April 6, 2020 / 11:15 PM / 2 months ago

U.S. lawmakers seek probe of trade in products needed for pandemic fight

FILE PHOTO: House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) talks to reporters ahead of a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on a coronavirus economic aid package on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Citing concerns about severe supply disruptions, senior U.S. lawmakers on Monday called for an expedited investigation by the U.S. International Trade Commission into specific imported products needed to combat the new coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, a Democrat, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, a Republican, asked the U.S. ITC to provide details about the source countries for those products, as well as tariff classifications and duty rates, by April 30.

They said the information would be used to help the committees and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) propose or take “appropriate and responsive actions,” but gave no details.

“As we grapple with the challenges presented by the novel coronavirus, we are keenly aware that our challenges are being severely exacerbated by disruptions and deficiencies in our supply of equipment, inputs, and substances needed for treating and otherwise responding to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Grassley and Neal wrote in their letter to ITC Chairman David Johanson.

USTR on March 20 opened a docket for businesses and individuals to propose the possible exclusion of goods needed for the pandemic response from U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods.

Some critics have argued that U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods could be impeding the response to the pandemic. A huge surge in demand worldwide has interrupted flows of medical supplies and protective gear and led to shortages of many products.

The Trump administration has already granted exclusions for a number of Chinese goods, but officials have rejected a blanket 90-day deferral of all duties on Chinese goods proposed by some U.S. companies to ease the economic impact of the pandemic.

To help shape the USTR and congressional response, the committees asked the ITC to provide detailed information for each product deemed necessary.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal and David Lawder; Editing by Chris Reese and Tom Brown

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