Political News

Hand sanitizer makers ask Trump for China tariff relief amid shortages

Posted April 13, 2020 4:54 p.m. EDT

— It's become a challenge to find hand sanitizer, disinfectants and thermometers on store shelves -- and some companies are complaining that President Donald Trump's tariffs are making it even harder.

Over the past three weeks, more than 100 requests have been filed with federal trade authorities asking for relief from tariffs on those supplies and other products made in China to help fight the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

Medical supplies company Glo-Med said the additional duty hits the individual hand sanitizer and dispensing unit that it sells to hospitals, according to a comment it submitted to the US Trade Representative's Office. G Mason Group, which sells hand sanitizer to national retailers and grocers, is also among those seeking a tariff waiver.

The requests extend to other health products too. Home Depot recently asked for tariff relief for thermometers and the Honest Company, which was founded by actress Jessica Alba and sells baby and beauty products, is seeking a waiver for alcohol wipes.

All these products are subject to tariffs put in place last year amid Trump's trade war with China. The duties remain active despite a partial trade agreement struck earlier this year. That's making it more expensive for suppliers to import the ingredients needed to manufacture and sell hand sanitizer in the United States, where it's been in such short supply that even craft distilleries are getting into the business of making it.

Related: Don't try to make your own hand sanitizer

Some companies are seeing relief. One of the best known hand sanitizers, Purell, is manufactured in the United States by the Ohio-based company Gojo. Last week, it was granted a tariff waiver for the dispensers it makes in China.

The tariff complaints are rolling in despite the fact that the US imported more hand sanitizer in 2017 from both the European Union and Canada then it did from China, according to research by Chad Brown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

But companies are scrambling to find new ways to stock US shelves and get supplies in the hands of essential workers.

Bausch Health Companies told trade officials in its request that it is converting an available production line in China to produce hand sanitizer that will be donated to health care providers, first responders, and other volunteers in the US, but it currently must pay the additional tariff when it ships the product back and wants relief.

Some chemical companies, like First Continental International, are seeking a waiver for isopropyl alcohol, a key ingredient used by hand sanitizer manufacturers.

"The US producers of isopropyl alcohol do not have enough capacity and cannot meet the spike in demand of US hand sanitizer manufacturers," the company wrote, noting that the average price per pound of isopropyl alcohol is up by about 20% since November.

USTR did not respond to comment on the new tariff exemption requests for other products.

Last month, in response to the coronavirus outbreak, the US Trade Representative's Office granted tariff waivers on some Chinese-made medical supplies. That included certain face masks, surgical gowns, specimen containers, antimicrobial linens, and blood-pressure sleeves. It also set up a new portal where companies could request cornavirus-related tariff relief.

At the time, the agency said that tariffs had "not resulted in an overall decline in the availability of needed medical equipment and supplies."d

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