Washington — Will tariffs on a consumer good like injection molded children's car safety seats potentially lead to more jobs and investment in the United States, or will it only raise prices, weaken safety and hurt U.S. consumers?
That question was on the table June 17, as the administration of President Donald Trump opened seven days of hearings on its latest China tariff plan, this time on $300 billion in imports.
This round of tariffs, the largest yet, includes plastic child safety seats.
Seat maker Dorel Juvenile Group Inc. told the hearing that if tariffs are put in place, it could easily expand production at its large injection molding plant in Columbus, Ind. to meet demand for made-in-the-U.S. seats.
But several others in the children's safety products industry spoke against the proposed 25 percent tariffs. They sharply questioned whether the U.S. had enough manufacturing capacity to quickly adjust to the tariffs, since 90 percent of children's products come from Asian factories, mostly China.
Because Chinese factories for plastic molding and other technologies are tightly woven into supply chains, they contend that will lead to significantly higher prices for U.S. consumers, with younger, less affluent parents feeling the pinch the most.
Car seats and children's safety products took up part of the first morning of the hearings, which are expected to have more than 300 witnesses and stretch over seven days. Other executives from the plastics industry are scheduled to appear.
The debate around car seats mirrored others, with speakers divided over to what extent tariffs would spur U.S. manufacturing and raise prices.
Tim Gallogly, Dorel director of legal affairs, said tariffs would raise his company's prices at most 3-5 percent, suggesting to government investigators that the tariffs would have minimal impact on consumers.
The company was not directly urging tariffs, but neither was it standing in the way if that's what the government decided, it said in written comments.
"The imposition of tariffs on child safety seats will not cause disproportionate harm to U.S. consumers, and Dorel does not oppose the imposition of such tariffs," Dorel said.
Gallogly told the hearing, a fact-finding exercise organized by the U.S. Trade Representative's office, that his company could quickly boost its annual production by one-third, to 4 million seats a year.
He said the Indiana plant is the world's largest children's safety seat factory and the only significant U.S. production in an industry that relies heavily on Chinese imports. Right now, the 700 employees make 3 million car seats a year, accounting for about 30 percent of U.S. demand, Gallogly said.
"Although the company sources some components from overseas, it relies on U.S. workers to design, mold, assemble and test the finished child safety seat," the company wrote. "Dorel believes the quality and safety of its child safety seats are enhanced through the domestic manufacture of seats."