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America's retailers have 'no choice' but to pass on tariff costs: ex-apparel association CEO

McKenzie DeGroot
Segment Producer

The phase one trade deal between the U.S. and China is expected to be signed on Jan. 15, but tariffs on Chinese-made products could continue hitting consumers’ pocketbooks.

The long-awaited deal would only cut back on a tiny portion of tariffs that President Donald Trump slapped on $360 billion worth of Chinese-made goods, as The New York Times notes.

“We’re still a little miserable about tariffs, and we want them to go away completely,” former president and CEO of American Apparel & Footwear Association Rick Helfenbein told Yahoo Finance’s On The Move on Monday.

Since Sept. 1, over 90% of apparel coming into the U.S. has been hit with an additional 15% of tariffs, which will now be reduced to 7.5%, according to Helfenbein. That means tariffs could make consumers miserable, too. Retailers will have “no choice” but to pass on the additional tariffs onto the consumer, Helfenbein said.

U.S. retailers were likely able to get through the holiday season by asking Chinese suppliers not to raise costs in light of the new tariffs, he said.

“We got through the holiday season, you know how we did it, we went over to China and said, ‘Look, we make all our money in the fourth quarter of the year, please, you know, hold back on raising prices, because we're going to be tariffed,’” he continues.

“But all bets are off now that we're in the springtime and prices will shoot up,” he adds.

Unrecognizable young friends with bags walking in shopping center at Christmas time.

When looking at the slowing retail store traffic and the return rate for online sales, he said, “2020 is not so rosy.”

McKenzie DeGroot is a producer at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @degrootmckenzie

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