Trump’s next $100 billion tariff dilemma: hit Wal-Mart or Apple Store?

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In the next few days, new Chinese imports will be taxed, and consumers may be about to directly feel the effects of the trade fight started by U.S. President Trump with China and other countries this year.

In January, Trump imposed tariffs on solar panels and washing machines, and in March, Trump moved to levy steel and aluminum in March along with about $50 billion in other goods.

But after China responded with a list of U.S. goods that would be subject to tariffs, Trump raised the stakes on April 4 by directing the U.S. Trade Representative to consider $100 billion in additional levies.

And recent data says that  Chinese imports shows that to quickly reach $100 billion worth of goods to tax, Trump may have to target cellphones, computers, toys, clothing, footwear, furniture and other consumer goods, prompting price rises at U.S. retailers.

But exactly how  much the news tariffs would hit wallets depends on variables that make calculating the impact of the tariffs on individual products hard to measure. Companies can absorb some of the costs, and some companies can shift production in China to other countries, cutting the final bill for America’s shoppers.

Washing machines imported by LG Electronics’ were hit with a 20 percent tariff in January, the company raised U.S. prices by about $50 per machine, or 4 percent to 8 percent.

But LG chose to absorb part of the tariff cost, which was imposed at a time when construction was already well underway on its new U.S. factory that will begin producing washers in late 2018, avoiding U.S. tariffs.

Companies with complex supply chains, mainly those in high technology industries, can also change how their internal costs are charged among subsidiaries to lower their tariff bill.

U.S. supply chains would also be hurt as many consumer electronics products depend on the export of American semiconductors, software and other inputs to China for assembly before being imported back to the United States.

But U.S. allies South Korea, Japan and Taiwan also supply cellphone parts for companies like Apple Inc, including displays, cameras and fingerprint scanners, and would feel the impact.

Trump could get to 1/4 of the way to $100 billion in goods taxed by levying toys, games and sporting goods, categories with little U.S. content that totaled about $25.5 billion from China in 2017.

But China made up 81.5% of all U.S. imports in this group, meaning that there would be few alternative sources for importers that could blunt the tariff impact on consumers.

The Census Data says that there are approximately  7,600 consumer and industrial goods still available for tariffs with a combined value of $101 billion where China accounts for 40 percent or less of U.S. imports and so could possibly be sourced elsewhere.

Many of these involve small-scale production and a wide range of goods sold in U.S. chain stores such as Wal-Mart, including clothing, pet food and lighting fixtures.

While the availability of these items in other countries could help limit price rises, there would still be disruptions for retailers with long-established supply chains.

Also the US receives $402 million in Christmas tree lights, made in China. During the 2016 election campaign Trump argued that tariffs were needed to punish China for misappropriating U.S. technology and to bring jobs and industry back to the U.S., but studies of the 2002 steel tariffs enacted by the Bush administration show that they caused more job losses than job gains.

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