US excludes Chinese face masks, medical gear from tariffs as coronavirus spreads

A Chinese tourist wearing a protective mask waits at Sheremetyevo airport, outside Moscow, Russia. Photo: AFP. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

WASHINGTON D.C., Mar 7, 2020, Reuters. The United States Trade Representative’s office in recent days granted exclusions from import tariffs for dozens of medical products imported from China, including face masks, hand sanitising wipes and examination gloves, filings with the agency showed on Friday (March 6), The Straits Times reported.

Many of the exclusion requests for medical products appear to have been expedited amid the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak, with approvals granted just over one month past a Jan 31 application deadline.

Requests to exclude other products from President Donald Trump’s Section 301 tariffs on Chinese goods have taken months.

Apple Inc’s requests for exclusions on products from AirPod headphones to the HomePod smart speaker filed on Oct 31 are still pending.

Medline International has already received exclusions on 30 products ranging from surgical gowns to face masks and medicine cups, most of which the company applied for at the end of January. A number of the exclusions were granted on Thursday, USTR documents showed.

The products were included in a fourth round of tariffs on Chinese goods imposed by Mr Trump on Sept 1, 2019, amid heated US-China trade negotiations.

The tariff rate on the medical products was initially set at 15 per cent, but was lowered to 7.5 per cent on Feb 15 as part of the phase one US-China trade agreement. The deal leaves in place tariffs on about US$370 billion (S$510 billion) worth of imports from China, including 25 per cent duties on goods valued at around US$250 billion.

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