Research

The Total Cost of Trump’s Tariffs

One of President Trump’s most prominent policy actions since taking office has been to raise tariffs, which significantly harm the U.S. economy. Trade barriers such as tariffs increase the cost of both consumer and producer goods and depress the economic benefits of competition, inhibiting economic growth. Research suggests that tariffs are directly responsible for inflation, depressed aggregate demand, less capital expenditures, and lower productivity levels.

The president’s tariffs, when combined with corresponding retaliation, threaten over $500 billion of traded goods annually. The following analysis calculates the overall impact these tariffs could have on the prices of goods in the United States.

The Economic Cost of Current Tariffs

This analysis focuses exclusively on the impact of tariffs unilaterally imposed by the president. These include tariffs—either enacted or officially ordered—under Section 232 or Section 301. Section 232 allows the president to impose trade barriers if the Department of Commerce finds that imports threaten U.S. national security. Section 301 enables the president to impose tariffs or quotas when the United States Trade Representative (USTR) finds that other nations are engaging in unfair trade practices.

The table below lists the approximate value of imports that are currently facing new tariffs under President Trump. It additionally displays estimates of how the tariffs could increase nationwide consumer costs, assuming that 100 percent of the costs from the tariffs will be passed on to consumers and that current import levels will not change. While this estimate is an upper-bound, it represents the upward pressure that is placed on all prices in the economy.

Altogether, the president’s tariffs could increase nationwide consumer costs by nearly $78 billion annually. This estimate includes the president’s latest tariff actions. Previously, after President Trump had already imposed the first three rounds of tariffs on approximately $250 billion of U.S. imports from China, the president ordered new 10 percent tariffs to be imposed the remainder of imports from China. Upon China announcing its intention to retaliate, the president increased these new tariffs from 10 percent to 15 percent. The 15 percent levy was planned in two waves; tariffs on list 4A went into effect on September 1, 2019, and tariffs on list 4B were planned to go into effect on December 15, 2019. China’s retaliation also spurred President Trump to order an increase in the third tranche of tariffs – 25 percent tariffs already in effect on roughly $200 billion of imports – to 30 percent.

These tariffs were recently scaled down as a part of the president’s “phase one” trade deal with China. The president announced that he will be reducing the tariffs previously imposed on September 1 from 15 percent to 7.5 percent, suspending the 15 percent tariffs planned to go into effect on December 15, and indefinitely suspending the increase on the third tranche of tariffs from 25 percent to 30 percent. Together, these actions are expected to save American consumers $43.1 billion per year. The phase one trade agreement also included an agreement from China to purchase $200 billion of additional U.S. exports (over 2017 levels) in the next two years, including $77 billion of manufactured goods and $32 billion of U.S. agriculture products, as well as provisions on intellectual property, technology transfer, agriculture, financial services, and currency.

On January 4, 2020, President Trump issued a proclamation expanding the Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum. Originally, the tariffs only applied to steel and aluminum inputs – products such as aluminum wire or steel pipes – that are used in the production of final goods. The new tariffs were expanded to cover related goods, e.g. nails, that are mostly (but not wholly) made of steel or aluminum. This action is expected to increase consumer costs by roughly $158 million per year.

Table 1 shows the approximate value of imports subject to tariffs. Without accounting for tariff exclusions granted at the request of U.S. businesses, the president’s remaining tariffs apply to approximately $396 billion of imports, increasing annual consumer costs by $77.9 billion annually.

Table 1: The Total Cost of President Trump’s Imposed Tariffs[i]

Tariff

Value of Affected U.S. Imports

Tariff Rate

Additional Cost Burden

Section 232, Steel

$15.5 B

25%

$3.9 B

Section 232, Aluminum

$9.8 B

10%

$983.9 M

Section 232, Derivative Steel Articles[ii]

$526.5 M

25%

$131.6 M

Section 232, Derivative Aluminum Articles[ii]

$266.0 M

10%

$26.6 M

Section 301, List 1

$30.2 B

25%

$7.6 B

Section 301, List 2

$14.8 B

25%

$3.7 B

Section 301, List 3

$212.8 B[iii]

25%

$53.2 B

Section 301, List 4A

$112.3 B

7.5%

$8.4 B

Section 301, List 4B

$160.2 B

Suspended

$0

Total

$396.2 B

7.5 – 25%

$77.9 B

An Excel file detailing the tariffs and the products they affect can be found here.

After imposing new tariffs, the president has only fully reversed them once. On May 20, 2019, the United States removed the steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico, reducing the value of affected imports by approximately $12 billion. This action in turn reduced the additional consumer costs from the tariffs by $2 billion per year.

Tariff Exclusions

After President Trump imposes tariffs unilaterally, U.S. businesses can petition for certain products to be excluded if the tariffs negatively impact their business. For an exclusion to be granted, the product must not be available in the United States or any third countries that are not subject to U.S. tariffs. Alternatively, the business requesting the exclusion must show that the tariffs cause it severe economic harm.

