WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Trump administration is rushing to finalize a list of $300 billion in Chinese imports it plans to hit with tariffs in a few weeks’ time, as U.S. companies make a last-ditch appeal to be spared from the latest round of duties.
President Donald Trump’s announcement last week on adding a 10% tariff as of Sept. 1 to virtually every Chinese import that’s not yet subject to punitive duties took U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer by surprise, people familiar with the discussions said. Lighthizer and his staff are now under pressure to revise an initial list targeting more than 3,800 Chinese product lines based on issues raised during a public comment period and hearings.
The USTR is planning to publish the final list this week or early next, the people said. In the meantime, companies are making a last-ditch attempt at persuading the Trump administration not to impose duties or to drop items they import from the tariff list.
In a meeting shortly before the president announced the new duties, Lighthizer argued against the new tariffs. He instead urged patience to allow more time for a tariff increase in June to 25% from 10% on an earlier batch of $200 billion worth of Chinese imports to inflict pain on the Chinese economy, the people said.
A USTR spokesman disputed that account, and said the agency was following the same legal process as it had in previous tariff rounds. Trump decides when the tariffs will go into effect and USTR will publish the final list before the effective date, the spokesman said.
Companies are complaining about the lack of certainty for their business decisions and say a couple weeks’ notice isn’t enough time.
“Companies don’t plan by tweet,” Jon Gold, of the National Retail Federation, said. “These are all contracts that are already executed and cargo is on the water.”
After Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping agreed on yet another tariff truce in late June, businesses didn’t expect another escalation this soon and felt like they had more time to plan, Gold added. Companies and trade associations are still trying to weigh in with the administration to make their case and potentially get their products taken off the list.
The proposed list of goods, which USTR published in mid-May, includes consumer items such as smart phones, laptops, clothes and toys.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow this week signaled the tariffs could be called off before Sept. 1 if Beijing shows goodwill on buying American agriculture goods and getting back to the negotiating table.
“The president and our team is planning for a Chinese visit in September,” Kudlow said earlier this week on CNBC. “Movement toward a good deal would be very positive and might change the tariff situation. But then again, it might not.”