Global Trade

Why trade matters to retail

NRF believes the United States needs a 21st century trade policy that recognizes that imports lower the cost of living for all Americans and support millions of U.S. jobs in fields such as research, design, sourcing, ecommerce, distribution, transportation, merchandising and sales.

  • Retailers rely on imported merchandise to provide American families products they need at prices they can afford.
  • From clothing to electronics, many consumer products are no longer mass-produced in the United States, leaving foreign manufacturers as the only sources.
  • It would take years to re-establish U.S. manufacturing of those products. Even if that could be done, modern factories would be highly automated and provide relatively few jobs.

Trade barriers such as tariffs, which are hidden taxes that drive up the price of imports, or “quotas,” which limit availability of consumer goods by restricting the number of items imported, should be eliminated.

China tariffs

NRF opposes tariffs imposed by either side. China is perhaps retailers’ most important source of high-quality and affordable consumer products and an important and growing market for U.S. exporters. NRF believes the growing trade war will punish U.S. consumers more than it will punish China while doing little to create U.S. jobsbecause tariffs are essentially a tax that U.S. businesses and consumers pay.

In June, President Trump announced tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese imports, saying they were invoked because of China’s unfair trade practices including violation of intellectual property rights and forced technology transfers. China immediately announced tariffs on an equal amount of U.S. goods. Trump then said he would impose tariffs on an another $200 billion in products from China if China went through with its tariffs. China did so, and Trump followed through with the new tariffs, which took effect in September. NRF said the new tariffs will “boomerang back” to harm U.S. families and workers.

While the lists of items subject to tariffs have changed and been expanded, a study conducted for NRF when they were first proposed this spring shows there could be a $49.2 billion loss in U.S. gross domestic product and the loss of 455,000 U.S. jobs based on even $100 billion worth of goods. Four jobs would be lost for every job gained.

Learn more about the China tariffs issue.

Steel and aluminum tariffs

steel and aluminum tariffs

President Trump this spring announced new tariffs on steel and aluminum affecting a wide variety of countries in addition to China. Like the other China tariffs, they have drawn retaliation and are contributing to the trade war. NRF has called the steel and aluminum tariffs a “self-inflicted wound on the nation’s economy” that will drive up prices for U.S. consumers on metal-dependent products. These tariffs were brought under a section of trade law involving national security, and NRF has endorsed legislation requiring that security-related tariffs be reviewed by Congress.

For more about steel and aluminum tariffs, read the deep dive.


In 2017, President Trump ordered NAFTA to be renegotiated and has threatened to withdraw from the agreement. This August, he announced an agreement with Mexico alone but said Canada might still be added. At the end of September, the administration announced that Canada had been added and that the new pact would be called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

NRF agrees that NAFTA should be updated to address issues such as digital tradethat did not exist when the agreement was first established. But NRF strongly opposes withdrawal and believes that any updates should truly modernize NAFTA, do no harm to the underlying agreement and include both Mexico and Canada. 

Since it took effect in 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement has:

  • Eliminated billions of dollars of tariffs on both imports and exports shipped between the United States, Canada and Mexico.
  • Supported millions of U.S. jobs.
  • Lowered prices on a wide variety of consumer goods.
  • Made seasonal food products more widely available and affordable.
  • Allowed parts for U.S.-made products to be imported tariff-free from either of the other two partner countries, benefiting manufacturers and retailers.
  • Allowed complex products to be moved back and forth across borders during the manufacturing process.

For more, read our NAFTA deep dive.

Learn more about trade

NRF supports NAFTA modernization but warns that withdrawal from the agreement should not be considered.
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NRF supports free trade and the elimination of tariffs which harm U.S. businesses and consumers.
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The Impact of Tariffs on Small Business
Hear stories from small retailers across the country.
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