Disposable face masks, respirators, Bluetooth tracking devices and musical instruments are among the Chinese exports granted a new short-term exemption to trade war tariffs by the United States, its trade department announced on Tuesday.
The products on List 1 of the Section 301 tariff action against China had been exempted on September 1, 2019, for one year. But the reprieve has been extended just four months, until the end of 2020. The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) did not explain why the extension period was shortened, in a note published on the Federal Register, the official journal of the federal government that contains government agency rules, proposed rules and public notices.
The four-month extension will cover the US election, allow China to continue making progress towards meeting the terms of the phase one trade deal, and could theoretically help avert further flare-ups in the trade war.
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Other items on the exclusion list include LCD display units, binoculars, postage stamps and earth-drilling machinery. This is one of eight lists of exempted products issued under the USTR’s product-exclusion process, launched last year.
Illustrating how disparate and miscellaneous the dozens of listed items are, the exemptions also include “tufts of swine hair bristles, oriented with the soft feather tipped ends of the hairs facing up and the hard, root ends of the hairs facing down, with the root ends of the hairs glued together to form a round bottom not more than 7mm in diameter” and “brushes of natural goat hair bristles, which are in lengths of at least 30mm but not more than 33mm”.
Trade, initially the primary area on which US President Donald Trump attacked China, has been viewed in recent weeks as one of the few areas of constructive dialogue between the world’s two largest economies, with the superpower relationship descending into what is widely billed as a “new cold war”.
Tensions have risen as the US pushed through bans on Chinese apps, including the short-video platform TikTok. The US also called for an investigation into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, and China flexed its muscles in Hong Kong with the roll-out of national security legislation.
The pair have also clashed over China’s militarisation of the South China Sea, while the US and Taiwan have moved towards closer trade and economic ties in recent days, after Taipei agreed to loosen import restrictions on ractopamine, an additive used in US livestock farming.
But US-China trade has been pursued on a different track. Top negotiators from Beijing and Washington spoke by phone on August 25 – the first such high-level talks since the deal was signed on January 15. In a statement to mark the call, the Chinese government said that “the two sides agreed to create conditions and an atmosphere to continue pushing forward the implementation of the trade deal”.
And while China is still well behind in its targeted levels of purchases of American goods, as laid out in the phase one deal, it has been increasing its imports significantly in recent months.
On Tuesday, the US Department of Agriculture said 596,000 metric tonnes of corn had been bought by Chinese buyers, the latest in what has become a daily practice of large agricultural purchases.
China is well behind its promised purchases … Phase one should collapse under its weight
Derek Scissors, American Enterprise Institute
Last week marked six weeks in a row where US soybean sales surpassed 1 million tonnes, with 32 per cent of those bound for China. Nonetheless, China’s purchases of all covered products under phase one were only at 48 per cent of their year-to-date targets as of the end of July, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
While many analysts expect the deal to limp on at least until November’s US elections, some critics have suggested that it is mere window-dressing on collapsing superpower ties.
“The current centrepiece of American trade relations with China is the ‘phase one’ deal,” wrote Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, in a blog post encouraging the US to prioritise a trade deal with Taiwan. “China is well behind its promised purchases, the main intellectual property action is adding rules when enforcement has long been the problem, and the administration no longer even wants the financial market access it negotiated. Phase one should collapse under its weight.”
More from South China Morning Post:
- Joe Biden faces pressure to separate China trade policy from Donald Trump’s in US election
- Yoo Myung-hee: US-China style trade wars could proliferate without WTO ‘reinvention’, Korean candidate says
- China doubles down on Australia trade dispute with new joint probe into wine subsidies and dumping claims
- Taiwan stuck at a crossroads with US and China over trade deals, facing conflicting prospects
- US-China trade war: both sides cling to phase one deal as wider relationship crumbles
This article Face masks among Chinese exports given four-month US trade war tariff reprieve first appeared on South China Morning Post