Chinese Tariffs and their Effect on the Tile Industry

Many people have asked us about how the newly implemented Chinese tariffs will affect the tile and flooring industry. They wanted us to go into detail about the actual tariffs and their impact. Here it is. 

Retailers and product-based companies in many consumer categories are affected by the new tariffs and countervailing charges implemented on goods from China. The threat of anti-dumping charges is imminent. Keep reading to see what these changes mean and how each has increased. Keep in mind most importers, like Architectural Ceramics, imported excess stock to get through this transition.

TARIFFS

A tariff is a duty or tax for a specific class of imports from a government. Tariffs or duties are different rates based on the type of material and their country of origin. 

Before 2019, the duty for tile imported from China was:

  • 8.5% for unglazed ceramic
  • 10% for unglazed porcelain
  • 8.5% for glazed ceramic and porcelain
  • 2.7% for glass
  • 4.9% for stone

At the end of 2018, duties went up by +10% for all the categories. For example, if a duty was 8.5%, it went to 18.5%.

Then in the summer of 2019, duties went up by 25%. For example, if a duty was 8.5%, it went to 33.5%. 

An additional increase of 8.5% + 30% was expected in October but has been postponed. Keep in mind; we are not alone as other countries have had these tariffs before us.

COUNTERVAILING

Countervailing duties are when a foreign government subsidizes, provides credit insurance or loans, or gives tax incentives to their factories to overproduce material meant for export. The Chinese government does subsidize their factories in different ways; they aren’t the only country doing this. They sell it at a lesser price than their domestic market for export, which protects their domestic manufacturers. 

The U.S. government now charges countervailing duties to protect our domestic factories (therein the dilemma for many products affected). We didn’t have countervailing before September 10, 2019. It only impacted glazed and unglazed ceramic and porcelain. 

Now with the two duties above 8.5% + 25% and countervailing + 103.77% = 137.27% total duties for glazed. Unglazed is 138.77% total duties. 

Example: Take a tile that’s $3 per sf.

For glazed, the total import taxes are $4.12 in addition to the price of the tile.

For unglazed, the total import taxes are $4.16 in addition to the price of the tile.

A $3 per sf tile is now $7.12 (glazed) and $7.16 (unglazed).

None of this includes the freight charges from the factory to the U.S. port, which varies based on weight but can add 30-60 cents per square foot for a container load and over a dollar for LTL (less than container load).

ANTI-DUMPING

Anti-dumping is a duty or penalty that’s purpose is to defray dumping. Dumping is a term that refers to when materials imported from a foreign manufacturer, are sold into the U.S. and underpriced as compared to our domestic fair market value. The penalty for violating anti-dumping rules may vary from 0% to 550% of the cost of the tile on the bill of lading. Sources say a decision on the final fines will come out in December.

SOURCING OPTIONS

Now you know why China isn’t an ideal source of supply anymore for ceramic and porcelain tiles. Here is the good and the bad of it. Our first considerations for buying from a factory are quality, price, style, and social responsibility. The Chinese factories we work with employ educated adults, provide decent living quarters (think garden apartments in SoCal), have chefs, organic gardens, and attractive vacation and pay packages. They are the lower middle class in China with a decent life.

An influx of porcelain tile factories in the U.S. has opened over the last decade. Most of them are owned by foreign companies, meaning a lot of those profits leave the country. A porcelain tile factory doesn’t employ many people because they’re robotic in nature. The plus is while the pricing is similar to European factories, they are closer, more convenient, and are getting better at making attractive tiles. One of the things missing is double-loaded porcelain tiles used for monochromatic styles. The unglazed porcelain has a colored porcelain patterned layer on top and an uncolored porcelain body on the bottom, which remains unseen when installed, which is great for commercial use. You see these in malls and airports. 

