WASHINGTON — Nervous business owners are spending seven days trying to persuade the Trump administration not to impose tariffs on an additional $300 billion worth of Chinese goods. Most are bracing for disappointment.
After several previous hearings where company officials testified against tariffs only to see them go into effect, many business leaders are becoming resigned to the idea that President Trump will do what he wants, regardless of their concerns.
The Trump administration says tariffs are necessary to change China’s longstanding practices of violating international trading rules and forcing American companies to hand over valuable technology.
While the two countries had been working toward a trade deal to resolve the administration’s concerns, those discussions fell apart last month. Mr. Trump, who is expected to meet with President Xi Jinping of China this month in Japan, has since escalated his trade war, raising tariffs on $200 billion worth of imports and threatening 25 percent tariffs on an additional $300 billion worth.
Toymakers, telecom officials, port workers and shoemakers kicked off a seven-day hearing in Washington on Monday warning that Mr. Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on nearly all Chinese imports would raise costs for consumers, disrupt supply chains and potentially force them to lay off employees or go out of business.
For some, this was a repeat appearance before Trump administration officials, having testified previously about the effects of Mr. Trump’s first and second rounds of tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods. While many said they were holding out hope for a solution to the next round of levies, they sounded increasingly desperate and exasperated with the protracted trade war.
Rebecca Mond, a lobbyist for the toy industry, clutched an 18-inch bright yellow plush toy of the Pokémon character Pikachu. Like 85 percent of the toys sold in the United States, the stuffed animal was made in China, she said, and could cost 25 percent more as early as next month if the new tariffs go into effect.
“This guy is not a national security threat,” Ms. Mond said, gesturing to the Pikachu. She said the mood of the toymakers she was representing was “not optimistic” because the pain from tariffs would be so sharp for the industry. The tariffs are expected to hit just as companies begin stocking up products for the back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons.
With its earlier tariffs, the Trump administration had tried to shield consumers and target more advanced goods that China is seeking to dominate, like driverless cars, planes and advanced medical devices.
But as the president has announced tariffs first on $50 billion of goods from China, then an additional $200 billion of goods and now potentially the remaining roughly $300 billion of products China ships to the United States, consumer goods have increasingly crept into the mix. The latest tranche of goods subject to tariffs would include shoes, toys, jewelry, mobile phones and many other items Americans find in their shopping carts and under their Christmas trees.
“Folks are nervous,” said Jonathan Gold, a vice president of the National Retail Federation, which lobbies for companies like Sam’s Club, Macy’s and Modell’s Sporting Goods. “There is a lot of uncertainty. Are we going to have tariffs on China? Are we going to have tariffs on Mexico? Tariffs elsewhere?”
“This is all kind of a circus,” said Jean Kolloff, the president of Quinn Apparel, which makes clothes and cashmere sweaters in China. While she is holding out hope that more tariffs will not be imposed, she said her partners in China were “working around the clock” to try to ship their goods to the United States before they would go into effect.
Administration officials have said Mr. Trump will decide whether to impose the new tariffs after he talks with Mr. Xi at a summit meeting of the Group of 20 industrialized nations in Osaka, Japan. But officials have been playing down the prospect of securing a deal at the meeting, and it remains unclear what would persuade Mr. Trump not to proceed with the tariffs.
American officials have accused China of reneging on a prospective trade deal and insist that it must return to that deal. The two sides also have other areas of disagreement, including when — and whether — all of Mr. Trump’s existing tariffs would be removed.
“We’re going to find out pretty soon in Osaka whether the two governments are committed to getting this relationship back on track, because right now the relationship is off track and heading in the wrong direction,” said Myron Brilliant, the executive vice president and head of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The prospect of long-run tariffs on China, an important source of products and a significant market for many American products, has companies scrambling. Mr. Trump, who has presented himself as an ally to business, has discounted their concerns about the trade war.
The president has maintained that if companies like Apple and Harley-Davidson do not like tariffs, they should move their operations back to the United States. Businesses have argued that to compete in a global economy, they must source products from abroad and sell them globally.
“The ancien régime likes to defend what it has,” Larry Kudlow, a top White House economic adviser, said in remarks at the Peterson Institute for International Economics last week, as he accused the Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business group, of “ankle biting.”
“You either want change or you don’t,” Mr. Kudlow said.
Mr. Brilliant, along with many corporate officials testifying this week, said his organization supported Mr. Trump’s goal of addressing China’s unfair trade practices.
“But we’ve also been clearheaded that tariffs are a tax on American consumers, they are hurting American businesses, and are creating a great deal of uncertainty, not just in the bilateral economic relationship but in global economic growth,” he said.
Several officials testified that their companies had moved to China because it was the best and cheapest place to produce goods, and that they had no way to relocate such manufacturing back to the United States.
Mark Corrado, the president of Leading Lady, which makes women’s underwear, dangled a brassiere as he testified before a panel of government officials. “It’s a very difficult garment to make, and it takes a lot of precision to make it as well as they make it in China,” he said, pointing to the lace, the elastic shoulder straps and the metal hooks.
Decades ago, his company had five factories in the United States. But it gradually moved operations to Central America, and then to China. Now, Americans have lost that expertise, he said.
“Most women in the rural areas grew up sewing,” Mr. Corrado said. “That situation has totally changed.”
Bradley Mattarocci, the vice president of Baby Trend, which makes strollers, high chairs, car seats and other baby products for Walmart, Target and other stores, had come to Washington to testify against a previous round of tariffs last year. He was relieved to have some of his products receive an exemption — and then alarmed when he saw them reappear on the tariff list this year.
“It’s a yo-yo,” Mr. Mattarocci said. “How do you plan?”
His company makes all its products in China, except one — a diaper pail made in California. When Mr. Trump threatened tariffs on China, his company looked into moving production to Vietnam instead, but said that the shift would take at least two years and that the product would cost more to make.
Mr. Mattarocci said factories in Vietnam had raised prices in response to a rush from companies seeking to export to America. “Everybody around the world knows we’re all out looking for somewhere else other than China,” he said, “so they’re taking advantage of it.”