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Do tariffs actually reduce imports?

Friday, May 27, 2011
by Ben Cahill

The answers is yes and no! In 2005 the US government slapped anti-dumping tariffs on the imports of Chinese furniture. At the time, imports accounted for 58% of the market for beds and similar items.

What happened next was probably not in the plans of US lawmakers and the local furniture manufacturers who supported the tariffs. Although imports from China did fall sharply, a number of Chinese manufacturers moved their plants to different countries, Vietnam being the main choice. The result was that as of 2010, imports now account for 70% of the total market!

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The full story, including some insightful comments from a Chinese furniture manufacturer can be seen in this Washington Post article.

Rather depressingly, the article reveals a problem that often occurs with government intervention…. “The only Americans getting more work as a result of the tariffs are Washington lawyers, who have been hired by both U.S. and Chinese companies. Their work includes haggling each year over private “settlement” payments that Chinese manufacturers denounce as a “protection racket.”

Fearful of having their tariff rates jacked up, many Chinese furniture makers pay cash to their American competitors, who have the right to ask the Commerce Department to review the duties of individual companies. Those who cough up get dropped from the review list.”

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