Fearing Border Tax Plan is Alive and Well, Retail CEOs March on Washington

The proposed border-adjustment tax proposal that has split the CEO community may not be dead just yet.

Some House Republicans, including Speaker Paul Ryan, are reportedly still holding to the idea that a 20% levy on all imports would help fund broader tax reform.

The heads of some of America’s biggest retailers aren’t taking any chances. Later today, they plan to meet with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to reiterate their arguments for scrapping the tax, according to the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

There was no mention of the proposed border tax in the administration’s one-page tax plan released last month, prompting some to question whether it was out of consideration.

“A border adjustable tax will force higher prices on consumer staples such as food, medicine, clothing, electronics and home improvement items.”

Trump, however, may still need to convince Republican debt hawks that cutting taxes won’t blow out the national deficit. A border tax, whether kept in its current form or tweaked, would be a handy way to raise funds. Its proponents argue that it would also encourage companies to stop shifting jobs offshore, playing to Trump’s “America first” campaign pledge.

The 10-member group heading to Washington today includes executives from J.C. Penny, AutoZone, Dollar General, VF Corp, Energizer Holdings, Ikea North America Services, PetSmart, Chico’s FAS, Tractor Supply and PVH.

It will mark the second time a band of retail CEOs have put their case to the administration, with many having already met with Trump in February. They’re coming up against opposition from large exporters, such as Boeing and GE, who would get a tax exemption under the proposal and argue that a strengthening of the U.S. dollar would offset any negative impact on importers.

At least one retailing veteran, former Wal-Mart CEO Bill Simon, has come out in support of the border tax, conditional on retailers being given some sort of adjustment period.

The vast majority of his industry peers, however, including the current heads of Walmart and Target, aren’t so sure.

“Taxing imports would have a disproportionate impact on U.S. retailers, who by necessity import much of their product,” the NILA said on its website. “A border adjustable tax will force higher prices on consumer staples such as food, medicine, clothing, electronics and home improvement items.”

Ross Kelly :Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.