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WASHINGTON—The business coalition opposing White House plans to levy tariffs against Chinese goods has doubled to 107 trade groups, ranging from such Washington, D.C. heavyweights as the National Retail Federation and the Security Industry Association to such smaller local groups as the San Diego Customs Brokers Association.
The group’s latest lobbying effort is a letter addressed to the chairman and ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee warning that “the impact of a trade war and tariffs would be felt by businesses, workers, farmers, consumers throughout the U.S. and across industry sectors.”
The group wants the Trump administration to drop its plans to levy tariffs on as much as $150 billion of imports from China to force Beijing to end what the administration alleges are violations of U.S. intellectual property rights. Instead, the group urged the U.S. to lead an international coalition opposed to Chinese practices that would include “clearly defined objectives, deadlines and immediate negotiations with China.”
The administration has said tariffs are necessary to get China to make meaningful change, but it hasn’t publicly stated what actions Beijing could take for the U.S. to drop the tariff threat.
According to the letter, organized by the National Retail Federation and the Information Technology Industry Council, which hosts periodic meetings of the group, tariffs “will not effectively advance our shared goal” of changing objectionable Chinese practices, including forced technology transfers and improper government subsidies. Tariffs, the letter argues, are “hidden, regressive taxes that will be paid by U.S. businesses and consumers in the form of higher product prices.”
The coalition, which was put together about a month ago, has had some success. A mid-March letter from the coalition, then amounting to 45 trade groups, asked the administration not to use tariffs in what was then a brewing fight with China. The administration turned that down. But it did agree to the group’s request that it set up a period for industry to comment on proposed tariffs.
That comment period, on the first $50 billion of goods facing tariffs, ends May 22. The United States Trade Representative plans a second round of comments after it publishes “in the near future” a list of an additional $100 billion of Chinese goods that may be hit with tariffs, said a USTR official.
The administration had hoped that U.S. business would back its effort to get China to change its trade behavior. Instead, White House tactics have become the focus of business groups.
The coalition is becoming so broad that the few big groups that aren’t involved stand out. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which signed the first letter, didn’t sign this one. The National Association of Manufacturers didn’t sign either one. Both, though, have clearly opposed tariffs.
The Semiconductor Industry Association hasn’t been a part of either letter and has been milder in its criticism, saying in one statement that it hopes “to work with the administration to avoid tariffs.” The administration has said that it is trying to help defend the interests of semiconductor makers and other high-tech firms.
Write to Bob Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org