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Op-Ed: Looking for a Final Back-to-School Deal? Pass TPP

As we come to the end of summer, most children have already started their yearly tradition of going back to school. We’ve all seen the Facebook posts of students proudly sporting new clothes, lunch boxes and backpacks, often with their favorite characters on them. While some children can’t wait for the first day of school, we know the work to get them there begins weeks before as parents go from store to store to cross items off back-to-school shopping lists that seem to grow longer every year.

Top of mind for parents during back-to-school shopping is finding the best deals for everything their children need. And that’s for good reason.

Whether it’s elementary, middle or high school, all students have long lists of back-to-school necessities. According to the National Retail Federation, parents planned to spend $27.3 billion this year on back-to-school items for children in kindergarten through grade 12, an average of $673.57 per family. That’s up nearly 10 percent from last year, and 55 percent over the past decade.

Unlike spending during other holidays throughout the year, back-to-school items are not discretionary purchases. NRF’s research shows that 64 percent of spending is influenced by the supply lists schools hand out, which include the standard pencils, pens, notebooks and calculators.

But there are also new clothes, both for kids who have outgrown last year’s wardrobe and those who want to “dress to impress” their peers or for first-day-of-school photos. Then there’s all the athletic gear required for after-school sports.

Parents know back-to-school costs are high, but what they may not realize is how much of those costs are attributable to U.S. tariffs on imported goods.

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Backpacks, for example, carry an import duty of up to 20 percent. Sneakers start at 20 percent. Sweaters face a tariff of roughly 16 percent if made of cotton and twice that for man-made fibers. Tariffs on dresses range up to 16 percent, while pens, markers and pencils average 7 percent. Each of those hidden taxes must be built into the price of the corresponding merchandise, driving up prices paid by American families.

Families do all they can to keep back-to-school costs under control. NRF’s survey shows that 48 percent use coupons, the highest in the survey’s history, while 39 percent are influenced by in-store promotions and 33 percent watch advertising inserts for bargains.

All of those help, but the ultimate deal for parents would be for Congress to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Most importantly for back-to-school shoppers, the TPP trade deal would eliminate virtually all of the $6 billion in annual U.S. tariffs currently collected on goods from member countries, many of them immediately.

Eliminating those tariffs would bring cost savings that could be passed directly along to consumers in the form of lower prices. Imagine how much would be saved if TPP was already implemented and duty rates had been cut on products such as clothing, footwear, backpacks and school supplies this year.

While back-to-school is undoubtedly tough on millions of families across the country, it doesn’t have to be that way. TPP would dramatically lower prices for back-to-school items. Maybe then parents wouldn’t have to spend their last month of summer driving a loop between the dollar store, the office supply store, and the supercenter or visiting multiple websites daily in search of a better price. Imagine a summer where parents could easily cross each item off their supply lists and get back to spending time with their families—with a little extra money left in their wallets.

It’s time to pass TPP.


Matthew Shay is president and CEO of the National Retail Federation in Washington, D.C. This op-ed is part of outreach by footwear, apparel, travel goods, and retail industry organizations to raise awareness regarding the positive economic potential of the TPP trade agreement.