The tit-for-tat tariff skirmish (don’t call it a trade war) currently underway between the U.S. and China may soon hit home for outdoor enthusiasts and the retailers who sell us our favorite gear. Last week the Trump administration announced new 25 percent tariffs—totaling around $60 billion—will be slapped on a wide range of goods imported from China in punishment for China stealing U.S. intellectual property.
“This is the first of many” trade actions, Trump said.
The administration announced that they’ll reveal the specific products that will be hit with the tariff sometime in the next two weeks. While it’s thought that many of these tariffs will be levied on goods in the tech sector, the outdoor industry is deeply concerned that prices on gear will skyrocket.
The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) warns that if consumer goods are targeted it could be “a severe blow to the outdoor industry [and] the $887 billion outdoor recreation economy.”
Along with a large group of apparel and gear industry organizations, including the Snowsports Industries America, OIA sent a letter to the White House opposing any tariffs, pointing out that outdoor goods are already subject to sky-high import duties as it is. Ski jackets, for example, are hit with a 27 percent tariff, while hiking boot tariffs are 37 percent and backpacks 17 percent.
Further raising those tariffs poses huge price shocks, threatening to lift already-expensive technical gear prices to the stratosphere. The OIA cites that a typical $200 pair of boots could shoot up in price to $360, for example.
Salewa’s director of operations Drew Saunders made it known that such tariffs would be a disaster for their business, which relies on Chinese imports for something like half of all its products. “The type of goods we’re talking about today…technical waterproof goods or technical down garments—there’s not significant domestic manufacturing in that,” Saunders explained.
OIA’s letter to the president pointed out that a great deal of apparel and technical goods aren’t made in the U.S., so these kinds of duties aren’t protecting domestic manufacturing at all. “In 2017, China accounted for about 41 percent of all apparel, 72 percent of all footwear, and 84 percent of all travel goods imported into the United States,” the letter read. “And to be clear, such duties are paid by U.S. workers, U.S. consumers, and U.S. companies – not China.”
While there’s likely an argument to be made that relying on (relatively) inexpensive Chinese imports itself hampers domestic outdoor goods manufacturing, the OIA points out that if these tariffs target outdoor goods, jobs are at stake as consumers pull back from spending.
Footwear companies, including many popular outdoor brands, have also sent a similar letter to the White House opposing the new duties.
Look for an announcement on which products will be targeted sometime in early April. And if the concern expressed by outdoor industry watchdogs is any indication, be prepared for some serious sticker shock during your new summer gear shopping.