Trade Chief, Key Lawmaker Call for Update of U.S. Tariff Tools

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U.S. trade chief Katherine Tai and the top senator overseeing trade policy voiced support for updating the nation’s tariff tools to so officials can avoid applying decades-old laws to current issues.

“We need 2021 tools for addressing the 2021 challenges we have, rather than retrofitting them for the challenges we have now,” Tai said during a Senate Finance Committee hearing Wednesday. “There’s a lot of opportunity here for us to look at problems and challenges we are facing, and to devise tools.”

Trade Chief, Key Lawmaker Call for Update of U.S. Tariff Tools

Tai was responding to a question about section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act, which allows for tariffs without a vote by Congress if imports are deemed a national-security threat. Former President Donald Trump implemented a 25% duty on steel imports and 10% on inward-bound shipments of aluminum three years ago using the statute, saying the tariffs were needed to protect the domestic industry from going under.

Countries have retaliated with tariffs of their own on U.S. goods. Iconic American products affected include Harley-Davidson Inc. motorcycles, Levi Strauss & Co. jeans and bourbon whiskey. Business associations and lawmakers have asked that the U.S. lift the duties, saying they do more harm than good.

The Trump administration’s officials “did the best that they could given the tools that we have,” Tai said, referring to section 232. “It was created at a very different time, certainly created a long time before the WTO was founded. Part of the tensions that have arisen over this important trade remedy is discordance between the authority provided and the nature of the problem.” She referred to the World Trade Organization.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat whose panel oversees trade policy, welcomed the idea of updating the law.

“Not a day goes by when I don’t have a senator talk to me about 232, particularly this idea of modernizing the statute. That’s what it’s all about -- having a toolbox that we can use to deal with our challenges.”

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