How President Trump’s Import Taxes Impede the U.S. COVID-19 Response

Here’s a question for an enterprising reporter to ask President Trump at his next coronavirus press conference: “Why are you continuing to impose import taxes on products that are needed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic?”

According to White House trade advisor Peter Navarro, “We move in ‘Trump time’ to solve problems.” The tariff exclusion process gives one example of how Trump Time works. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is taking requests from American companies seeking to have products that could be helpful fighting COVID-19 excluded from tariffs. As COVID-19 cases continue to pile up across the country, the federal docket for exclusion requests runs until June 25.

Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Tom Carper (D-DE) have asked the administration to move faster: “We must support these American manufacturers to the fullest possible extent. To that end, we urge you to immediately and broadly suspend 301 tariffs on products identified by manufacturers as necessary inputs for the production of critical medical supplies." House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA) has called for a 90-day suspension of all tariffs on products relevant to responding to the COVID-19 public health crisis.

But in response to increasing requests for tariff relief, Navarro wisecracked: ““There are no discussions within the White House about that. That is simply a fake news gambit by the usual Wall Street suspects who never met an American job they didn’t want to offshore for the sake of a buck.”

Here are excerpts from a few of the hundreds of tariff-exclusion requests and comments provided in response to Federal Register docket number USTR-2020-0014.


Gaylord Chemical Company L.L.C., in its role as a manufacturer of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO, requests exclusion from the current China tariff on a critical raw material. This raw material, dinitrogen tetroxide (N2O4, CAS [10544-72-6]) is absolutely required by Gaylord to produce DMSO. DMSO is a critical raw material in the production of Gilead Science’s anti-viral drug Remdesivir. This drug is in accelerated clinical trials to treat patients inflected with the COVID-19 virus.” The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just approved Remdesivir for emergency use with patients hospitalized with COVID-19. 

ThermoWorks, Inc. requests that the United States Trade Representative ("USTR") grant an exclusion from Section 301 tariffs for non-contact clinical digital thermometers. Specifically, we seek Section 301 tariff exclusion for the ThermoWorks WAND. A non-contact forehead thermometer which is FDA-Cleared for human temperatures. It is critically important that healthcare professionals and the public have access to this product in the largest possible volume during this crisis. If an exclusion is granted it would allow us to manufacture and import an increased quantity of this essential tool.” 

Standard Textile Co., Inc. of Cincinnati, Ohio respectfully requests that you exclude reusable woven surgical and isolation gowns classified under HTS No. 6211.43.1091 from additional duties imposed pursuant to Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974. During his news conference on April 19, President Trump announced that the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) plans to acquire at least 64 million reusable gowns to supply the U.S. healthcare system. President Trump also announced that Standard Textile is one of the companies that has been awarded a FEMA contract to supply reusable isolation gowns. It makes no sense for the U.S. government to impose additional duties of 7.5% on reusable gowns from China that will then be sold to the U.S. government. The U.S. healthcare system is desperately in need of reusable medical gowns to protect U.S. healthcare workers. USTR should not inhibit the supply of reusable medical gowns by imposing additional duties on these products during a national emergency.” 

First Light Technologies, Inc. is supplying UV lamp to equipment suppliers to manufacture equipment to sterilize PPE for the medical industry. We are requesting an immediate exclusion of these tariffs to help us fight the virus. Additionally we are still waiting over 1 year for a refund of the $85,000.00 due for the USTR for tariffs already paid. PLEASE HELP!!” 

“Our company is requesting that the USTR immediately exclude Other Disinfectant Preparations, classified under 3808.94, which is currently subject to 25% tariff from list 3 in section 301. Hilo primarily serves the U.S. Government and CISA designated critical infrastructure clients including industrial and banking clients. Our products are used by our customers employees and their customers to enable them to work and patronize safely to help combat and control COVID-19.” 

“The burden of a 7.5% duty for Chinese viscose only handicaps our U.S. manufacturers while they work to produce a variety of products including but not limited to wound care, alcohol swabs, surgical absorbent pads, medical procedure wipes, general cleaning wipes and other P.P.E. which include viscose in their manufacture. Therefore removing the duties on inputs not available in this region, specifically rayon viscose fiber which has not been manufactured in the U.S. for well over a decade, will encourage and facilitate this production. Duties on these inputs need to be removed immediately in order to encourage U.S. companies that they will be able to produce a competitive product not only now, in an emergency, but in the future if they are going to further invest in such manufacturing.” 

“We are an industrial sewing machine distributor that services customers in all aspects of sewn products and related. Many of our customers sew medical apparel and related medical products. Since the Trump administration has reached out to private enterprise, we have had many requests for a medical mask manufacturing system that we import from China. These systems fully automate several different mask types, and one style can produce 6000 pleated masks per hour. Many of the customers contacting us are responding to the request from the US government for help. At present, the machines fall into the 301 tariff. Is there going to be a suspension of the tariff on these type of machines, to help combat the Covid-19 virus, and to help our customers defray the cost of helping the citizens of the US?”

“The additional duty on glutaraldehyde should be lifted, as glutaraldehyde has been used to limit the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak. Glutaraldehyde is a powerful disinfectant that can be used to kill the coronavirus. In fact, this material works so well that Lubrizol’s supplier in China donated a large supply to hospitals in Wuhan to aid in disinfecting the hospitals to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The data received from our supplier indicates that glutaraldehyde has the potential to be used as a disinfectant in the US. Lubrizol is evaluating this product for domestic use. Lifting the Section 301 tariff on glutaraldehyde may enable other companies within the United States of America evaluate this product as well in their own efforts to stop the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.”

“Respirator masks are essential to combatting infectious disease in the United States, including COVID-19. At a time when food service, retailers and medical-care facilities are operating under severe strain, keeping already healthy individuals out of hospitals is more important than ever. Ezycare respirator masks are essential to protect users from exposure to bacteria and infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, and to effectively reduce its transmission. Therefore, it is essential to exclude tariffs on respirator masks to continue the free course of this product around the world.”

“In order to help combat and control COVID-19 further and help avoid the spread of germs exponentially, and not effect the end consumer financially with higher retail prices, we humbly request that USTR grant our request to immediately exclude hand sanitizers under 3824.99.9297 from Section 301.” 


These anecdotal examples back up the work of Chad Bown, Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. On March 13, Bown documented how President Trump’s tariffs are hampering the U.S. response to COVID-19. Unfortunately, many American companies remain stuck in Trump Time, waiting for relief. 

Peter Navarro recently said, ““One of the beautiful things that this crisis has unveiled is the power of the federal government merging with the power of private enterprise.” There is nothing beautiful about this crisis, and that includes the federal government continuing to tariff goods needed by private American businesses to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.