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U.S. businesses are taking account of Biden's trade policy on China

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Here in the U.S., businesses are feeling the effects of President Biden's trade policy on China in a very real way. The Trump-era tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese goods are going to stay in place, at least for now. U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai made this announcement last week while outlining the Biden administration's strategy. Many American business owners were hoping for some relief from those tariffs, including Tiffany Williams.

TIFFANY WILLIAMS: I own a luggage store in Lubbock, Texas. We are celebrating our 70th year of the Lubbock source for all things travel. My grandfather started the store in 1951.

MARTIN: Williams says the tariffs combined with COVID and supply chain issues have hurt business in recent years.

WILLIAMS: I mean, it's just so crazy to think to when all of it started back in 2018, I guess, right? We initially - what? - had 10% tariffs on luggage. And, you know, we had some manufacturers that immediately did, you know, some price increases, and then, you know, it's just kind of spiraled from there and just makes it a little harder to sell that really great bag that, you know, maybe had a price point of $400 back in 2018. And that bag is probably now - gosh - 550, pushing six. And it's the same bag, you know? But when you put all those, you know, duties and tariffs and exorbitant shipping costs on top of it, there's just no way they can continue to sell it for the same price, so...

MARTIN: So what does that mean for you? I mean, do you have to cater to a different kind of higher-end clientele?

WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, it's just we really do have to rethink our assortment mix. But what became the challenge for us was then getting product, you know, just because everybody was - a lot of our manufacturers were - having a hard time getting goods in. And so many things had shut down in China.

MARTIN: This is because all the crazy supply chain issues.

WILLIAMS: Yeah - supply chain issues. We're just trying to have product, sell it. We're just happy to finally have business again. But then we want - we need to be able to get product. And we'd like for that product to be at a price the consumer's comfortable paying and then, you know, would love to see some tariff relief in our industry just because there is no luggage made in the United States. It's just hard for our industry to know how to go forward, I guess.

MARTIN: So this was something that the U.S. trade representative, Katherine Tai, laid out as part of the Biden administration's - what they are billing as a new approach to China. They want to be able to create some exceptions for certain businesses so they can get relief from tariffs. Did you hear her speech? What was your reaction?

WILLIAMS: I didn't hear it, but I did read it. I mean, it would be great if, like, industries like ours could be excluded. I find it fascinating out of all of the things from the previous administration that - you know, that, sadly, tariffs are the one thing we need to stick with. And I understand the reasoning behind it. They're - the things that need to be addressed with China are very real. And I do support that. And I understand that completely. I just couldn't tell from what she said what the, you know, exclusion process would be for goods like ours that don't have a U.S. option.

MARTIN: So how precarious are things? I mean, is your store likely to stay in business another 70 years?

WILLIAMS: (Laughter) Well, we certainly are hopeful. You know, it's like, we start pull ourselves back up and then, you know, COVID hits us. And then we start pulling ourself back up and the supply chain hits us. So we're - just kind of keep getting punched down. I don't think we're going to be out for the count, but it sure is getting a lot harder to get back up - (laughter) you know? - with each punch that comes, so - but I do. I remain hopeful that things will turn around and 2022 could be just an amazing year, and banned - if we could get some relief from the tariffs and get the supply chain things under control. I mean, those are a lot of asks, aren't they? - (laughter) a lot to ask for. But all those things would certainly go a long way to helping our industry, for sure.

MARTIN: Well, Tiffany Williams, we so appreciate you taking the time. Thank you so much.

WILLIAMS: Well, thank you for taking the time to listen to what it's like for a small business in Lubbock, Texas. And we appreciate you being interested in how things are impacting us these days and for taking the time to listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAKAYA MCCRAVEN'S "SLIGHTEST RIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.