Manufacturers of labor-intensive products like apparel have already been looking elsewhere in Asia as labor costs continue to rise in China. China has not substantially increased market access for foreign investors in many sectors, causing foreign investment to slow or flatline in recent years. With lingering doubts about the worsening investment climate in China, the trade war is hastening decision-making that had already been underway.
Well-known razor makers like Boston-based Gillette already face strong headwinds from changing consumer habits: fewer men are shaving as regularly now that beards are more in fashion. Online subscription services like Dollar Shave Club or Harry’s are also putting pressure on prices and profit margins. Now, razor makers are dealing with the problem of tariffs on the specialized steel they import.
American cheesemakers are having a harder time finding an outlet for production through exports. China, Canada, and Mexico are three of the most important destinations for U.S. cheese. But in reaction to U.S. steel tariffs, these trading partners raised their tariffs on cheese. Getting caught in the crosshairs isn’t new for cheesemakers. It’s a sacred cow for many countries (pardon the pun) and therefore a popular pain point to exploit in trade disputes.
It’s important to first understand what a tariff actually is and does before we can determine whether Trump’s new trade barriers are good or bad.
The biggest chunk of tariffs in the Great Tariff War of 2018 is between the United States and China, beginning with two rounds of tit-for-tat tariffs worth around $50 billion against one another. The United States just raised on the ante by another $200 billion. China will not fold; they will go “all in” in this poker game, but we don’t know what that means yet as they hold their cards close.
The Brookings Institute Metropolitan Policy Program developed and maintains the Export Monitor. In the unfolding tariff war with some of our major trading partners, the analysts at the Metropolitan Policy Program recently released an important analysis of how exposed individual U.S. states and metropolitan areas are to new tariffs on the products they make and export.
The U.S. Administration has announced yet another investigation which could result in tariffs – this time on automobiles. Given the recent flurry of trade actions, it would be understandable if they all started to blend together in the mind of observers.
In early April, China announced $3 billion worth of tariffs on 128 U.S. goods including fruit, wine, nuts – and the type of American ginseng grown in Marathon, Wisconsin. With a new 15 percent tariff on their ginseng, Wisconsin growers worry they will lose sales to Canadian producers who compete for the same customers in China.
American craft breweries sold 482,309 barrels valued at $125.4 million to customers overseas in 2017. Over half of those exports went north to our good beer-drinking friends, the Canadians. Mexican brewers are the largest customer for American barley. If NAFTA negotiations don’t go well, we may all see the cost on our tab.
The few domestic companies that may (or may not) benefit from special treatment shouldn’t outweigh the costs for the rest of the economy.