Business groups welcome limited delays in U.S. tariffs, say more relief needed

U.S. retailers and other business groups on Monday welcomed a move by the Trump administration to allow importers to defer for three months any tariff payments they owe the government, but said they needed more tariff relief to deal with the pandemic.

President Donald Trump on Sunday signed an executive order allowing deferral of payments of some tariffs. But the move does not extend to importers of goods caught up in several trade conflicts, such as solar panels, steel, aluminum and a range of Chinese products, the U.S. Treasury Department said.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters on Monday that decisions would be made on “a hardship basis,” resulting in potentially “tens of billions” of dollars of relief for the affected firms. But he underscored that U.S. tariff policies targeted at China, Europe and others remained in place.

“These are just the customs duties,” he said. “There’s no change in tariff rates or tariff policy,” he said.

Shutdowns aimed at containing the pandemic have hit the U.S. economy hard, with U.S. jobless claims reaching 22 million in the four weeks to April 11.

Steve Lamar, president and CEO of the American Apparel Footwear Association, welcomed the administration’s move, but said limiting the goods that qualify for deferral would limit benefits for both U.S. employers and U.S. supply chains.

“We urge that all goods – including textiles, apparel, footwear, and accessories facing Section 301 tariffs – be covered by this deferral action. Every day we have to pay those duties means another day we can’t pay our workers,” Lamar said.

The National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade group, also urged the administration to broaden the deferrals for additional relief.

Weeks-long closures were having a “severely acute” impact on retailers, NRF President Matthew Shay said in a statement.

Brian Dodge, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which represents more than 200 retailers, urged the administration to move forward with a blanket deferral of all duty payments for at least 180 days.

“Millions of jobs are on the line, and we urge the Administration to consider further duty relief to help retailers put workers back on the payroll when this crisis abates,” he said.

The head of the global tech association ITI said expanding the tariff relief would “facilitate the delivery of assets to U.S. healthcare providers, companies, and consumers during the current public health crisis.”