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Retailers hedge bets as trade tensions ease

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NEW YORK — Just in time for the holidays, retailers received some good news about trade.

First, right after retailers posted strong Thanksgiving weekend sales, came the news that President Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto had signed a new trade pact — the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement — to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The deal was signed at a Group of 20 economic conference in Argentina, and a few days later more good news emerged from that same gathering of world leaders, following Trump’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Trump and Xi agreed to pause in the escalation of the trade war between their two countries.

The upshot for retailers is that tariffs on $200 billion worth of goods from China will remain at the current 10% rate after January 1, instead of going up to 25% as previously planned.

“We commend President Trump for his efforts to restore a fair and balanced trade relationship with China,” National Retail Federation president and chief executive officer Matthew Shay said in a statement. “The administration’s decision to give diplomacy a chance and at least temporarily avoid the imposition of increased and additional tariffs is an encouraging sign.”

The agreement, which gives American and Chinese officials 90 days to continue to negotiate, seemed to suggest that the Trump administration had listened to the NRF and other trade groups that had advocated forgoing the January 2019 tariff increase.

Meanwhile, imports at the nation’s major retail container ports set another new record in November, reaching 2 million containers in a single month for the first time, according to the monthly Global Port Tracker report from the NRF and Hackett Associates.

NRF attributed the surge to retailers rushing to bring merchandise into the country ahead of the now-postponed increase in tariffs on goods from China.

“President Trump has declared a temporary truce in the trade war, but these imports came in before that announcement was made,” NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold said.

The influx of goods, arriving in time for the holidays, is a reminder of what’s at stake for retailers and consumers.


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