Beginning on September 1, an additional $300 billion in China-made goods will be subject to tariffs upon their import into the U.S. Unlike the tariffs that the Trump administration has already imposed on $250 billion worth of imports coming from China, the latest round, which was confirmed in July, is striking because it brings a whole host of common consumer-facing goods into the mix, something that previous rounds – such as those that imposed duties on aluminum and steel, and plastics and rubber – were able to avoid.
Despite previously shielding consumer goods from the raging U.S./China trade war in an attempt to avoid directly raising prices for household items, beginning next month, the newest tariffs – which come in the form of a 10 percent tax – will impact consumer products ranging from electronics and cellphones to garments and accessories.
Beyond being an inherently consumer-facing round, the impending tariffs are noteworthy, as they are expected to impact women more than men, at least from an apparel perspective, as “women spend more on clothing—and get more of their clothing from China—than men do,” Tamara Gurevich, an economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission (“ITC”), told the Wall Street Journal (as reported by Quartz).
To be exact, the average U.S. household spends about $238 more per year on clothing for women and girls than for their male counterparts. According to a 2018 report published by the ITC, the average American household spends “about $665 annually on women’s and girls’ apparel, compared to $427 on apparel for men and boys.” Of that clothing, some 42 percent – or $23.5 billion – for women and girls came from China, the WSJ found (based on data from the U.S. Trade Representative and the Census Bureau). For men and boys, on the other hand, only about 26 percent came from China, or a $10.9 billion.
Women, as a whole, tend to spend more on clothing than men, but why is it that they tend to spend more on clothing that specifically comes from China? The WSJ points to more frequently-changing styles within the womenswear industry, compared to more static menswear designs, paired with the fact that China has a “giant apparel industry [with] the capability to churn out the latest trends,” which find their way on shelves and e-commerce sites across the U.S.
Starting in the mid-1970’s – not long after the U.S. and China began to develop unofficial trade, educational, and cultural exchanges – Americans began to consume billions of dollars in cheap Chinese goods, particularly apparel, as domestic companies looked abroad for cheaper manufacturing alternatives. Outsourced operations in China, as well as in other developing countries in Asia, and in Central and South America, allowed for markedly cheap labor and raw materials. Such manufacturers also boasted the capacity to quickly product sizable orders for a fraction of the cost of domestically-made goods.
In the 1980’s, when about 70 percent of American-sold clothing was still being manufactured domestically, a number of the nation’s biggest retail chains, such as Gap and J.C. Penney, stopped producing garments of their own. That number has changed drastically, and as of 2013, only about 2 percent of domestically-purchased clothing was actually manufactured in the U.S.
While the location of manufacturing has shifted once again, with the lowest-cost retailers looking beyond China in favor of even lower-cost apparel manufacturing, many American and internationally-located retailers – ranging from mass-market fashion companies like Gap and Zara to giants like Nike and adidas – still rely heavily on Chinese-made products.
Higher up the totem pole in the fashion industry, “Made in China” tags are hardly a rarity. Products from brands like Prada, Phillip Lim, and Balenciaga, for instance, bear “Made in China” labels. For decades, high fashion brands largely shied from outsourcing manufacturing from their home-bases in Paris, London, Milan, and New York. However, thanks to the increased sophistication of the manufacturing capabilities by Chinese entities, a “Made in China” label is not what it used to be.
Just as with the preceding rounds, the new tariffs – which join already-existing duties on apparel and footwear, two of the most heavily taxed types of products imported into the U.S. – are intended to punish China for deploying “strong-arm tactics in its drive to become a global technology power,” as noted by the Associated Press. “These include pressuring American companies to share technology to gain access to the Chinese market, forcing U.S. firms to license their technology in China on unfavorable terms and even hacking into U.S. companies’ computers to steal trade secrets.”