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The United States and China signed a phase one trade deal in Washington on January 15, before the extent of the coronavirus epidemic in China was apparent. Photo: AFP

China to refund US trade war tariffs on some medical devices amid coronavirus outbreak

  • Medical devices vital to coronavirus diagnosis among those exempt from US trade war tariffs as China tackles shortage of medical supplies
  • China has made multiple moves this week that imply it is trying to meet phase one trade deal, signed in January

China said on Friday it would refund tariffs already paid on a list of 55 US-made products including medical devices, engine components and timber products.

The list of products includes some medical devices that are essential for the diagnosis of coronavirus, which causes the disease officially known as Covid-19, and which has already infected more than 75,000 people and killed more than 2,000 in China. These products include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) parts and X-rays tubes, a key component in radiography.

The move also suggests China is attempting to stick to the terms of the phase one trade deal, signed with the United States on January 15, despite the economy facing severe pressure from the coronavirus epidemic.

The Customs Tariff Commission of the State Council said in a notice that it would not collect tariffs on a list of 55 products from February 28 this year to February 27 next year. Importers that have been paying tariffs could apply for a refund over the course of a six-month period from Friday.

Tariffs will also be postponed on a further 10 products, including some scientific instruments such as gene sequencers and temperature sensors, over the same data range. However, tariff rebates will not be available on these items, the notice said.

The notice said there would be further tariff removal, but did not specify a timetable.

As a result of the epidemic, China is facing a shortage of medical supplies. Beijing appointed state planner the National Development and Reform Commission to be responsible for the provision of face masks this month.

Earlier this week, Beijing said it would allow importers to apply for exemptions to trade tariffs on nearly 700 types of US goods, including farm and energy products.

China announced at the start of February that it would halve additional tariffs on US$75 billion of American products imposed last year. A 10 per cent tariff was cut to 5 per cent, and 5 per cent tariff to 2.5 per cent on February 14.

The US halved a 15 per cent additional tariff on US$120 billion of Chinese goods to 7.5 per cent.

Last weekend, China announced an end to a ban on US poultry products, while Chinese buyers have begun to resume purchases of some US farm goods, including sorghum, as the world’s second largest economy looks to meet a lofty purchase target as part of the trade deal.

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This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: US medical devices get tariff exemption amid outbreak