US trade panel hears harsh criticism of proposed new tariffs – and praise for Chinese craftsmanship
At a public hearing in Washington, American business representatives say added duties on imports will decimate their operations
American business representatives voiced their frustration and anger on Monday over a proposed new round of US tariffs on Chinese imports, telling federal trade officials that the duties would wreak financial havoc on their industries and harm US consumers.
The comments came on the opening morning of a scheduled six-day public hearing before the inter-agency “301 committee” in Washington over possible duties on US$200 billion of Chinese goods – imports that witnesses said were crucial to their business operations.
Witnesses cited the quality of Chinese labour, China’s capacity for production volume and the impossibility of shifting supply chains to other countries on short notice in opposing further punitive tariffs.
The public airing of opposition to the tariffs came on the same day that US President Donald Trump said he had “no time frame” for bringing the trade war to a close. In an interview with Reuters on Monday, Trump, who in the past month called tariffs “the greatest” and said the United States “was built on tariffs”, said he was not hopeful about the outcome of mid-level talks between the US and China scheduled for this week in Washington.
While it is finalising the list of products subject to the new duties, which could go into effect next month, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) is also considering raising the initially proposed 10 per cent tariff to 25 per cent, at Trump’s request.
The tariffs would be the third round to be levied by the US government on Chinese imports. A 25 per cent tax on US$34 billion of goods went into effect in July, followed by 25 per cent duties on another US$16 billion of imports that will begin on Thursday. China has vowed to match the tariffs.
Opening witnesses from the bags, textiles and apparel industries were unanimous in their praise for Chinese workers’ craftsmanship in a sector that has virtually no bearing on matters of national security, one of the Trump administration’s buzzwords in justifying the aggressive tariffs.
Ross Bishop, president of a company that produces specialised luggage for pilots, said that labourers in China were “really good” at their work, adding, “If you pick the right factory, they’re actually artists.”
“Gear bags are not a threat to national security,” said Bishop, who described the tit-for-tat trade war as a political dispute in which his company, BrightLine Bags, was a “game piece.”
David Matheson of Leather Miracles echoed Bishop’s praise of Chinese manufacturing.
“There is no comparison,” Matheson said. “If I was going to put together a team of labour, the first, second, third, fourth and fifth place would be China. And nowhere else.”
In defending the tariffs, the Trump administration has cited China’s ambition to become a world leader in tech and innovation, detailed in the “Made in China 2025” plan. But that justification has left many people in lower-tech industries scratching their heads at the inclusion of their products in the proposed list.
“These are low-tech or ‘dumb’ products,” said Karen Giberson, president of the Accessories Council, which represents 300 firms in the fashion and accessories industry. Her members do not import goods produced in any of Made in China 2025’s 10 sectors, she told the panel.
The US Trade Representative’s Office said on Friday that it had doubled the length of the hearing, held at the US International Trade Commission headquarters, after an unforeseen number of industry figures sought to testify. Written statements will be received until September 6, after which the 301 committee will deliver its recommendations to the USTR.
The committee is named after the “Special 301 Report” into intellectual property rights released by the USTR in April.
The number of people wanting to be heard “speaks volumes about the damage that additional tariffs will do,” the US Chamber of Commerce said in a statement.
Over six days, the panel will hear from more than 350 people, including representatives of companies like Logitech, Fitbit and GE Appliances, as well as academics and legal experts.
Speaking after his testimony on Monday, Stephen Lang, president of the American Bridal Prom Industry Association, pointed to the history books as proof that tariffs were counterproductive.
“If you look at history, punitive taxes don’t work,” he said. “We’re a small country – 360 million people. With all the other countries around, China’s just going to go into business with the other countries.”
Lang, whose association works to protect its more than 400 industry members from counterfeiting and fraud, was emphatic about who should be blamed for the trade dispute, and his concern for those who are becoming collateral damage.
“If you really wanted an economic war, then [Trump] would probably roll out the ships,” he said, using an expletive to refer to the president. “What he’s doing is [saying]: ‘Hey I’m going to shoot you. All you 20 Americans line up in between because I have to shoot you too.’”