While acknowledging problems in the trade relations between the U.S. and China, the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) stands opposed to the Trump administration's policy of imposing high tariffs on imports of footwear and other products from China. On Dec. 12, Rick Helfenbein, president and chief executive, addressed a letter to President Trump to make the association's case on behalf of the 1,000 or so footwear brands it represents.

The letter focuses on a recent “phase one” deal under which the U.S. government agreed to reduce tariffs on some footwear products and to delay the new round of tariffs that were scheduled to go into effect on Dec. 15. The “phase one” deal did in fact suspend the new tariffs, but did not eliminate them. In his letter, Helfenbein argues for the simple removal of all existing punitive tariffs (tranches 3 and 4A) and planned punitive tariffs (tranche 4B) on the industry's products.

The “phase one” deal, he writes, “is a step in the right direction,” but American companies and consumers are “still being hammered – at an unacceptably high level.” “Rising costs,” he continues, “are already working their way through supply chains and they will still have a negative impact going into next year.”

Helfenbein objects especially to the imposition of variable import duties as a negotiating tool, which has generated uncertainty and compelled companies to “create and constantly revisit multiple tariff mitigation scenarios.” He also argues that the targeted products have little to do with the trade war's “underlying disputes” and therefore shift the negotiations away from the issues of China's forced technology transfers and theft of intellectual property.

According to the AAFA, 15 percent tariffs have been in effect on some 53 percent of footwear imports from China since Sept. 1. The tariffs planned for Dec. 15, in its estimation, would have raised the footwear industry's annual cost by $1,003 million.