U.S. lawmakers urge Trump administration to extension tariff exclusions for PPE

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer speaks at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on President Donald Trump’s 2020 Trade Policy Agenda on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., June 17, 2020. Anna Moneymaker/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A bipartisan group of 75 lawmakers is urging the Trump administration to extend exclusions from import tariffs on medical products imported from China, including face masks, hand sanitizing wipes and examination gloves, that expire on Dec. 31.

In a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the lawmakers said failure to extend the exclusions would hurt small businesses already suffering from stay-at-home orders aimed at containing the spread of the new coronavirus.

They said they recognized that the exclusions were granted in part to give U.S. companies more time to diversify their supply chains out of China. But companies needed more time to complete those efforts given continuing travel restrictions, they said.

“Extending exclusions before they expire will help with pandemic response, and it will save jobs, businesses and livelihoods. We strongly urge you to extend all active exclusions before they expire at the end of this year,” the lawmakers said in the letter, which was dated Friday.

“Our economy remains in a fragile state due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and many of the expiring exclusions are critical to the pandemic response,” the letter said.

The exclusions cover inputs for household and professional cleaning goods, personal protective equipment and medical supplies, including equipment needed to administer COVID-19 vaccines, they said.

The USTR in March granted exclusions from import tariffs here for dozens of medical products as the coronavirus outbreak widened.

The products were included in a fourth round of tariffs on Chinese goods imposed by President Donald Trump on Sept. 1, 2019. The tariff rate on the medical products was initially set at 15%, but was lowered to 7.5% on Feb. 15 as part of the Phase 1 U.S.-China trade agreement.

The USTR had no immediate comment on the lawmakers’ request.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Dan Grebler