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Trump administration is recognizing the costs of trade war with China



Throughout its trade war with China, the Trump administration has consistently struck the same message: They’re paying the entirety of the tariffs, and not the United States.

But early on Wednesday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross went on CNBC to explain the administration’s decision to delay a portion of the planned tariffs until December 15, which would have affected the rest of Chinese imports into the United States.

He cited a desire to protect shoppers from any adverse effects during the holiday season, given the goods affected had included laptops, cellphones, toys and video game consoles among others.

“Nobody wants to take any chance at disrupting the Christmas season,” Ross said.

Read more: The Trump administration delays a portion of planned China tariffs until December

It’s a tacit, yet remarkable admission that the ongoing trade war with China is threatening the pockets of American consumers. Just over a year ago, Ross staunchly defended Trump’s massive tariffs as being “no big deal” on CNBC — and held up cans of soup, beer, and soda to illustrate his point.

President Donald Trump has also started to publicly recognize the cost of the trade war on Americans. Asked by reporters about the delay on implementing tariffs on Monday, Trump said, “We’re doing this for the Christmas season.”

And he added: “Just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on US consumers.”

The admission reflects the mounting frustration the administration is facing from business owners and corporate leaders fed up with Trump’s volatile approach to trade. Mary Lovely, a trade scholar at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, told INSIDER’s Gina Heeb the administration’s reversal was “a bow to domestic political interests.”

While the trade war has dampened demand for Chinese exports, experts say its also contributed to lower business investment and an erosion of confidence in the American economy.

The White House did not offer a comment on Wednesday morning on the administration’s rhetorical shift.

During his campaign in 2016, Trump repeatedly lashed out at China, saying “they’re ripping us off” and he characterized its trade policies as “the greatest theft in the history of the world.” Then he embarked on a trade war against the world’s second biggest economic power, slapping tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods so far.

China imposed tariffs on $110 billion of American goods in response, taking aim at the agricultural sector in states that supported Trump.

Washington and Beijing have engaged in protracted negotiations where neither side has budged. Another round of negotiations is set to take place in September, though Trump said it may not happen.

Read more: Trump says September trade talks with China could be canceled

Many economists say the tariffs amount to a significant tax increase on Americans, despite Trump and other administration’s officials claims to the contrary. The nonpartisan Tax Foundation found that a family of four is paying $850 more every year for the rising cost of goods.

“Who puts tariffs on unless you want higher prices?” investment manager Richard Bernstein told the Washington Post.

The Trump administration has been forced to bail out farmers who have faced punishing costs as a result of its protectionist trade policies. Other sectors of the economy are starting to feel the pain — with early signs that some businesses are starting to pull back on hiring more workers.

Read more: Trump’s escalating trade war with China is starting to hurt the US job market

Though many American business leaders have been critical of the tariffs, Democrats have also blasted Trump’s combative trade policies with a focus on its negative effect on Americans. And its lining up to be a political issue that could put Trump even further on the defensive heading into next year’s presidential race.

“Yet more proof that Trump doesn’t care about the farmers, workers, and consumers that are being crushed by his irresponsible tariff war with China. It’s easy to act tough when someone else is feeling the pain,” former Vice President Joe Biden tweeted earlier this month.

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