Retail industry groups sought stronger crisis response from the U.S. government amid the coronavirus pandemic that has sickened more than 137,000 people around the world and sent global markets tumbling.
The official economic response so far to COVID-19 has included major steps, including an infusion of $1.5 trillion in short-term funding from the Federal Reserve to protect against market collapse, as well as a “national emergency” declaration on Friday by President Trump, which would deploy $50 billion in funding to target the outbreak.
“Our most effective weapon right now is to limit the damage…and slow the spread of the virus,” Trump said at a White House press conference on Friday afternoon. “In the coming weeks, we will all have to make changes and short-term sacrifices.”
But retail businesses in the U.S. also need relief from tariffs, two dozen groups including the National Retail Federation, the American Apparel & Footwear Association, the California Fashion Association and Council of Fashion Designers of America wrote in a letter Friday to the National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow.
The groups called for the “immediate elimination” of Section 301 tariffs, which refers to the provision of the U.S. Trade Act of 1974 that underpinned the U.S. inquiry into China’s trade and intellectual property practices. Such tariffs, which have been implemented in stages since 2018, have affected products imported from China including apparel, accessories, footwear, textiles and back-to-school products.
Not only should the tariffs be removed, but there should also be a “retroactive refund” of duties imposed on such imports, the groups said.
“We can think of no other policy tool at the administration’s disposal that would have such a fast and beneficial impact as the immediate and retroactive removal of these tariffs,” the groups said in the letter.
“Such a move would instantly put billions of dollars back into the U.S. economy,” they wrote. This action also would provide certainty to American companies and encourage new hiring and new investment — moves that are now on hold given the unprecedented uncertainty facing the U.S. economy.”
The U.S. has imposed stages of tariffs on product categories totaling hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese imports. Retail groups have vehemently opposed them, arguing that they lead to increased costs ultimately borne by American companies and consumers.
“American consumers would also see benefits given that these tariffs act as a tax that often show up at retail in the form of higher prices,” the groups said.