Every day, Americans buy tens of thousands of cheap products from China—jeans, electronics, things made of plastic. Two months ago, I even bought a wedding dress.
We buy stuff from China mostly because the low cost of living and lax labor regulations allow manufacturers to make products cheaply there. But there’s another reason, too. It’s really cheap to send stuff from China to the United States, which means sellers there can charge barely anything to ship an already-cheap item 6,000 miles across an ocean. Want an eyebrow razor? On Wish.com, a site that sells products directly from China, you can buy one for 95 cents, plus a $2 shipping fee. A similar eyebrow razor on Walmart.com, by contrast, costs $2.62 for a three-pack, but there is a shipping fee of $5.99. According to congressional testimony, at current rates, shipping a parcel to Fairfax, Virginia, from North Carolina would cost $1.94. From Shanghai, it would be $1.12.
President Trump has vowed to alter this equation, announcing on Wednesday that he is instructing the U.S. Postal Service to levy higher fees on packages from international destinations, including China. The announcement was not very controversial: A variety of parties involved in e-commerce, from Amazon to U.S. small businesses to sellers on eBay, have been calling on the United States for a long time to charge more for delivery on behalf of foreign postal carriers. The changes could help U.S. small businesses better compete against Chinese merchants while also slowing the flow of counterfeit goods shipped cheaply from overseas.