by Julia Pierrepont III
The apparel industry's top leaders gathered at the opening ceremony of the China Footwear Pavilion at the Las Vegas MAGIC Show on Monday to support maintaining strong trading ties with the Asian country and voice opposition to the U.S. administration's escalating tariffs.
"The current administration looks to apply new duties on September 1st to a variety of products from China, including footwear. We are adamantly opposed to additional duties," CEO of the U.S. Footwear Distributor and Retailer Association (FDRA) Matt Priest said.
As one of the largest and most influential fashion trade shows in America, the MAGIC Show is not only a fashion trade affair but a display of manufacturing resources from around the world.
"Our relationship with China is very important. They are our top supplier of footwear -- over 70 percent comes from China based on a trusted relationship built up over decades," explained Priest in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.
"We already pay three billion (U.S. dollars) in duties every year and 1.5 billion (U.S. dollars) of that is on products from China, so we are fighting vigorously against any more tariffs."
He pointed out that U.S. data shows that prices have already started to climb on the goods that President Donald Trump previously hit with tariffs. "You can't add an additional cost to something and not expect the costs to rise for the end-use consumer," he said logically.
"We are a consuming nation, that's what drives our growth. So, if you see a recession take hold in consumer goods and see less consumption happening, the policy makers in Washington will see that it's not the best policy to tax their constituents to change the behavior of one of their largest trading partners," he predicted.
"The American consumer knows how to vote with their dollars -- and their votes," cautioned the businessman.
President and CEO of the American Apparel and Footwear Association Rick Helfenbein told Xinhua, "We are big on trade, and we've had a long and wonderful relationship with China for decades, resulting in 41 percent of all apparel, 72 percent of all footwear, and 84 percent of all accessories imported to the U.S. coming from China."
His support of strong and uninterrupted U.S.-China business and trade relationships goes beyond the bottom line: it's about quality control, workers' rights and economic stability.
"Over the years we've built up incredible, reliable supply chains with China that are really important to the industry and to America. They give us sustainability, quality control, and impact positively on workers' rights and product safety, to name a few. These are all things the American buyer is very concerned about. Any disruption of that is not good for business -- not good for business in America, not good for business in China."
He pointed out that because small businesses account for almost 50 percent of American jobs -- 10 percent of those in retail -- and that consumers account for two-thirds of the U.S. economy, it is vital for politicians to keep the health and welfare of American consumers foremost in their minds when shaping policy.
"We've gone to great lengths to explain to the government that they must not go after the consumer. It's very disruptive, breeds inflation and will crash the economy," he insisted. "As prices go up, sales go down, and jobs get lost. That's not somewhere we want to be. We want to enjoy the wonderful economy it took us eight years to build up, not wreck it."
He contended that tariffs damage the very industry they were meant to protect, cause trouble for the U.S. economy, and cause trouble globally. "Tariffs don't happen in a vacuum and if you take on your biggest trading partner, every blow you deal out to him ends up hurting you just as much," he cautioned.
His concern is that retail in America is already reeling and the trade war may deliver the coup de grace.
"In 2017, the U.S. had more bankruptcies than in the financial crisis of 2008. In 2018, 100 million square foot of retail space was lost, and in the first quarter of 2019, the U.S. had more announced store closings than in all of 2018."
"American retail cannot sustain another jolt right now," he warned.
Helfenbein added, "Remember this adversarial attitude toward China is only coming from the Trump Administration. If you ask just about anyone at this trade show, they would tell you that we've built up wonderful relationships with China and worked really well together for many years. It's been really good for China and really good for the U.S. Cooler heads need to prevail."
"This is not some campaign slogan. We're not in politics, we are in business," he concluded.