tariffs don’t harm American workers and families for China’s misbehavior.

Trump is expected to ask U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to come up with a list of products to retaliate against within the next 15 days.

Ilse Metchek, the president of the California Fashion Association, which was one of the organizations that signed the letter, said that added tariffs on Chinese goods may not be as dire as everyone thinks.

“As an apparel maker, you have options,” she said, noting that apparel importers can shift their production to Vietnam, Indonesia, Poland, Mauritius or Latin America to avoid the new tariffs and find labor costs that are less than in China. “Everything will be made in Vietnam by Chinese factories.”