Since the tariffs were enacted, businesses have filed over 150,000 requests for their imports to be excluded from the Section 232 and Section 301 tariffs. This analysis only considers Section 301 exclusions. Section 301 exclusions are vastly more far reaching and easier to track than the Section 232 exclusions, which are smaller in nature and evaluated on a rolling basis.

Table 2 shows the dollar value of goods subject to exclusions from the Section 301 tariffs on China, valued at roughly $91 billion. Data on the tariff exclusions are limited, however, as the categories for exclusions are broader than the exclusions themselves, meaning this study overestimates the dollar value of products subject to tariff exclusions.[iv]

An Excel file detailing the products subject to Section 301 tariff exclusions can be found here.

Table 2: Section 301 Tariff Exclusions as of January 31, 2020

Tariff Exclusion Value of Affected U.S. Imports (Billions) Tariff Rate Cost Savings (Billions)
Section 301, List 1 $14.6 25% $3.7
Section 301, List 2 $9.8 25% $2.5
Section 301, List 3 $66.9 25% $16.7
Total $91.4 B 25% $22.8 B

Retaliatory Tariffs

In addition to raising costs for American consumers, tariffs have also resulted in significant retaliation by other countries against U.S. exports. Table 3 below details every retaliatory action taken against the United States thus far and the value of U.S. exports that are adversely affected.[v]

To date, six nations have levied retaliatory tariffs up to 70 percent on approximately $112 billion of U.S. exports. These tariffs do not include retaliation by Canada and Mexico; following the reversal of U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs, both Canada and Mexico withdrew their retaliatory tariffs of 7 percent to 25 percent on approximately $20 billion of U.S. exports.

Table 3 is taken from a report authored by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). It includes China’s retaliation to the president’s tariffs on roughly $300 billion of Chinese goods (lists 4A and 4B). On August 23, following President Trump’s announcement of new tariffs on roughly $300 billion of Chinese goods, the Chinese Ministry of Finance announced it will impose tariffs of 5 percent and 10 percent on roughly $75 billion of U.S. exports. Of those, only a portion will be impacted for the first time, while the bulk are already subject to Chinese retaliation. China’s retaliation mirrors the president’s tariffs, with the first batch taking effect on September 1 and the second batch on December 15.

Most recently, as a part of its “phase one” trade deal with the United States, China announced that it will be indefinitely suspending a portion of its retaliation against the United States. The suspension will apply to the retaliatory tariffs scheduled to go into effect on December 15 as well as previous tariffs imposed on U.S. automobile and auto parts. China’s auto tariffs were originally suspended in December 2018 but later reimposed following a tariff escalation from President Trump.

Table 3: Total Retaliation to President Trump’s Imposed Tariffs

Country

Retaliation Rate

Value of Affected U.S. Exports (Billions)

Retaliation to Section 232 Tariffs

European Union

10-25%

$2.9

China

15-25%

$2.5

Turkey

4-70%

$1.8

Russia

25-40%

$0.4

India

10-50%

$1.4

Retaliation to Section 301 Tariffs

China, Pt 1

25%

$12.9

China, Pt 2

25%

$11.6

China, Pt 3

5-25%

$59.7

China, Pt 4A*

5-10%

$25.5

China, Pt 4B

5-10%

Suspended

China Auto Tariffs

5-25%

Suspended

Total Retaliation

Total

4-70%

$112.6 B

* The bulk of these goods are already facing retaliation and now subject to tariff increases

Upcoming New Tariffs

On December 2, 2019, the USTR announced the completion of its Section 301 investigation into France’s digital services tax, finding that it discriminates against U.S. companies. As a result, USTR recommended tariffs of up to 100 percent on $2.4 billion of French goods such as wine, cheese, and makeup. Public hearings on the proposed tariffs are scheduled on January 7, 2020, after which the president can make a formal decision.

On May 23, 2018, President Trump ordered a Section 232 investigation into imports of automobiles and auto parts. The Department of Commerce reportedly found auto imports to be a national security threat, meaning that new tariffs could be levied on auto imports at any time. The Trump Administration, however, missed the statutory deadline to impose these tariffs, bringing into question whether it would be legal to impose them moving forward. Reports suggest that President Trump may pursue alternative means, such as a Section 301 investigation into the European Union, to raise trade barriers against European cars and trucks. A Section 301 investigation, however, could give the president broad authority to impose tariffs on all EU goods – not just autos.

[i] Data for this analysis were taken from the U.S. Census Bureau and the International Trade Commission. All import data is from 2018.

[ii] The categories of derivative steel and aluminum articles impacted by the tariffs are smaller than the HS codes provided, meaning this study overestimates the dollar value of these goods.

[iii] Includes approximately $31 billion of goods that are only partially covered by the tariff action, as indicated by Part 2 of the U.S. tariff list. The inclusion of these goods brings the total value of affected imports close to the value reported by the U.S. Trade Representative at the time the tariffs were enacted ($200 billion in 2017).

[iv] The dollar value of tariff exemptions was determined using HS10 codes, the narrowest classification available, but one that includes more goods than were specifically exempted. HS10 codes that appear multiple times on the tariff exemption announcement are only counted once.

[v] The value of U.S. exports subject to retaliation is based on 2018 trade levels.

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