The problem with U.S. factories is that there are very few high-volume ceramic factories and very little innovation at commercial (affordable) price points. They make the old 6×6 and 3×6 glazed tiles. Not much new design going on there. They cost more than internationally sourced tiles, making them prohibitive for commercial applications. No high-production factories make tiles like our Gilt Brick at an affordable price. The U.S. has a long way to go in innovation to do that. China has made it easy to develop quality porcelain-based subway tile and ceramic decorative wall tiles at an attractive price. Many other countries don’t have the machinery or the development staff to produce them. Spain is probably the front runner after China for developing a tad more expensive decorative wall tile.

“No high-production factories make tiles like our Gilt Brick at an affordable price. The U.S. has a long way to go in innovation to do that.

White wall and floor tiles are still the predominant tiles sold in the USA, and most come from China primarily comprised of mosaicswhite subway tiles, and larger thicker white wall tiles.  Overall, the porcelain and ceramic mosaics you buy from U.S. “manufacturers” are made in China. Those white and black hexes, penny rounds in awesome colors? Yup, almost all from China. If the mosaic is higher priced, it’s from Japan or Europe. Mosaics have caught a lot of us with our pants down. We are scrambling to source from other countries since there isn’t similar pricing with the USA made materials. Many Chinese factories are setting up shop in Vietnam and other Asian countries. Importers are speaking with Central and South American countries. The challenges are the quality and prices we all enjoyed. 

When we first started importing mosaics twenty years ago from Asia, they weren’t outstanding quality. Product quality from China got better over the past decade, prompting former mosaic makers like Mexico and Brazil to stop producing them. Most have Chinese products in their catalogs. Our solution will be a mixture of recycled glass and porcelain mosaics we will develop with a few different factories nearer to the States. 

For white subway tiles, unless it’s a USA specialty tile company (you’ll know by the higher price, and it’s usually thicker; even some of those were developed and come from China sold under their label), those subway tiles we love come from China. They had the perfect storm. Now we are looking to South America, Mexico, and India for these products. The problem is, the tile body under the white glaze is really attractive from China. Brazilian, Mexican, and Indian produced tiles have different clay bodies creating a darker background for the white glaze to sit on. The saturation of the white isn’t always as opaque. Some countries use primarily red clay bodies to put the white glossy glaze on.

We’re working on getting the best possible look we can. We also may not get the sizes we love right away because these countries’ standard sizes are unlike ours. The U.S. has been making their rectangles longer and longer. From 3×6 to 2×8 (love it), 3×9 (love it), 4×12, and 4×16. Some of the new sizes we’re seeing excite us, but others probably won’t fly in the U.S. market. The craftmanship is also lacking in many cases. We want the glaze to go over the edge of the tile a little, so it doesn’t look like it has a dark picture frame around it. The last comment on this: finding a socially responsible factory will be challenging in a few of these countries.

Larger and thicker white glazed wall tiles are the top seller commercially. These are usually a harder ceramic or a porcelain tile with a polished white glaze that sells 80% glossy and 20% in the matte finish. It’s as thick as a regular porcelain tile at 3/8″. The most typical size is 12×24, but there can be other similar sizes. Our most common size and thickness isn’t manufactured in the USA. Recently, we asked a tile manufacturer in Tennessee if they would please open up a ceramic wall tile line. The best prices aren’t in the Western hemisphere, so possibly India will be the go-to place as they already do a fair job of this type of tile. The best quality, sizing, pricing, and social responsibility will stand up.

In summary, the whole situation isn’t apples to apples on how U.S. manufacturing is affected by Chinese tariffs. Unglazed and glazed ceramic and porcelain tiles from China now cost more than twice as much. We will still have to source outside of the United States for at least in the short term because of lacking supply domestically. If anyone who reads this wants to open a ceramic tile factory in the United States, let me know.

We hope this helped with some of your concerns on tariffs for tiles from China. Please feel free to contact owner and CEO Betty Sullivan at betty@architecturalceramics.com with questions. 

Betty Sullivan is the CEO of a majority woman-owned Architectural Ceramics, Inc. 


Our staff is happy to help with your specific project. Visit one of our Metro DC/Baltimore/Atlanta tile showrooms or talk to your commercial representatives at www.architecturalceramics.com/locations.

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