If anyone notices US flags and signs saying ‘Make America Great Again’ are missing from Donald Trump’s November mid-term election rallies, there is only one man to blame – Trump.
Much of the merchandise on display at Trump’s rallies is mass-produced in the Chinese boomtowns of Yiwu and Keqiao in eastern Zhejiang province and is now stuck in China, a victim of the additional tariffs the US has imposed.
“Usually the goods only take 10 days to reach US buyers. Now it’s taking 15 days or longer,” one exporter in Keqiao complained to Xinhua.
Chinese media has reported that growing consignments of banners, badges, flags and other textiles and souvenirs featuring Trump’s portrait and his tagline “Make America Great Again” are stuck in the deadlock in Sino-US trade talks before they can make their way to the US and Trump’s campaign trail.
On July 10, the Trump administration rolled out an additional list of tariffs that included textiles imported from China, on top of a 25% tariff slapped on US$34 billion worth of Chinese exports. The US Department of Commerce said flags and other textile products would be subject to a 10% levy if the proposed tariffs take effect next month.
This will make the retail price of a “Make America Great Again” hat shoot up more than twofold from US$9 to US$20 a pop, US broadcaster ABC cited a merchandiser who imports them as saying.
Flags and textiles shipped to the US are now spending more time than usual at US customs checkpoints and there has reportedly been a small drop in the number of orders.
But wholesale exporters are not daunted, at least according to Chinese newspapers. They say the US has nowhere else to go to place orders in a short time span, especially in the run-up to the November elections.
“US flag vendors will not be able to live without Chinese manufacturers. Chinese products’ price advantage and the well-established business flow and relationship mean that finding alternative contractors elsewhere, be it in Vietnam or Indonesia, will turn out to be harder than they think,” the owner of a flag wholesale shop in Yiwu told the Global Times.
“China is so potent in terms of low-cost manufacturing, for our unbeatable value for money,” said a shipowner, in front of a pile of banners and flags that read “Trump 2020” and “Keep America Great!”
The Global Times also said in an op-ed that Trump’s new curbs on Chinese textile exports could backfire on the president as he may have no flags to fly. The paper added that his latest moves were “making America expensive.”
Bai Ming, the deputy director of the International Market Research Institute of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, told the People’s Daily that what underpinned Chinese manufacturers’ competitiveness was a low-cost manufacturing chain and its front-to-end industrial capacity, from design to sampling to manufacturing and marketing.
If emerging countries in Southeast Asia such as Vietnam try to do the same, the costs will be higher, with no guarantee of quality and speed of delivery, according to Bai.
The speed with which factories in Yiwu and Keqiao churned out tens of thousands of French Tricolor flags right after the country’s football team won the World Cup title was proof of the might of the army of Chinese workshops and household factories, he said.
Zhejiang papers reported that most suppliers in the two cities had refrained from hiking wholesale prices despite the sudden spike in orders for French flags.