WASHINGTON, Jan 21 — A group of 141 Democratic and Republican lawmakers on Thursday urged President Joe Biden’s top trade official to allow broader exemptions to the tariffs on Chinese goods paid by US firms.

While Beijing should be held accountable for unfair trade practices, the tariffs are hurting US businesses and exacerbating supply issues that are driving up prices, the representatives said in a letter to US Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

The Biden administration in October restored a limited number of products to a list of goods eligible for exclusions from the tariffs, but the lawmakers called for an expansion making all targeted goods eligible for relief.

“We strongly support tough and effective action to address China’s unfair trade practices... and defend our economic interests against unfair competition,” stated the letter signed by Democratic representatives Ron Kind and Suzan DelBene, and Republicans Darin LaHood and Jackie Walorski among others.

But increased costs caused by the tariffs “are undermining the competitiveness of American manufacturing workers.” 

The lawmakers said many industries have felt the impact of the tariffs, from manufacturing and agriculture to retail and energy.

Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump imposed tariffs on Chinese products worth US$370 billion (RM1.5 trillion) in 2018, citing “unfair” trade practices.

But many US companies have criticised the levies, saying they drive up costs, since importers bear the brunt of the impact — a growing concern as shortages of key products have caused US inflation to spike.

The two countries signed a so-called “phase one” trade agreement in January 2020, in which Beijing pledged to increase its purchases of American products and services by at least US$200 billion over 2020 and 2021.

But amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Beijing has fallen fall short of those targets.

Asked about lifting the tariffs, Biden on Wednesday “We’re not there yet,” since China has fallen short of the targets.

The legislators agreed “China must be held accountable for commitments it has made to the United States,” but noted that US firms “continue to struggle through the pandemic and supply chain disruptions” and current tariff exclusions are “too narrow.”

The price of US soybeans soared in Chicago on Thursday amid rumors of major Chinese purchases, launching speculation on possible lifting of customs duties.

According to US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Beijing is US$13 billion behind in its agricultural purchase commitments. — AFP