What's In Your Shopping Cart? A Battleground For Global Trade As a trade war brews between the U.S. and its major trading partners, we looked into the carts of back-to-school shoppers to see how global trade might show up in their baskets
NPR logo

What's In Your Shopping Cart? A Battleground For Global Trade

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/636137025/638442226" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
What's In Your Shopping Cart? A Battleground For Global Trade

What's In Your Shopping Cart? A Battleground For Global Trade

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/636137025/638442226" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


When you're shopping, how often do you think about where your purchases come from? I mean, are you looking at the labels to see where those goods are made? I, for one, don't. Maybe I should. As President Trump has been shaking up America's international trade relationships, NPR's Alina Selyukh did want to see just how much of the world is represented in our shopping baskets, and she sent this report from Hinesville in southeastern Georgia.

ANDREA CONYERS: Sweetheart, why don't you look at some backpacks?

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Andrea Conyers is steering her cart and her daughter through the back-to-school area of Walmart

CONYERS: Sharp turn, sharp turn, sharp turn.

SELYUKH: Her daughter, Aviana, is very organized. She's 7 years old. She's got her second-grade supply list in hand, asks her mom for a pencil to cross things off.

AVIANA CONYERS: OK, what's next? So two pink erasers. So let's go for the dry-erase markers.

CONYERS: All right. You need a fine tip.

AVIANA: Now, let's go find hand sanitizer.

SELYUKH: Of course, the most exciting purchase is a new backpack.

What kind of backpack do you want?

AVIANA: Well, whatever my mom chooses.

SELYUKH: Sure, we believe you, Aviana. She ends up choosing a colorful pack with a strand of doll hair. I'm following the Conyers' shopping trip today for a bit of a thought experiment. President Trump has put the U.S. on a path to a trade war with much of the world, especially with America's biggest trading partners - Canada, Mexico and China. So far, the new tariffs on imports and exports have mostly been felt by U.S. manufacturers and farmers. But it all can feel distant when you're just a consumer shopping. I wanted to see how global trade might actually show up in the baskets of regular American shoppers. Many of them are now stocking up on back-to-school supplies. Conyers and I sort through her basket, searching the labels of pencils made in the Philippines, ear buds made in China, a few notebooks.

CONYERS: Made in India.

SELYUKH: Traveling around the world here.

CONYERS: Yes - Brazil, India, China.

SELYUKH: The Philippines.

CONYERS: Made in the U.S.

SELYUKH: Her basket ends up being split about half and half between foreign-made products and things made or at least assembled in America.

CONYERS: Actually, I'm very pleasantly surprised.

SELYUKH: She says she usually pays attention to where her purchases come from when the quality really matters for her, like food or clothes.

CONYERS: Whatever you buy local, it goes back into your local economy.

SELYUKH: On a larger scale, that's exactly the hope behind the Trump administration's new trade policies. President Trump argues instead of buying things from other countries, make them here, buy them here, create jobs in America. The thing is that's not how products have been made for years. You may have heard the term supply chain. Think of this...

AVIANA: A pack of pencils.

SELYUKH: A pencil might get wood from one place, graphite from another, the rubber eraser comes from a third place, and it might all get assembled in yet another country and then shipped to be sold all over the world. The vast majority of global trade works this way. Trump's trade policies stand to shake that up. Economists say eventually restricting America's role in this global web could lead to higher prices at the store.

NATALIE MONDESIR: I am preparing myself financially.

SELYUKH: Natalie Mondesir is a fourth-grade teacher here in Liberty County.

MONDESIR: I am starting to save a little bit and buy stuff as much as possible while I can.

SELYUKH: Mondesir also has two teenage children.

MONDESIR: I'm usually looking for the best deals because not only am I buying stuff for my own personal children, I usually buy stuff for my class also.

SELYUKH: Today, her shopping list is for her son's eighth-grade science class. And as we set off to see where her purchases come from, things get a bit emotional when Mondesir picks up a box of Crayola colored pencils.

MONDESIR: I always go Crayola only because this has been childhood. I've been to the Crayola factory.

SELYUKH: We look for the label.

MONDESIR: As distributed - what does it mean by distributed? Made in Brazil.

SELYUKH: Made in Brazil.

MONDESIR: Dang, you just broke my heart.

SELYUKH: I'm sorry.

MONDESIR: I went to the Crayola factory when I was little.

SELYUKH: Turns out, Crayola crayons are made in the U.S. but Crayola colored pencils are Brazilian. As I follow Mondesir, we make a couple other observations. Foreign-made pencils are slightly cheaper than made in the USA and sometimes American made isn't even an option.

MONDESIR: OK, now I got to figure out where the locks are.

SELYUKH: Mondesir is looking for a padlock, the kind you put on a school locker.

MONDESIR: Of course, it's made in China. OK.

SELYUKH: I'm guessing that one's also made in China.

MONDESIR: Oh, no, no, Taiwan.

SELYUKH: Packaged in the USA, though.

MONDESIR: Plot twist.

SELYUKH: Very few of the supermarket items have so far been directly affected by the escalating trade dispute. But the next wave of tariffs is expected to hit more consumer-oriented products. It's unclear how much the companies will be able to eat the costs instead of hiking up the prices for shoppers. And Mondesir is particularly worried about one big-ticket item she wants to buy this year - a new car. The auto industry is bracing to be swept up in a costly tariff war. So Mondesir says she is preparing to pay more than she had expected. Alina Selyukh, NPR News, Liberty County, Ga.

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.