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A truck moves a shipping container at Qingdao Port in Qingdao, China. Trade tensions between the U.S., China and other countries have escalated in recent months. Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Our cheat sheet to U.S. tariffs

President Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum have generated fury and fear. But the debate over the policy often lacks context. We put together this rough collection of background facts (including a surprising gender difference in tariffs).

Let’s start with the current news, the president’s tariffs:

  • Trump imposed a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum. The tariffs took effect March 23.
  • But Trump temporarily exempted Canada, Mexico and the European Union. On Monday he extended the exemptions through June 1 — meaning that, for now, some of the United States’ biggest trading partners won’t be impacted by the tariffs.
  • Trump has also permanently exempted Argentina, Australia, Brazil and South Korea. (South Korea agreed to a mutual quota system instead.)

Now for more context, U.S. tariffs by product:

  • Average U.S. tariff for all imported goods: 1.4 to 1.6 percent.
  • Lowest tariffs:0 percent. Some 54 percent of all imported goods face no tariff.
  • Highest tariffs: 8.5 to 67.2 percent for clothing and shoes. The specifics get even more interesting.
  • Woven clothing: 13.2 percent tariff. It’s more for knit clothing, at 14.2 percent.
  • Sneakers: Running shoes: about 20 percent. High-tops/basketball kicks: 37.5 percent. Keds-style sneakers (cloth upper): a whopping 67.2 percent.
  • Gender bias. Men’s leather shoes carry a 8.5 percent tariff. Women’s leather shoes:10 percent. This and all figures above came from the American Apparel & Footwear Association, which said this leather gender bias dates back to the Tariff Act of 1930, commonly known as Smoot-Hawley.

Globally, U.S. tariffs by country:*

  • Highest tariffs: Malawi. The U.S. has an average 23.8 percent tariff on goods imported from Malawi. The southeastern African country is one of the world’s least developed nations, and had one of the world’s least stable currencies for many years. Its exports are largely agricultural.
  • Other nations with above-average tariffs: Swaziland: 14.8 percent; Lesotho: 13.9 percent; Haiti: 13 percent; Cambodia: 12.8 percent.
  • Average tariff on Chinese goods: 2.9 percent.

*As of 2016, the most recent data available.

Finally, two more (very nerdy) things to know:

  • The tariff list is known as the “Harmonized Tariff Schedule,” or HTS. It is “harmonized” because nations around the world have agreed on its numbered codes for each kind of good.
  • The Harmonized Tariff Schedule names 17,000 different kinds of items. While most do not have any tariff, in theory, each of those thousands of products could have its own tariff attached. (Hence China’s specific list of 106 U.S. products it is threatening with tariffs.)

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