Even the Trump trade war is sexist

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Image: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
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On Sept. 1, when the US is scheduled to impose a new 10% tariff on imports of select Chinese-made clothing and footwear, women will likely feel the impact more than men.

The reason is that a much larger share of women’s and girls’ clothes and shoes imported into the US are made in China compared to men’s equivalents. A Wall Street Journal analysis of data from the office of the US Trade Representative and the Census Bureau found that about 42% of women’s and girls’ clothes and shoes came from China in 2018, versus about 26% for men and boys. That translated to $23.5 billion worth of women’s and girls’ products, compared to just $10.9 billion for men and boys.

To bring their products into the US, companies will have to pay the additional tariff. Typically they pass that cost on to consumers, who end up paying a higher retail price. In this case, women will probably see more price hikes than men.

The new round of tariffs, which will cover a wide range of Chinese goods, will be US president Donald Trump’s first to hit clothing and footwear imports. Women not only buy more clothing than men in the US, but the companies making the clothes generally rely more on China to produce them. That’s because women’s fashion tends to change more quickly than men’s, and often requires more skill to efficiently produce. China has built up the specialized infrastructure and workforce to deliver on both speed and quality, which is why many fashion companies can find it difficult to shift their manufacturing out of the country even as wages have risen—and why more women’s fashion than men’s is made there.

“If I was to make a basic men’s jean, I’d make that in Pakistan,” Edward Hertzman, founder and president of trade publication Sourcing Journal, previously told Quartz about the quality of China’s fashion manufacturing. “If I was going to make a fashion woman’s garment, I would move to China because their skill set is better, their hand is better, their finishing is better, and they can handle that type of fashion.” (Incidentally, if the tariff Trump has threatened on Mexican imports ever became a reality, it would disproportionately hit men’s blue jeans.)

Even without the new tranche of tariffs, US clothing and footwear imports have historically incurred higher duties than other consumer goods. In this case, too, women are already paying a higher price than men. A 2018 report by the US international trade commission looking at tariffs on all clothing imports—not just those from China—found the average tariff collected on imports of men’s clothing in 2016 was 12%. On women’s apparel, it was 14.9%. This gap, it noted, had widened from a decade prior.

Women can even shoulder higher tariffs on nearly identical products, as Katica Roy, CEO of Pipeline Equity Inc, a firm focused on unconscious bias in the workplace, recently pointed out to Bloomberg. On overalls, she noted, the US imposes a 14% tariff on the women’s version and a 9% tariff on the men’s. On hiking boots, the women’s version gets a 10% tariff, while the men’s gets a duty of 8.5%.

The gender gap in tariffs only seems set to widen.