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Most Americans Still Don't Know What The Latest Round Tariffs Mean For Their Pocketbooks


President Trump is considering expanding the latest round of tariffs to virtually all Chinese imports. And that's going to be difficult for shoppers to ignore. The retail industry has already been paying more for products made in China and is bracing for impact. NPR's Alina Selyukh reports.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: I don't want to stress you out, but imagine having to plan for your holiday shopping now, half a year out. That's the reality faced by many retail companies. So imagine learning the cost of stocking up for the holidays might go up by 25%.

MATT PRIEST: It's like trying to make business decisions based on political negotiations that have these timelines that may or may not come.

SELYUKH: Matt Priest runs the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, a trade group for shoe sellers in the U.S. with members like Nike, Foot Locker, Steve Madden. Footwear is bracing for its first potential tariffs in the trade dispute with China.

PRIEST: We import in 2 1/2 billion pairs of shoes every year. That's over seven pairs of shoes for every single person - man, woman and child - here.

SELYUKH: And the majority of them come from China. The Trump administration has been escalating tariffs on Chinese imports. The goal is to boost domestic manufacturing and stop China from stealing American intellectual property.

And at first, the White House tried to avoid taxing products that would hit consumers directly. But after a few rounds, new lists are almost all-inclusive. New tariffs are set for luggage and furniture and slated for clothes and shoes. Many retailers that already faced tariffs have prepared for an increase. Among the latest, for example, Williams-Sonoma warned that it may have to raise prices.

SUNG SOHN: It also tells you how dependent we are on China.

SELYUKH: Sung Sohn is a professor of economics at Loyola Marymount University.

SOHN: Think about all the stuff that we wear, all the furniture and the shoes and other things that we use in our houses. A lot of it is from China. People don't realize that. And all of those are going to be costing more.

SELYUKH: Sohn supports Trump. To him, higher prices are the cost of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to level out trade with China. But it's a tough pill to swallow for the companies that are importing all these goods because despite Trump saying that China will pay for these new taxes, in reality...

DAVID WEINSTEIN: Americans are paying the cost of the tariffs.

SELYUKH: David Weinstein is an economics professor at Columbia who studied the impact of last year's tariffs on U.S. prices.

WEINSTEIN: When the U.S. applied tariffs, the prices that consumers were paying, or at least the people purchasing the imports were paying, was rising one-for-one with the tariffs.

SELYUKH: That's been evident, for example, with washing machines. Their prices climbed quickly after facing one of the early tariffs. Many big retailers have been able to absorb the cost of the new import tax so far. Some companies have started to shift production out of China, though mostly to other countries where labor and resources are cheaper. Major retailers like Walmart and Home Depot are expected to say more about all this in financial reports over the next two weeks.

Alina Selyukh, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF HIRD'S "KEEP YOU HIRD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alina Selyukh is a business correspondent at NPR, where she follows the path of the retail and tech industries, tracking how America's biggest companies are influencing the way we spend our time, money, and energy.

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