(Reuters) - The White House’s top trade advisor denied on Tuesday that the Trump administration was considering a three-month deferral of tariff payments on imported goods to ease the pain of the economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Industry groups representing domestic manufacturers and labor unions said that some U.S. corporate interests were seeking to persuade the administration and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency to enact a deferral.
Americans for a Prosperous America wrote in a letter to CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan of its “deepest concern with the latest information that your agency is providing deferred duties on imports and is considering allowing a 90-day deferral for all duties.”
The group, chaired by former Nucor Corp CEO Dan Dimicco, a former advisor to President Donald Trump, said such a deferral “harms U.S. producers who were injured by unfair imports and are now harmed by the coronavirus.”
Bloomberg earlier reported that CBP and other agencies were discussing the proposal for a deferral, citing unnamed people familiar with the discussions.
Trump’s top trade advisor, Peter Navarro, rejected the report and said it relied on anonymous sources with “no visibility into trade policy in this administration.”
“This is fake news,” Navarro, known for his hawkish views on China, told Reuters. “The Trump tariffs have been an important defense against China’s economic aggression and we are stronger today because they exist. Lifting the tariffs would simply enrich China at the expense of American workers.”
CBP said here?utm_source=csms.cbp.gov&utm_medium=csms.cbp.gov&utm_term=undefined&utm_content=undefined&utm_campaign=(not%20set)&gclid=undefined&dclid=undefined&GAID=2083471500.1580424967 on Friday it was providing some importers extra days to pay duties, taxes and fees on imported goods "due to the severity of the novel coronavirus disease."
A CBP spokeswoman declined comment.
Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a group led by the United Steelworkers union and domestic manufacturers, said his group adamantly opposed the proposal being made by anti-tariffs groups.
“The same coalition that pushed for ending the broader tariffs — and got nowhere — is now pushing this,” Paul told Reuters. “We know they have lobbied the congressional leadership and administration. We are adamantly opposed to this.”
Paul’s group sent a similar letter to CBP’s Morgan, arguing such a move would lead to a surge in imports that would hurt U.S. manufacturers at a time when they are struggling to survive the current economic crisis.
Another industry official noted that widespread shutdowns would curb consumer demand and result in dropping imports, regardless of what was done with tariffs.
No comment was immediately available from the U.S. Trade Representative’s office.
Earlier this month, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration was not considering broad relief from import tariffs on Chinese goods to ease economic pain from the coronavirus.
The U.S. economy has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Democratic and Republican lawmakers were trying on Tuesday to hammer out a deal on a $2 trillion stimulus package to limit the damage.
Trump last week invoked the Defense Production Act, which would allow the U.S. government to accelerate production of equipment needed to fight the contagion, although Trump has said he has not needed to use the law because many companies have offered to produce ventilators, sanitizers and other items.
Additional reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and Jeff Mason in Washington; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Jacqueline Wong