The Trump administration just put the black back in Black Friday.
The office of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer announced Tuesday that the 10% tariffs that were supposed to go into effect on many imported Chinese goods on Sept. 1 would be delayed until Dec. 15. No reason was given for the delay, which will affect a bevy of consumer goods and agricultural products that are produced or assembled in China, such as laptop computers, game consoles, athletic shoes and housewares.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the delay means the tariffs will kick in after Black Friday and Cyber Monday (the heavy shopping days at malls and online on the Friday and Monday after Thanksgiving, respectively), giving retailers and shoppers plenty of time to load up for the holidays without paying higher prices as a result of the new taxes.
The move averts some of the damage President Trump had threatened to cause when he summarily announced the imposition of the tariffs, which targeted the roughly $300 billion worth of Chinese imports not already subject to tariffs of up to 25%. That uptick in the trade war Trump launched against China fed growing fears of an economic slowdown that, in turn, drove the stock market sharply lower shortly after hitting record highs this summer.
The new tariffs were particularly worrisome to investors because they targeted the consumer goods that had been largely spared by the previous salvos. Those goods fuel much of the consumer spending that is the backbone of the U.S. economy.
Lighthizer’s office also said Tuesday that it planned to exempt other unspecified Chinese imports from the tariffs “based on health, safety, national security and other factors.” That could be anything, which makes the targets of the tariffs all the more uncertain and seemingly random — or, worse, subject to lobbying and political influence.
But then, we’re not talking about rational economic policy here. The president clings publicly to the fiction that the tariffs he imposes are paid by the Chinese rather than the American importers, businesses and consumers who actually foot the bill. He pretends they are uniquely damaging to China, when in fact they’ve disrupted U.S. supply chains and fueled retaliation by China against U.S. exporters — particularly farmers.
Trump’s right about one thing: China’s trade practices have to change. But his unilateral tactics and thirst for leverage are causing a lot of pain for people in this country too. The move to spare Black Friday suggests that he’s finally recognizing this.