The Trump administration, fearing a blue Christmas, said Tuesday it will delay until December part of the president’s plan to impose tariffs on a host of popular goods.
Stocks surged on Wall Street in the wake of the move, and retailers cheered the reprieve from threatened 10% tariffs on toys, electronics and some clothing imported from China.
President Trump had scheduled the tariffs for Sept. 1 but pushed them back to Dec. 15, which should clear the way for the goods to reach the U.S. in time for the Christmas shopping season and without additional penalties.
Free trade advocates said Mr. Trump’s move is a tacit admission that he is wrong when he says tariffs don’t hurt U.S. consumers. The president, defending the move, tried to straddle that line.
“We’re doing this for Christmas season, just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on U.S. customers, but so far there’s been none,” Mr. Trump said. “Just in case they might have an impact on people, what we’ve done is we’ve delayed it.”
Mr. Trump targeted $300 billion in goods for the tariffs, but the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said Tuesday that the levies on cellphones, laptop computers, video game consoles, certain toys, computer monitors and select types of footwear and clothing will be delayed.
The administration said other products will be removed from the tariff list altogether based on “health, safety, national security and other factors.”
The U.S. wants China’s communist government to make structural changes to how it subsidizes its economy and to reel in the theft of intellectual property.
Both sides also are trying to settle thorny questions about Huawei, a major Chinese tech company that has faced questions about its ability to conduct surveillance on behalf of Beijing through 5G networks. The company says it doesn’t pose a risk.
Mr. Trump says the Chinese are to blame for the roller-coaster talks because they have moved the goal posts and reneged on promises.
“They said they’re going to buy farm products,” Mr. Trump said Tuesday before a trip to Pennsylvania. “So far they’ve disappointed me with the truth. They haven’t been truthful or, let’s say, they’ve certainly delayed the decision.”
Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, reported that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin asked for a phone call Tuesday with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He.
China complained about the tariffs that are still slated for Sept. 1, the news agency said. Both sides agreed to another phone conversation in two weeks.
Mr. Trump has sought to deflect the pain of the tariffs. He pointed out that they are adding tens of billions of dollars to the Treasury and stressed the billions of dollars in bailout payments he has authorized to protect farmers who have been hit with retaliatory tariffs by China.
Some farmers are losing patience and say they want open markets instead.
Ryan Young, a senior fellow at the free market Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the move to delay some levies amounts to a “tacit admission that consumers pay for tariffs, not Chinese producers.”
“The administration has been saying otherwise, but it is good to see that they do not believe their own words,” he said. “Tariffs do not work. It is time to scrap them in favor of more effective policies.”
The National Retail Federation said it appreciated the partial reprieve, though it pushed for certainty.
“Clearly, the administration understands the importance of avoiding higher taxes on American families during the holiday season,” said David French, the federation’s vice president of government relations.
Stock markets surged on news of the tariff delay. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 372 points, or 1.4%, to 26,280 after rising as high as 519 points.
Mr. Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping seemed to get talks back on track at the Group of 20 summit in Japan, but Mr. Trump two weeks ago said he felt betrayed and announced the new round of tariffs.
China’s currency then dropped versus the dollar in a move the Beijing government suggested was intentional. The U.S. retaliated by declaring China a currency manipulator, a label it hadn’t given the country since the 1990s.
“I’ve always been optimistic,” Mr. Trump said. “My only question is whether or not they were willing to wait and take the chance on [the election] and deal with someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing, or she’s doing — like they’ve had in the past.”
“Postponing tariffs on video game consoles and pet toys is giving Trump the stock market bump he wants, but he’s still going ahead with tariffs on books, school supplies and clothes that will hit working Americans the hardest,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat. “As I have said many times, I fully support going after China’s cheating on trade. But Trump’s incoherent posturing is hitting American pocketbooks without changing China’s behavior.”
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