Tariffs on Chinese goods are a major reason the U.S. is experiencing nationwide shortages of hand sanitizer, disinfectants and other coronavirus-fighting imports, according to a Wall Street Journal report on Sunday (April 12).
Public filings indicate that over the past few weeks, medical supply firms have filed numerous requests for tariff relief. These companies have said that tariffs make for higher costs on necessary items to fight the coronavirus and lead to shortages in some cases.
Although China and the U.S. came to a limited trade agreement in January, the U.S. still levies tariffs on roughly $370 billion in Chinese merchandise. Companies can, however, request a temporary exemption from the tariffs.
“Having access to international markets for critical medical supplies is a blessing, not a curse,” said Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Chemical maker Lubrizol, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, requested a suspension of the 25 percent tariff on the disinfectant glutaraldehyde. The company said the product is effective at killing the coronavirus, and its Chinese distributor donated it to Wuhan hospitals.
Tariffs on the viscose rayon fibers used to make sanitary wipes “are a significant financial imposition” as the Benson, N.C. factory Berry Global Group strains to meet orders.
Florida import professional George Kenhan said he tried to meet clients’ demands for hand sanitizer shortage but tariffs discouraged a lot of orders, particularly big orders.
“It will handcuff the importers because they’re not going to be able to bring in as much,” he said.
Other companies asking for tariff relief include Mindray, a medical-device importer based in New Jersey. It specifically asked for relief for its anesthesia machines with built-in ventilators, which are manufactured in China and can treat coronavirus patients.
Fabric for hospital bedsheets made by Standard Textile in South Carolina and Georgia can only be found in China, and is subjected to tariffs.
“These sheets are desperately needed because hospitals are dramatically increasing the number of beds available for the anticipated surge in COVID-19 patients,” the company said.
The coronavirus pandemic is the world’s most serious challenge since World War II ended. The worst is likely still to come, according to the most recent Brookings-Financial Times Tracking Indexes for the Global Economic Recovery (TIGER).