Global Trade

Why trade matters to retail

NRF believes the United States needs a 21st century trade policy that recognizes that imports lower the cost of living for all Americans and support millions of U.S. jobs in fields such as research, design, sourcing, compliance, finance, ecommerce, distribution, transportation, merchandising and sales.

  • Retailers rely on imported merchandise to provide American families products they need at prices they can afford.
  • From clothing and footwear to electronics and home goods, many consumer products are no longer mass-produced in the United States, leaving foreign manufacturers as the only available sources.
  • It would take years to re-establish U.S. manufacturing of those products. Even if that could be done, modern factories would be highly automated and provide relatively few jobs.

Trade barriers such as tariffs, which are hidden taxes that drive up the price of imports, or “quotas,” which limit availability of consumer goods by restricting the number of items imported, should be eliminated.

China tariffs

From the summer of 2018 through the fall of 2019, President Trump imposed tariffs ranging from 10 percent to 25 percent on more than $500 billion in Chinese imports, saying they were invoked because of China’s unfair trade practices including violation of intellectual property rights and forced technology transfers. China responded at each step with retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports.

NRF agrees that China and other trading partners need to live up to their trade commitments and that China has been a bad actor. But NRF strongly opposes the tariffs imposed by the United States and the retaliatory tariffs implemented by China. China is perhaps retailers’ most important source of high-quality and affordable consumer products and an important and growing market for U.S. exporters. NRF believes the trade war with China is punishing U.S. consumers more than it is punishing China while doing little to create U.S. jobs because tariffs are essentially a tax that U.S. businesses and consumers pay.

Following a 2019 meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping and ongoing talks between trade negotiators for both countries, a “phase one” trade deal was signed in January 2020. The deal reduced a round of tariffs that took effect in the fall of 2019 and eliminated another round that had yet to go into effect, but kept three earlier rounds of tariffs in place. NRF and other groups have continued to call for the tariffs to be eliminated but the global coronavirus pandemic has overshadowed the trade war since then.

Learn more about China tariffs

Steel and aluminum tariffs

steel and aluminum tariffs

Trump has also imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum affecting a wide variety of countries in addition to China. Like the other China tariffs, they have drawn retaliation and are contributing to the trade war. NRF called the steel and aluminum tariffs a “self-inflicted wound on the nation’s economy” that will drive up prices for U.S. consumers on metal-dependent products. These tariffs were brought under a section of trade law involving national security, and NRF has endorsed legislation requiring that security-related tariffs be reviewed by Congress.

More on steel and aluminum tariffs

USMCA (previously NAFTA)

Trump was a longtime critic of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a landmark pact that had boosted trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico since 1994, and ordered that it be renegotiated shortly after taking office. In 2020, a replacement called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement won final approval and took effect in July.

NRF agreed that NAFTA needed to be updated to address issues such as digital trade and customs facilitation but strongly opposed Trump’s repeated threats to withdraw from NAFTA without a replacement. NRF welcomed the USMCA, saying it will “provide benefits for decades to come.” Like NAFTA, it is expected to help retailers continue to provide American families with products they need at prices they can afford while enhancing trade between the three countries and supporting U.S. jobs.

More about USMCA/NAFTA

Generalized System of Preferences

NRF strongly supports the Generalized System of Preferences, which provides duty-free treatment for 5,000 products from nearly 120 less-developed countries. The program is set to expire at the end of 2020, but legislation has been introduced to renew it through April 30, 2022. Doing so would ensure that business that import goods under the program do not face new tariffs while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and would also provide time to debate changes in product coverage and eligibility some groups have sought. NRF supports efforts to update the program to include products that have been statutorily excluded.

Learn more about trade

USMCA (formerly NAFTA)
NRF supports NAFTA modernization but warns that withdrawal from the agreement should not be considered.
Read more
NRF supports free trade and the elimination of tariffs that harm U.S. businesses and consumers.
Read more
The Impact of Tariffs on Small Business
Hear stories from small retailers across the country.
Read more