Just yesterday I noticed two stories on Trump administration plans to impose 5% tariffs on imports. One was about the Trump administration, another was about plans emerging from the GOP House, going back to June and seemingly independent of Trump. This is for a so-called “border adjustment tax” of 5% on imports as part of corporate tax reform. Here’s an explanation of how the “border adjustment tax” would work and why retailers are up in arms about it. The latter isn’t a tariff exactly. But it has a similar practical effect of imposing an additional cost on imports and thus making them less attractive than domestic manufactures.
But just since yesterday, when the Trump Transition was telling CNN it was mulling a 5% tariff, they now moved the number to 10%.
I want to stress this again. Over the course of 24 hours the Trump Transition has gone from a 5% tariff to a 10% tariff.
In a highly interconnected global economy these are big numbers. And the rapidity of change suggests the kind of spitballing of numbers which I think we might expect from people in the Trump world.
There’s an additional matter of the Trump team believing they can impose these tariffs by executive order. At least that is what they were saying yesterday. Now they seem to be talking about doing via executive order as part of corporate tax reform.
This emphasis on protectionism is not surprising. Trump talked about it constantly during the campaign – specifically about punitive tariffs for companies that move factories overseas, less often about general tariffs on all imports. Indeed, you can go back decades and the one consistent theme in all of Trump’s discussion of politics is protectionism. It’s the one thing I think he really believes in.
For now I don’t have much more to add than the fact that these discussions are taking place and that the numbers seem to be moving so quickly. It would be typically Trumpian if the 10% number were simply an effort to up the ante on House Republicans, with a plan to eventually come back to 5%. There also looks to be discussion of perhaps combining the two efforts – possibly pursuing Trump’s goal of protecting domestic manufactures via the House focus on a “border adjustment tax.” But again, these are real numbers. They have potentially big repercussions.