US lets up on import tariffs for Chinese medical supplies

The White House’s trade negotiating office assured U.S. medical supplies importers that it will not impose import tariffs on Chinese products such as ventilators, oxygen masks and nubilators during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Throughout the process of administering its Section 301 action to combat China’s acts, policies and practices related to technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation, the United States has prioritized health considerations, and it is taking additional action for that objective today,” the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) said in a statement on March 20.

In early 2018, USTR imposed the tariffs pursuant to an investigation it led under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act, which allows the assessment of trade remedies to counter any foreign country’s “unreasonable” acts, policies and practices found to have denied U.S. companies “fair and equitable” commercial treatment.

USTR acknowledged that “the imposition of tariffs on certain Chinese imports has resulted in an overall decline in the availability of needed medical equipment and supplies.”

The agency stated, “Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, USTR and the Department of Health and Human Services worked together to ensure that critical medicines and other essential medical products were not subject to additional Section 301 tariffs, including parts needed for MRI devices, combined PET/CT scanners, certain radiation therapy equipment, air purification equipment, and parts of homecare beds; sterile electrosurgical tools; digital clinical thermometers; and more.”

Also, on March 20, USTR opened a docket for industry and government agencies to submit comments seeking further modifications to the Section 301 tariffs.

“This comment process does not replace the current exclusion process and supplements that process,” USTR said. “Submissions are limited to comments on products subject to the tariff actions and relevant to the medical response to the coronavirus.”

On March 19, a coalition of more than 100 trade associations, known as Americans for Free Trade, urged President Trump to use his executive authority to suspend U.S. tariffs still in place on Chinese imports as a measure to counter the economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak.

In addition to the Section 301 tariffs, there were hundreds of millions of dollars imposed on Chinese imports through Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act. The Americans for Free Trade claimed that elimination of the tariffs would increase the U.S. economy by more than $75 billion, or 0.4% of U.S. GDP.