In a surprise move, President Trump signed the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill Act into law on Thursday, September 13. The bill will reduce tariffs on roughly 1,700 goods worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Some of the affected goods are even on the list of Chinese imports subject to President Trump’s various rounds of new tariffs against Chinese goods.
This is good news, though the bill isn’t quite as good as it sounds (full bill text here). Most importantly, it is at least three orders of magnitude too small to counteract the thousands of new and threatened tariff increases on potentially hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of goods. Its tariff relief is also temporary. And it isn’t really a reduction in trade barriers—it extends a previous round of tariff exemptions that expired in 2012, so it’s more of a return to the status quo ante. Still, it’s wonderful news that not only did a tariff reduction bill pass both chambers of Congress with large bipartisan majorities, but President Trump signed it.
Every indication is that the president will continue to pursue a mercantilist trade philosophy he has held for more than 30 years. Consumers, businesses, and people who have taken Economics 101 should not get their hopes up about a substantive trade policy shift during the current administration. But the president’s willingness to sign a bill he clearly disagrees with is certainly good news.
Congress should give him more opportunities to sign such legislation; 99.9 percent or so of existing, new, and threatened tariffs remain unaffected. But for now, this is a good start. Consumers and producers deserve to celebrate today.