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Tariffs and Face Masks: AAFA Fights Double Duties on PPE

Should China-made face masks be subject to tariffs? That issue is at the heart of a fashion trade group’s latest efforts.

In a letter to President Biden on Wednesday, the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) seeks the extension of tariff exemptions on imports of personal protective equipment (PPE) from China, such as face masks, that are set to expire on March 31.

AAFA said that unless renewed, PPE imported from China will be charged double the current tariff rate, resulting in significant price increases for American workers, families and communities still fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. Wednesday also marked day 35 of Biden’s Mask Challenge for Americans to wear a face mask for 100 days to protect against coronavirus, it noted, and the tariffs under reproach are slated to double on day 70.

“Throughout the pandemic, our members have worked night and day to deliver personal protective equipment to the American people,” said Steve Lamar, president and CEO of the AAFA. “This involved repurposing factories and supply chains to meet this new-found need. Unfortunately, many of the barriers they faced early on, such as high tariffs on finished products and the materials needed to manufacture PPE domestically, continue to hamper these efforts. As Americans take on the President’s 100-day mask challenge, it is critical that the government remove these barriers that make it more difficult to follow public health guidelines.”

Section 301 exclusions

In addition, AAFA also requested that Biden direct the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to reinstate the Section 301 product exclusion process that provides the opportunity for American businesses to apply for relief from the punitive tariffs that have been placed on imports from China. AAFA noted that many PPE products were granted exclusions from additional duties under the Section 301 investigations on products from China.

At the end of 2020, USTR issued a notice on the “determination to extend certain product exclusions and to make further modifications to remove Section 301 duties from additional medical-care products to address COVID-19.” Several PPE products, including face masks, were granted an extension until March 31.

“That date is quickly approaching,” Lamar wrote. “We are not aware of any scientific or medical guidance suggesting the COVID-19 pandemic will have ended on that date. The relief for PPE needed to fight that pandemic should not end on that date either.”

Lamar said AAFA was also requesting the elimination of punitive and normal tariffs on surgical and isolation gowns and medical scrubs, as well as the materials used to make them, “to ensure that life-saving PPE quickly gets into the hands of the patients and medical professionals who desperately need these items, as well as to the general public to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

“We understand there are important policy debates about whether such items should even face tariffs and how much of these PPE supply chains should be repatriated,” he wrote. “Those are important questions that need to be resolved in a fair and equitable manner, and we look forward to participating in those discussions. Until then, and while our supply chains are still configured to require these imported items and inputs, we need a PPE tariff policy that does not harm our immediate medical and health needs.”

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