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Here’s a head-scratcher: Why does the United States slap tariffs on imported goods that U.S. manufacturers and consumers need but that aren’t even available from domestic sources?
The short answer: We shouldn’t. That’s why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce strongly supports the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB). And there are hints that Congress is finally preparing to act on this legislation — more than three years after the last iteration lapsed.
Over the past three decades, a succession of MTBs has provided temporary relief from select tariffs that only “protect” nonexistent domestic producers. These are taxes applied to imported materials and intermediate products that are essential to U.S. manufacturers but unavailable domestically.
In this fashion, the MTB helps U.S. companies maintain their competitive edge. The last MTB supported an estimated 90,000 American jobs.
However, since the last MTB lapsed on December 31, 2012, the MTB has become controversial in the view of some conservatives. In this view, these duty suspensions represent an earmark because they provide a “limited tariff benefit,” which is defined under House rules as benefiting ten or fewer entities.
However, the MTB’s benefits are in no way limited: They are available to all importers of a given product. Look at it the other way around: Why on earth would anyone slap a tax on just ten companies -- or just one?
Fundamentally, the MTB is a tax break, not an earmark. It makes no appropriation of public funds; it merely suspends a tariff that serves only to undermine U.S. competitiveness.
Members of Congress have been debating whether and how to alter the process for consideration of requests for the elimination of duties from specific tariff lines under the next MTB. The process has always been transparent: Such requests are subject to review by the Department of Commerce, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. International Trade Commission.
But this debate has gone on for far too long, leaving the business community in limbo. As a result, U.S. companies have paid an extra three-quarter of a billion dollars in tariffs, estimates the National Association of Manufacturers.
The good news is that support in principle for the MTB remains broad. Given its importance to U.S. competitiveness, American jobs and simple fair play, we’re urging Congress to pass the MTB. It’s time to get this done.