The Trump administration took steps on Friday to exempt hundreds of Chinese products from customs duties, ranging from drinking straws to pet supplies.
The U.S. will retroactively remove tariffs on a portion of the $250 billion worth of products that President Donald Trump targeted in 2018, according to three notices published by the USTR in the Federal Register. Other products included certain types of medical supplies, sports equipment and household items.
The United States and China began talks Friday at the level of vice-presidents and Chinese President Hu Jintao. However, the move was seen as an attempt to protect local businesses and consumers from trade conflict rather than as a gesture to resolve the trade dispute.
Tensions between the two countries have escalated this summer, pledging to expand tariffs to a wider range of imports by the end of the year. Signs of public reaction to tariffs have escalated in recent months as their effects are spreading to more consumer products, causing concern for investors, businesses as well as households.
This could pose challenges to Trump during his campaigning for re-election. Recent polls suggest that an increasing number of Americans are worried about tariffs, and will at least partly blame Trump for an economic downturn.
The US president recently admitted for the first time that tariff costs could hurt domestic businesses. In August, it temporarily postponed part of the escalation beyond the holiday shopping season and excluded some products.
“We’re doing this for the Christmas season,” Trump told reporters of the plans. “Just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on US consumers.”
But the White House believes tariffs are still needed to pressure China to change technology and intellectual property rules, which officials say put the United States in an inappropriate position.
One factor considered by SSC officials in the exemption process was whether tariffs on a product could cause “severe economic harm”. Other factors included whether the product was only available in China and its strategic importance to industrial programs there.
Tariff exemptions will apply retroactively to products in three separate batches between July and September 2018, depending on the time they came into effect during that period.