Outdoor industry bracing for sweeping tariffs on products from China

OIA, SIA, and footwear brands are pushing back.
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It’ll be 15 days before we know how hard tariffs on imports from China will hit the outdoor industry.

President Donald Trump announced Thursday that the U.S. would impose $50 billion in unilateral tariffs on a wide range of consumer goods imported from China as punishment for reportedly stealing American intellectual property, according to the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA).

Next month, Trump will identify the specific products subject to the tariffs set to remain in place until he decides China has met U.S. demands to improve its protection of intellection property rights and prohibit illegal technology transfers.

Trump earlier this month ordered steep tariffs on aluminum and steel.

As an industry with some of the highest tariffs — an average rate of 17 percent — the raised rates could drastically increase the cost of outdoor apparel and footwear. Hiking boots already have a 37.5 percent import tariff, and ski jackets a 27.7 percent tariff and backpacks a 17.6 percent.

“These products are already heavily taxed, and if they are included in the final list of products subject to retaliatory tariffs, this announcement means a typical $200 pair of hiking boots could increase in cost by 80 percent to as much as $360 a pair – threatening good, American jobs and making it harder and more expensive for Americans to enjoy healthy and active outdoor lifestyles," said Amy Roberts, executive director of OIA.

Rich Harper, who leads OIA's trade program and is working on the issue said the administration is trying to address legitimate concerns, yet there are other ways to do so that won't jeopardize the U.S. economy.

"From out perspective, we want to ensure the U.S. addresses counterfeit products coming out of China, but ultimately this is the wrong approach," Harper said.

In anticipation of Trump’s decision, OIA sent a letter also signed by Snowsports Industries America (SIA) and 40 other trade associations pointing out the likely negative impacts, including retaliation by China.

China is expected to challenge the tariffs with the World Trade Organization, which OIA and SIA say could ignite a trade war between the world’s top two economic powers.

Nick Sargent, SIA president, said officials from his office have been staying informed by the Department of Commerce in Beijing.

A lot is still unknown, but based on what watchdog advocacy group Outdoor Recreation Roundtable has told SIA, the industry’s hardgoods, apparel, and footwear manufactured in China are under threat.

Nothing released on Thursday detailed which products.

“What we do know is if one or many of our categories are affected, that is really going to create some incremental costs at retail,” Sargent said. “The consumer will be the end loser on this deal and they will be paying a significant amount of money over and above what they already pay for these products. That’s bad for business.”

In a separate but similar letter, more than 80 footwear companies — including Merrell, Chaco and Columbia Sportswear — wrote to Trump saying that the shoe industry already faces astronomical rates and paid nearly $3 billion in hidden taxes in 2017 due to an 11 percent average rate.

“U.S. footwear tariffs stifle innovation and job creation and raise the cost of shoes for every American,” the companies wrote in the letter. “Adding even more tariffs on top of this heavy burden would mean higher costs for footwear consumers and fewer U.S. jobs. Given the price sensitivity of our products, any additional increases in our costs would strike right at the heart of our ability to keep product competitively priced for our consumers.”

After the Trump Administration announces which categories are subject to tariffs, the public can petition for exemption from the list.

SIA and OIA said they are pursuing legislative and administrative options.

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