Imported goods are almost 11 percent cheaper than comparable quality domestic products, a Brooking Institution economist reported yesterday in a study meant to support efforts to lower trade barriers.
The economist, Dr. William R. Cline, said his comparison of prices of foreign and American-made versions of 168 products showed consumers save almost $2 billion a year because of lower-priced imports.
Cline's $5,000 study was paid for by the American Retail Federation and the National Retail Merchants Association.
William K. Daines, a spokesman for the two groups that financed the study said they "will use it both with the congress and the administration" to argue in favor reducing tariffs and import quotas on foreign-made goods in the Tokyo Round trade talks.
"There is tremendous pressure for more protectionism," Cline said, citing import quotas on apparel, footwear and television sets, products heavily represented on the list of goods whose prices were studied.
In part the study was meant to counter a Library of Congress report indicating consumers do no get the full benefit of low-priced imports because retailers charge higher markups on the cheaper imported goods. Cline's study did not look at retail profits, but showed prices paid by consumers were lower on the imported goods studied.
Cline said shopping surveys in four different tupes of stores in four different cities found imported apparel prices averaged about 8.7 percent cheaper than comparable domestic goods and imported footwear was 11.5 percent cheaper. A broad assortment of 75 hardgoods items-ranging from coffee mugs and steak knives to television sets and stereos-were 11.8 percent cheaper.
The average savings from buying imports was 10.8 percent, he said, and "low income consumers save as much as 13.1 percent on the purchases of imports" because they tend to buy the lowest priced goods availabe.
Cline said the cheapest imported goods-and the biggest savings to consumers-were from Latin America and Asian nations except Japan. Imports from Europe and Japan averaged less than one half of one percent cheaper than American-made products, in part because luxury items from those countries brought higher prices.
"Imports from developing countries are almost always cheaper than domestic supply," Cline's report said, and imports from developed nations are "are also generally cheaper for apparel, but they are comparable in price for hardgoods and they tend to be more expensive than domestic supplies of footwear."
Shoes from less developed countries-particularly Korea and Taiwan-cost almost 24 percent less than domestic equivalents and clothing imports from those countries are about 12 percent cheaper, the survey found.
Foreign-made television sets-regardless of where they are manufactured-cost an average of 30 percent less than American TV's. Televisions make up about 25 percent of America's imports from Europe, Japan and Canada, the study said, quoting Commerce Department figures.
Cline argued that consumers should not be forced to pay higher prices for these goods because of import quotas. Instead federal subsidies should compensate American firms and workers hurt by competition from low-priced imports.
The estimated $2 billion savings resulting from the availability of imports does not count the impact that competition from imports has on domestic manufacturers, forcing them to hold prices down, Cline said.