By David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Friday said it was soliciting public comments on lifting additional tariffs on Chinese imports that could help the United States battle the coronavirus pandemic, showing some flexibility in its trade war against Beijing.
The U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) office said it would allow members of the public, businesses and government agencies “to submit comments if they believe further modifications to the (Section) 301 tariffs may be necessary”
It said the move was part of an effort “to keep current on developments in our national fight against the coronavirus pandemic.”
The USTR has in recent weeks granted “Section 301” tariff exclusions for certain medical products from China, including medical masks, examination gloves and antiseptic wipes.
But as it battles to try to keep the U.S. economy from collapsing amid quarantine orders and halted commerce, the Trump administration so far has been resistant to broader removals of tariffs imposed over the past 20 months on some $370 billion worth of Chinese imports annually, despite calls from industry that this would be an instant tax cut worth tens of billions of dollars.
Trump considers his trade pressure on China among the biggest achievements of his presidency and a top argument for re-election in November.
The trade war has hit a vast range of Chinese goods with tariffs, from machinery and chemical feedstocks to semiconductors, printed circuit board and consumer goods.
In return, China has hit U.S. farm and other products with retaliatory tariffs, but has pledged to vastly increase purchases of these goods under a “Phase 1” trade deal that took effect Feb. 15.
USTR did not specify a deadline for submitting comments to a federal website https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=USTR-2020-0014.
“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.”
(Reporting by David Lawder. Editing by Gerry Doyle)