U.S. Industry Proposes Trade Measures to Cope with COVID-19’s Economic Impact
26 March 2020
The Business Roundtable (consisting of large U.S. multi-national firms) and Americans for Free Trade (representing 160 companies and associations involved in international trade) recently sent letters to President Trump asking for the removal of previously implemented Section 301 and Section 232 tariffs as part of a plan to help with the COVID-19 economic shock.
When asked at a press conference on 18 March about AFT’s request that the tariffs be dropped, Trump responded: “Who heads that group? Those countries do, probably.” He said he could not imagine “Americans asking for that” and insisted that mainland China “pays us billions and billions of dollars in tariffs.” An AFT spokesman noted that the letter was signed and organised by its U.S. based members, not any foreign country.
The broader-based U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to President Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Democrat-California) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican-Kentucky) describing the establishment of four task forces as part of its COVID-19 response. In addition to three task forces focused on domestic business issues, the Chamber has established a task force focused on supply chain and trade disruptions.
The supply chain task force suggested that the United States:
- work with other countries to eliminate trade restrictions on vital medical equipment such as masks and respirators, as such restrictions compromise the effectiveness of international public health efforts to confront the global threat posed by the pandemic;
- immediately expand its recent exemptions of Section 301 tariffs on medical equipment to include any product used in the provision of medical care;
- work with G-20 nations to establish a global standard for air cargo crew member movement to ensure international networks continue to operate (this might include ensuring that crewmembers not interact with the public and be provided special hotel accommodations for rest requirements, to be exempt from 14-day quarantine requirements);
- work with the express carrier industry to ensure there is sufficient capacity to carry critical medical supplies that have normally been transported by passenger planes; and
- combat price gouging, including holding accountable parties who profit from stolen and counterfeit goods.
The Chamber has also asked the administration to defer any plans to expand Buy American rules under a possible executive order touted by White House trade advisor Peter Navarro.
More recently, some companies are beginning to push for legislation directing U.S. Customs and Border Protection to suspend all import tariffs for 90 days as part of broader efforts now underway to aid the U.S. economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. CBP has discretion to delay import duty payments on a case-by-case basis, and in fact is already considering and granting individual requests. CBP and the White House are debating whether or not to expand this programme into a blanket suspension of all tariffs on all products. Nonetheless, various companies are seeking support in Congress for legislation that would require a 90-day tariff suspension.
- North America