Tariffs in 2019: As the Trade War Turns

One of the largest newsmakers of 2019 was neither a person nor a company but rather a largely impactful issue faced by the apparel industry. In a rocky 2018, the United States implemented 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion in imports from China, and the latter responded with its own reciprocal duties on products from the U.S. The 2018 chapter of the trade war hit the apparel industry through inclusions of China’s tariffs on cotton from the U.S. and the former’s implementation of duties on Chinese fabric and handbags.

As 2019 progressed, the tariff issue was shrouded in confusion as businesses attempted to read between the lines of President Trump’s Twitter account, eventually facing any ultimate decisions that would be announced by the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. With June approaching, the apparel industry braced for an additional 10 percent tariff to be implemented on textile imports from China. Known for its specialty textiles including hemp and silk, China had become a trusted resource for certain fabrics used by California-based businesses.

“There is no place we can purchase hemp fabric,” Jungmaven’s Robert Jungmann told California Apparel News at the time. “We can’t purchase it from Europe, Vietnam or the United States. Only China does what we purchase. There is no option.”

By the end of summer, additional tariffs were announced to be implemented by the United States on Sept. 1 with subsequent rounds scheduled for October—which were canceled—and Dec. 15. While many businesses in the United States scrambled to import their goods ahead of the tariffs, resulting in record August cargo numbers at the Port of Los Angeles, the founder of Tianello by Steve Barraza, a made-in-the-USA brand that relies on Chinese silk, was disappointed yet optimistic.

“The good news is that the price of silk has fallen approximately $3 per meter since 2018,” said Barraza. “There is no doubt that the tariffs have slowed consumption there.”

A recent shift in focus by the White House toward duties on imports from France, Brazil and Argentina, in addition to a nonchalant update from the president regarding tariffs on Chinese goods, has left many wondering where the United States stands regarding the proposed Dec. 15 tariffs and exemptions on certain products.

On Dec. 2, during the NATO Summit in London, Trump commented on the current status of the United States–China trade negotiations, revealing that there might be a stall in progress.

“The China trade deal is dependent on one thing—do I want to make it,” he said. “I have no deadline, no. In some ways, I think it’s better to wait until after the election if you want to know the truth. I think in some ways I think it’s better to wait until after the election.”