'We're doing this for the Christmas season': Trump's latest comments suggest tariffs could hurt American consumers

trump christmasDonald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump participate in NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) Santa Tracker phone calls with children at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., December 24, 2017.Carlos Barria/Reuters

  • The Trump administration announced Tuesday it would allow certain products - including laptops, cellphones, and toys - to receive an exemption from tariffs until December 15.
  • President Donald Trump said Tuesday he delayed tariffs on some Chinese products because of concerns about the holiday shopping season.
  • The comment suggested that trade-war costs could fall on American businesses and consumers, a departure from the claim that foreign exporters only pay tariffs.
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President Donald Trump said Tuesday he delayed tariffs on some Chinese products because of concerns about the holiday shopping season, suggesting in a reversal that trade-war costs could fall on American businesses and consumers.

"We're doing this for the Christmas season," the president told reporters during a trip to New Jersey, referring to an announcement hours before that the US would temporarily shield some Chinese products from tariffs. "Just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on US consumers."

Trump falsely added that existing duties between the US and China - on more than $350 billion worth of products - have so far had "virtually" no effect on Americans. Yet his comments still appeared to mark a departure from the longstanding White House claim that foreign exporters have borne the brunt of duties.

The Office of the US Trade Representative said Tuesday morning it would still levy tariffs on most imports from China on September 1 as originally planned, a move expected to have sweeping consequences for both economies.

But Tuesday's adjustment allowed certain products, including laptops, cellphones, and toys, to receive an exemption from tariffs until December 15. The list of exemptions also included imports directly related to Christmas, such as decorations, but no other holidays were specified.

Hundreds of companies have testified before US trade officials since the trade war began last year, saying that protectionism would force them to raise prices, hold off on investment plans or cut jobs. The busy holiday shopping season could amplify those effects.

"In my view, today's announcement was mainly a bow to domestic political interests," said Mary Lovely, a trade scholar at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. "The list of goods for which tariffs are deferred until December includes many products that end up under the Christmas tree."

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