A coalition of more than 100 American trade associations asked President Trump on March 19 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 coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
"Together, we urge you to provide tariff relief as one of the measures to help those hurting financially from the economic effects resulting from the current public health crisis," Americans for Free Trade told the president in a letter.
"These tariffs are taxes that Americans pay," the coalition said.
It's estimated that American businesses, which still heavily rely on Chinese imports, collectively spend hundreds of millions of additional dollars a month to cover the cost of U.S. tariffs, which is then passed onto consumers at the checkout.
American for Free Trade cited research by Washington, D.C.-based international trade consultancy Trade Partnership Worldwide, which found that suspending the current tariffs – those imposed under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act and Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act – would increase the U.S. economy by more than $75 billion, or 0.4% of U.S. GDP.
The tariff suspension would also return "discretionary income to families, encouraging capital expenditures by private companies, and instilling market confidence in decisive action to address the current economic situation," the coalition said.
The signing of the "phase one" trade agreement between the U.S. and China on January 15 committed China to purchase more than $200 billion in U.S. goods, which includes $50 billion in farm products, $75 billion in manufactured goods, $50 billion in energy commodities and $40 billion to $50 billion in services.
With the exception of China's recent commitments to remove retaliatory tariffs on myriad U.S. exports, the Trump administration has largely held firm on existing tariffs covering $550 billion in Chinese goods.
"This whole crisis is a vindication of President Trump's tariff policies, which over the last three years have already begun to bring some of our supply chains and jobs home," White House trade advisor Peter Navarro reportedly told The Wall Street Journal in an interview on March 18.
"This letter calling for President Trump to suspend tariffs was not sent by China," Americans for Free Trade spokesperson Jonathan Gold said in a statement. "The letter shares the concerns of U.S. manufacturers, retailers, farmers and agribusinesses who have been paying for tariffs since the president's trade war began."