Everyone talks about the ‘new‡ tariffs being implemented by both China and the USA, but where is the comparison data showing what tariffs are already in place (old and new). Why aren’t we talking about that?
That is a great question.In order to answer it properly though, we need to dispel the media infused use of the word “tariff”.A tariff is a schedule or “menu” if you will, that provides a rate to be charged. Generally speaking tariff schedules are created to provide a means of assessing a charge or a price against particular types of items of similar kind, often times we refer to this as a “commodity code”. Trucking companies and airlines use “tariffs” too, as a method of assessing the charges for particular products they are shipping on behalf of their customers.When we discuss “tariffs” in international trade and when exporting and importing into different countries…what we really mean are tariff duty rates. There are different types of duties and different types of duty rates. However, they are all determined based on the tariff number.Throughout most of the countries of the world, we use the Harmonized Tariff System(HTS). Which is a commodity based schedule that literally lists all the items that can be bought and sold, currently known to man, throughout the world. All items of commerce from the rawest grown or born (as in the case of live animals) commodity to the most elaborately manufactured article have a tariff number.To the 6 digit level those tariff numbers are the same, for all countries that are part of the WTO (World Trade Organization) and WCO (World Customs Organization), which at this point in history is just about every country with a few exceptions. Thus, whether you are exporting from China and importing into the US or Mexico or exporting from the US and importing to Canada or Brazil. The tariff number is the same to the 6 digit level, thus all articles of commerce being bought and sold from country to country are subject to the tariff schedule.As to the duty rates, they are assessed based on the commodity or HTS code, first and foremost. So in order to determine the duty rates for articles imported into the US or whether the section 301 duties apply (which is really what the type of duties the Trump administration had levied) we need to determine the tariff code for the article being imported. Next we need to determine the country where the article was grown or manufactured (the country of origin). Next we need to determine if the item qualifies for MFN (Most favored nation) rates or “special” rates or if a additional duty program applies.For example if I am company in the US and I want to purchase a shipment of metal safety pins (HTS 7319.40.2050) from a company in Canada, that were actually made in China the tariff duty rate would be 4.9%. However if those same pins were made in Canada and the parties could VERIFY with DOCUMENTATION that the item was made in Canada then the tariff duty rate would be “free”. As the item was both EXPORTED from Canada and MADE IN Canada. This item 7319.40.2050 is NOT subject to the additional duties IF made in China.However, if I am a company in the US and I want to purchase a shipment of steel cotter pins (7318.24.0000)from a company in Germany or Mexico or Canada and those cotter pins were made in China…the MFN rate would be 3.8% and since the item is subject to the additional section 301 duties, an additional tariff number (9903.88.03) would be used in combination WITH the general tariff number of 7318.24.0000 and an additional 25% would be added to the ENTERED value of the good.** Please note entered value and retail cost that you would pay in the store for this item is very different. The entered value is the value the US company paid for the goods to the Chinese company…i.e. the transaction value of the overseas transaction (plus and minus certain costs). Thus the value that the duty is assessed on is usually substantially lower than you see at the retail level. ***So to make this more complicated, because there are literally tens of thousands of combinations of tariff numbers and duty rates based on various legislative and commercial considerations (most tariff rates are lobbied for by corporate interests) as well as differing rates IF a Free Trade or other special program is involved or IF a special additional duty is assessed, generalizing the true impact is difficult.For 2021 there over 19,000 10 digit chapter 1 through 97 tariff numbers. In general the duty rates are usually determined at the 6 digit level but there are exceptions. In addition to section 301 duties there is also, Antidumping and counterveiling duties.To make matters more complicated there are systems in place that allow companies to take part in legal duty avoidance (such as Foreign Trade Zones) or duty drawback programs that provide a partial refund of duties paid if the article is exported or destroyed within a certain period.Also please note the specifics of individual companies import activities is proprietary and thus the specific detailed information is not available for public consumption.Most of the data that is provided to the public is limited and generalized at a high level.