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Marketplace

What makes the dollar strong?

Aug 23, 2019

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Trade showdown

How tariff uncertainty trickles down to companies and consumers

Kimberly Adams Jun 13, 2019
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Tariffs are showing up in higher prices and some consumers are having to be strategic about their purchases. Above, a woman shops at a Walmart store in Rosemead, California in May.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

When it comes to U.S. trade disputes with global trading partners, uncertainty rules the day. The economy feels it when we don’t know what’s going to happen with tariffs and trade negotiations.

For big companies, uncertainty leads to confusion over how to maintain global supply chains.

“I’ve been in the industry 37 years and I’ve never seen the last two years as it has been,” said Candace Sider, a vice president at trade services company Livingston International.

She said many companies are being forced to make multiple contingency plans, “identifying some of their risk in order to really safeguard their supply chain and curb any potential disruption.”

Small businesses can struggle even more. Kimberly Elliott at the Center for Global Development said many have to place orders far in advance.

“Do they place it in China or do they try and find a different supplier because they don’t know what the prices is going to be,” she said. “For a small business that’s really a serious problem.”

For consumers, tariffs are already showing up in higher prices for things like washing machines. And with more tariffs possibly coming, some are having to be strategic about their purchases.

“For instance, our car’s getting rather old and we need to replace it,” said Katheryn Russ, who also happens to be a trade economist at the University of California-Davis. “I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that it might have an impact on my budget and maybe I should speed up my purchases.”

That puts a trade expert in the same boat as the rest of us. We’re all pretty uncertain.

Correction (June 14, 2019): Candace Sider’s name was misspelled in a previous version of this story. The text has been corrected.

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