Trade war with China jacks up the cost of goods from cribs to Christmas lights

Did you pull out last year’s Christmas lights, and did they work? If you can avoid buying new lights this year, you are doing well — though you might want to stock up for 2019. That’s when the prices of goods from China, like the lights, are liable to jump again.

Christmas lights sticker shock? Worth considering before you trim the tree.

The matter stems from the trade war with China, the maker of more than 80 percent of Christmas lights, according to U.S. Census data. President Donald Trump earlier this year slapped import tariffs on billions of dollars of goods from China, and that is driving up costs for Americans. The idea is that Americans will stop buying from China and buy American-made instead — thus creating a bargaining chip in trade negotiations.

But virtually no one in the U.S. makes Christmas lights.

Sellers in the U.S. are paying more for the lights and a slew of other Chinese-made goods. They pass on costs to consumers in the form of higher prices.

Shopping at the Dollar General in Canandaigua on Wednesday was Emily Wittek. She said she hadn’t priced this year’s Christmas lights. She hoped she wouldn’t need to buy new ones.

“I’ll use what I’ve got,” said Wittek, a single mother of a 6-year-old, adding she has plenty of expenses and can’t afford much on decorations.

“This is another instance when these tariffs are nothing more than a tax on businesses and working families,” said Charles Boustany, spokesman for anti-tariff business group Tariffs Hurt the Heartland. "Raising costs for businesses and consumers during the holidays doesn’t do anything but punish Americans who, polls show, want nothing to do with this trade war.”

Boustany urged the president to use his upcoming meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping to strike a deal to end the tariffs, avoid another round of tariffs on additional consumer products, and avoid the upcoming New Year’s Day tariff hike. “Millions of Americans are counting on him to make that deal,” Boustany said.

This week, the president warned China he won’t back down on the tariffs. Trump said he plans to raise the existing 10 percent US import tariff on Chinese goods to 25 percent on Jan. 1.

Meanwhile, big retailers warned they would raise prices to offset their increased costs for goods hit with tariffs. Walmart, the biggest U.S. retailer, told the White House in September that its tariffs could make it more expensive for U.S. households to buy merchandise, ranging from shampoo to food, cribs to Christmas lights.

"This round of tariffs could impact a significant number of common consumer items that are not easily replaceable," wrote Sarah F. Thorn, a senior director for global government affairs at Walmart, in a Sept. 6 letter to the U.S. Trade Representative. "The immediate impact will be to raise prices on consumers and tax American business and manufacturers.”