Fashion can breathe a sigh of relief — for now.
The U.S. and China over the weekend agreed to restart trade negotiations at the G-20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, with the former shelving plans to slap 25 percent tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese imports, including apparel and footwear.
The news will no doubt be welcomed by the industry, many of whom have issued stark warnings over the past few weeks that levies would result in higher costs for consumers, job losses and store closures.
“We welcome the progress made during this meeting and hope it will result in a constructive approach to working with China to deliver significant reforms rather than one that punishes American consumers and threatens U.S. jobs through tariffs,” said David French, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation.
Its research found the proposed new round of tariffs would cost Americans $4.4 billion each year for apparel, $3.7 billion for toys, $2.5 billion for footwear and $1.6 billion for household appliances.
“Pulling back from the brink of further tariff escalation is a good sign for retailers and their customers, and we look forward to continued progress in the talks with China so that further tariffs can be avoided and existing ones lifted,” French added.
However, there was no relief for handbag retailers, who are already grappling with recently imposed 25 percent levies.
Trump explained on Twitter Saturday that while he will refrain from unleashing new tariffs, there will be no reduction on 25 percent tariffs currently in place on $250 billion worth of goods, including handbags and small leather goods.
As for the round of levies that have been shelved for now, he told reporters in Osaka that U.S. trade negotiators will now work with their Chinese counterparts to try to make a deal. He did not provide a timing structure, but added that he was not rushed, meaning more uncertainty for fashion companies wanting to make plans for the coming year.
The G-20 was the first time that he and China’s Xi had met face to face since trade talks fell apart in May when the former alleged that the latter reneged on a number of commitments that had been made.
That resulted in the U.S. increasing tariffs on $200 billion worth of goods from 15 to 25 percent and China retaliating with its own levies. Trump then also threatened to add duties to all remaining exports from China, totaling $300 billion and dragging fashion into the fray, unless China acquiesced. The latter has now been put off indefinitely.
As part of the trade negotiations, China has agreed to begin purchasing large amounts of agricultural product from American farmers. In addition, the U.S. will allow Chinese company Huawei to buy product from American hi-tech firms.
According to Xinhua, China’s state newspaper, Xi said: “China and the United States both benefit from cooperation and lose in confrontation.”
He added that negotiations should be based on equality and mutual respect and address each other’s legitimate concerns.
Whatever happens, one thing is certain — the stakes are high. Last week, analysts at investment bank UBS warned that if the situation escalates, it estimates “global growth would be 75 [basis points] lower over the subsequent six quarters and that the contours would resemble a mild ‘global recession’ — similar in magnitude to the eurozone crisis, the oil collapse in the mid-1980s and the ‘Tequila’ crisis of the 1990s.”