Shop from Buyers. This warning has come from economists since the start of the trade war with China last year. After all, they said, the fight between the two economic superpowers would hit ordinary Americans with higher prices at the box office.
Some things already cost more. But the impact of tariffs is uneven.
In August 2018, NPR began tracking how these tariffs could reach buyers from the largest retailer in the world, Walmart. Since then, every few months we have been checking the prices of about 80 products at one Walmart in Liberty County, Train Station.
After one year, some prices in the NPR basket increased significantly, at least in part because of tariffs. The price of dog leash has increased by 35%. The screwdriver costs 7% more.
But prices are complicated.
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In fact, buyers are beginning to experience tariffs. Last year, the Trump administration specifically targeted industrial materials and parts, not consumer products, to avoid shocking Americans with price increases. The new rounds, which launch this month and December, will more directly affect many more things people buy every day, such as shoes, clothing and electronics.
For the White House, the purpose of tariffs is to make Chinese imports more expensive so that US companies move their manufacturing and jobs back to the US, but few companies have actually been able to do so; many remain or move to other foreign countries such as Vietnam.
Many manufacturers and sellers have so far chosen to absorb most of the tariffs, distribute them in dozens of items, or put pressure on suppliers to bear the brunt. Major US retailers ̵
As for pricing in a shopping cart inspired by NPR tariffs, the average price change since August 2018 was a 3% increase. This is almost double the current rate of inflation.
It is important to note that some prices have actually decreased. The two most expensive Chinese items in the NPR basket became cheaper: a 12% TV and a 17% Microwave. This is because TVs and other electronics have been weakening for years.
Tariffs are only part of history. Prices go up and down for various reasons. For example, last year Procter & Gamble raised the prices of Charmin toilet paper and Bounty paper towels – noticeable in NPR's shopping cart – due to higher transportation costs and raw materials such as paper pulp.
Impact of the Trade War
To create the NPR basket, we consulted the 2018 lists of tariffs imposed by the White House on imports from China, but also Mexico and Canada – as well as Chinese discounted tariffs on US-made products. The cart includes supermarket items, including groceries, home goods and stationery.
No company wanted to discuss specific products. But Jennifer Valley, head of government affairs at Ledvance – a manufacturer of Sylvania light bulbs in NPR's basket – said tariffs were "one of several factors" that contributed to fluctuations in the prices of lighting products.
"Most lighting and finished products components supplied by China are influenced by recent tariffs imposed by the US government," said a statement from Dolin. "These rates affect almost every lighting company doing business in the United States, including Ledvance."
Instrument maker Stanley Black & Decker – whose screwdriver is in the NPR basket – warned last October that it would start raising prices this year to offset $ 200 million in new production costs caused by tariffs. A spokesman told NPR: "While we manufacture a lot in the US, we have a global supply chain that we rely on to produce worldwide."
NPR also tracks the price of a colorful bike for girls with training wheels made by Kent International . CEO Arnold Kamler declined to speak with Walmart prices, but said his company "found it necessary to raise our prices by at least 15%" because of higher tariffs.
It's not easy to switch production
Two of the price increases we saw in NPR's basket were in pet products: a leash dog and collar. The industry is affected by tariffs affecting fabrics, metal and plastic – and many pet items are mainly manufactured in China, said Mike Beaver, head of the Joint Pet Advisory Board.
Like most other manufacturers – in the footwear, automotive and other industries – pet product manufacturers have tried to bear new costs, especially since the US dollar was strong against the Chinese yuan. But they can't do it forever, Beaver said.
Additionally, like companies that make furniture or baby products, pet care manufacturers tend to abandon their business with China – as President Trump "commissioned" companies to do – because of longstanding standards for safety and quality that they have developed in the factories there.
"Indeed, throughout the lifecycle of pet care products, everyone feels the acute problem and ultimately the people who will suffer the most are pet owners," Beaver said. "Prices will have to continue to rise."
Food prices and personal care
Food prices – another category with some big price jumps in the NPR basket – are some of the hardest to analyze. They fluctuate a lot and are influenced by many factors besides tariffs.
For example, higher cod and cabbage prices have more to do with bad weather and lower catch rates than the trade war, said Institute President for Food Brian Todd.
On the other side of the spectrum, China's flat rates on US products have helped reduce prices for pork and some seafood. China restricting US imports has left North American companies foolish to sell domestically. "We lost the export market, so there's more here," Todd says.
At the same time, higher prices for garlic – they jumped 53% – in fact illustrate tariffs that work as intended.
China was the largest exporter of garlic to the United States and local garlic producers have long claimed to be undercut by cheaper Chinese competition. Now that Chinese garlic is facing higher tariffs, local companies can charge higher prices.
Walmart did not comment on the story, but in May the company warned that "increased tariffs would lead to higher prices for our customers." Last month, Walmart Chief Financial Officer Brett Biggs said the company was able to "carefully manage prices and margins."
"We are spreading the impact of the hundreds of thousands of items we have on the market," Walmart US Executive Director Greg Foran
Editor's Note: Walmart is among NPR's financial supporters.
Ayes Abid contributed to this report.