WASHINGTON - U.S. Commerce chief Wilbur Ross said Wednesday that the postponement of a new 10% tariff on Chinese-manufactured consumer products was not a concession to Beijing, but rather to help U.S. consumers during this year's Christmas shopping season.
"Nobody wants to take any chance of disrupting the Christmas season," Ross told CNBC. He said, "This was not a quid pro quo" in the contentious and oft-delayed trade negotiations with China.
The U.S. on Tuesday delayed the planned 10% tariff on laptop computers and computer monitors, cellphones, video game consoles, some toys, shoes and clothing until Dec. 15. Many Americans buy such items as gifts during the end-of-year holiday shopping season.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday said the tariff increases were delayed "so they won't be relevant in the Christmas shopping season, just in case they might have an impact on people."
U.S. consumer spending accounts for about 70% of the American economy, the world's largest, and a disproportionate amount of that spending, compared to the rest of each year, occurs during the Christamas shopping season.
Trump's statement on the effect of tariffs on shopping was a tacit acknowledgement that the tariffs he has imposed on Chinese imports are paid for by U.S. corporations that often then pass on their extra costs to American consumers. Earlier Tuesday, Trump echoed his long-standing baseless claim that the Chinese government pays the tariffs to the U.S. Treasury.
The U.S. also is exempting tariffs altogether on a separate group of Chinese imports "based on health, safety, national security and other factors."
But it still plans to levy the 10% tariff on the remainder of the original list of $300 billion worth of Chinese goods entering the U.S. that Trump said he planned to tax. A year ago, Trump imposed a 25% tariff on $250 billion worth of Chinese exports.
Before acknowledging that a tariff on key Chinese imports could impact U.S. consumers, Trump claimed on Twitter, "Through massive devaluation of their currency and pumping vast sums of money into their system, the tens of billions of dollars that the U.S. is receiving is a gift from China. Prices not up, no inflation. Farmers getting more than China would be spending. Fake News won't report!"
He added, "As usual, China said they were going to be buying 'big' from our great American Farmers. So far they have not done what they said. Maybe this will be different!"
Over a two-year period, Trump has sent or promised to pay U.S. farmers more than $26 billion in government aid to compensate them for losses they have sustained since China stopped buying American grains and other products.
The next round of trade talks between the U.S. and China are expected to occur in September after the U.S. tariffs take effect.