U.S.-China Trade Uncertainty: Section 301 Tariff State of Play

November 26, 2019

The Situation: Recent reports indicate that the United States and China may soon reach an initial, limited trade deal that could involve the United States phasing out some existing tariffs on Chinese-origin goods while refraining from imposing a new round of tariffs scheduled for imposition on December 15, 2019.

The Result: Since July 2018, the United States government has imposed billions of dollars in tariffs on Chinese-origin goods pursuant to Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 (“Section 301”). During September 2019 alone, the United States collected approximately $7 billion in tariffs on imports of Chinese-origin goods. Although limited relief may be in store, until a comprehensive resolution of the “trade war,” companies with trans-Pacific trade or supply chains will contend with the threat of additional tariffs.

Looking Ahead: Companies should continue to consider and take advantage of options to mitigate or avoid paying Section 301 duties. This includes monitoring product exclusions granted by the United States Trade Representative (“USTR”) for goods included on the first three lists of Chinese-origin products subject to Section 301 tariffs and filing product exclusion requests for goods on the fourth list of Chinese-origin products subject to Section 301 tariffs and any other future lists.

Reports indicate that the trade deal could involve the United States refraining from imposing new tariffs on approximately $155 billion in goods that were scheduled to go into effect on December 15 (the so-called “List 4B” tariffs), but also that the United States would eliminate duties on the $110 billion worth of goods imposed in September 2019 (“List 4A”). There also reportedly has been discussion about lowering the 25% duty on approximately $250 billion worth of goods imposed over the last year and a half (“Lists 1-3”). Despite these reports, President Trump has refuted the idea that the United States had agreed to roll back all Section 301 tariffs on Chinese-origin goods, and has indicated that the United States will increase tariffs on Chinese-origin goods if the two countries cannot reach an agreement.

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