Business leaders and lawmakers are expressing alarm that the White House is apparently not allowing any exemptions to its latest round of China tariffs, which cover $200 billion worth of goods. The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office has yet to create a process for requesting exclusions to the levies, a contrast to previous rounds of tariffs.
“USTR has not issued a formal notice for an exemption process for list 3 [of tariffs] like it has done for lists 1 and 2 and no one in the business community has heard of any plans on their part to hold one,” Christin Fernandez, spokeswoman for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, told the Washington Examiner.
Members of Congress are responding with alarm. A letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer being circulated among lawmakers by Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., usually a critic of free-trade policies, urges the administration to restore the process.
“These stakeholders … deserve the chance to make their case to USTR regarding the same questions presented to those affected by the first two sets of tariffs,” the letter says. It currently has 50 cosigners, according to Pascrell’s spokesman, and is expected to be sent to the USTR this week. A bipartisan group of 169 House and Senate lawmakers made a similar plea in a letter sent last week to Lighthizer.
A spokeswoman for the trade representative's office decline to comment.
President Trump placed tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods last month, putting the total amount of goods covered by tariffs at $250 billion. The White House had previously hit $16 billion and $34 billion worth of goods with tariffs, but has allowed stakeholders to request exclusions from them. The deadline for requesting exclusions for the $34 billion round of tariffs expired on Oct. 9.
[Related: Apple to benefit from exemption in next round of China tariffs: Report]
The lack of a similar process for the current round came as a shock for the business community. The current round of tariffs on China goods are just 10 percent, but they will increase to 25 percent at the beginning of next year, meaning many businesses could see steep cost increases soon.
Lawmakers and business groups see the lack of exclusions as a troubling precedent. The White House has repeatedly indicated that it may hit an additional $267 billion worth of Chinese goods with tariffs. That would be enough to cover all remaining imports coming into the U.S.
The White House has shown more flexibility regarding its steel and aluminum tariffs, granting approximately 1-in-5 requests for exclusions. However, the steel and aluminum tariffs exclusion process is run by the Commerce Department, a separate agency from the USTR. A spokesman for the department said any exclusions to the China tariffs were exclusively up to the USTR.