President Trump might just have one more trade war in him.
After four years when Trump rattled geopolitical allies and competitors alike — from Paris to Beijing — with trade-based threats and crackdowns, his parting shot from Washington could squarely hit fashion importers.
In October, the Trump administration said it was investigating Vietnam’s practices in the timber industry and also looking into whether the country gives its native producers an advantage by undervaluing its currency.
“President Trump is firmly committed to combating unfair trade practices that harm America’s workers, businesses, farmers and ranchers,” said Robert Lighthizer, United States Trade Representative at the time.
Last month, the administration did officially declare that Vietnam was manipulating its currency, prompting sourcing and trade experts to worry anew that retaliatory tariffs, not unlike those that still make goods from China more expensive, could come soon.
The stakes are high.
Vietnam is the second-largest apparel importer to the U.S., accounting for 3.7 billion square-meter equivalents for the year ended in October, a 16.2 percent share of the import market with shipments that were valued at $12.6 billion. (China is still the largest apparel importer to the U.S., accounting for 36.4 percent of the market, valued at $15.5 billion).
Nate Herman, senior vice president of policy at the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said, “We are extremely concerned that something could happen before the end of the Trump administration.”
Once Joe Biden becomes president on Jan. 20, his administration could reverse course on any action taken, but Herman said it will be harder to do politically if the duties are already in place and not simply planned or being considered.
“We should be looking to [Vietnam] as a partner right now and as a bulwark against China and not another target of another trade war,” Herman said. “It just seems to be going the wrong direction right now.”
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