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Push for Tariff Relief Could be Aided by New ITC Report

Wednesday, May 06, 2020
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

Lawmakers and business groups are intensifying their calls for tariff relief in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, aided by a new International Trade Commission report. Those interested in seeking such relief should contact trade consultant Nicole Bivens Collinson.

(Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg has launched a new resource page to help members of the trade community keep track of the latest COVID-related policies and procedures and understand how best to respond. ST&R will also be conducting a webinar this month on the pandemic’s impact on trade. In the meantime, this ST&R article identifies steps trade businesses can take to mitigate the effects of the crisis.)

The ITC report identifies 112 HTSUS numbers covering imported products related to the pandemic response, including test kits; disinfectants and sterilizing products; medical imaging, diagnostic, oxygen therapy, pulse oximeter, and other equipment; medicines; personal protective equipment; and non-PPE medical consumable and hospital supplies. The total value of imports of these HTSUS numbers (some of which cover goods not related to the pandemic response) in 2019 was $105.3 billion.

According to the report, more than two-thirds of these HTSUS numbers (68 percent) are currently duty-free, while the rest are subject to duties of 2.5 to 16 percent (although each of these is duty-free from one or more countries). Half of the HTSUS numbers (51 percent) are not subject to the Section 301 additional tariffs on imports from China. Of the half (49 percent) that are, 35 percent are subject to a 25 percent tariff, 14 percent are subject to a 7.5 percent tariff, and 51 percent are subject to a whole or partial tariff exclusion (all of which are slated to expire later this year).

The report prompted House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., to call on the Trump administration to suspend all tariffs on the covered products for 90 days. The National Foreign Trade Council echoed that call, saying the report shows that “immediate suspension of tariffs on these items is justified and really important to fighting the pandemic.”

Others are urging the White House to go even further. Hundreds of companies and trade associations asked President Trump in an April 28 letter to (1) extend the duty deferral already granted to imports made during May and June and (2) expand the deferral to “all duties and fees.” The limited 90-day duty deferral only benefits some U.S. companies, the letter explained, while expanding the deferral “would immediately free up billions of dollars of working capital” for many others “to pay suppliers, employees, service providers and other critical stakeholders.”

Three textile and apparel product associations made the same request and argument in an April 30 letter to House and Senate leaders. However, they also recommended suspending duties and tariffs on personal protective equipment; allowing foreign-trade zones to temporarily remove items to off-site, non-activated, secure warehouses for 12-14 months of storage; reviewing current bond requirements so sureties can lower collateral requirements; and renewing the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act and the Generalized System of Preferences, both of which are set to expire this year.

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