The question of where and how pencils are made has resurfaced in the current debate over American trade policy. Policymakers often try to revive trade-impacted low-tech sectors through trade protection. The pencil industry’s experience highlights the difficulties of this approach.
We long ago stopped having to make everything we need: forging tools, handcrafting shoes from hides and weaving textiles for clothing. The expansion of global trade is affording us the opportunity to rediscover and reinvent the art of “making” itself, which could in turn profoundly impact what we make and what we trade.
Many industry observers are sounding alarms about the looming impact of automation, robots and 3D printing, which they fear will destroy jobs, disrupt value chains and maybe even reduce the need for international trade. But data and evidence don’t support the hype.
The next generation of smarter and more powerful machines will rely on even more sophisticated semiconductors to achieve new capabilities. Pressure is on to “win” in the global chip race, which is why efforts to protect innovations in chipmaking are front and center in the current trade war – for better and for worse.
U.S. footwear production dates as far back as 1750, but today 98 percent of shoes are manufactured abroad. Historically, footwear tariffs have been out of step with the United States’ general approach to free trade. High tariffs on products like shoes hit low-income families the hardest – particularly those with children – as these families spend the highest share of their incomes on home goods that tend to be imported.
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.
Chinese investments in the United States plunged while U.S. investments in China flatlined. See what’s driving these trends on the US-China FDI Project website.
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.
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.
Driving with the Top Down If you’re a movie buff like I am, you’re familiar with recurring scenes in old Hollywood films of a footloose American driving the California coastline in a bright-colored convertible with the top down, hair blowing in the wind. Driving a convertible on the open road is a quintessential American experience. But as China takes center stage in the global auto market, accounting for one quarter of all sales last year, automakers are increasingly focused on meeting Chinese consumer preferences. Between air quality and a penchant for the more practical, a lack of affinity for convertible cars in China might just kill off the future of the beloved ragtop. Air Pollution is Choking Convertible Sales Convertibles […]