Senate Finance leaders call on Commerce to improve the tariff-exclusion process

Senate Finance leaders call on Commerce to improve the tariff-exclusion process
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Senate Finance Committee leaders are calling on the Trump administration to improve the tariff-exclusion process.

Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchKey Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock Trump awards Medal of Freedom to racing industry icon Roger Penske Trump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals MORE (R-Utah) and ranking member Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field House GOP unveils alternative drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote Pelosi gets standing ovation at Kennedy Center Honors MORE (D-Ore.) on Thursday urged Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossPelosi gets standing ovation at Kennedy Center Honors Space race is on: US can't afford congressional inaction in this critical economic sector Trump escalates fight over tax on tech giants MORE to refine the department’s process for excluding products from tariffs on steel and aluminum imports under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.

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“Given the public interest in an expedient product exclusion process that offers due process and procedural fairness, we urge you to implement improvements to each area of concern outlined above as soon as practicable,” Hatch and Wyden wrote to Ross in a letter.

The senators argue that the process so far has lacked “basic due process and procedural fairness for stakeholders, especially American small businesses” and “appropriate mechanisms to prevent the Section 232 tariffs and product exclusion process from being abused for anticompetitive purposes.”

President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' Lawmakers dismiss Chinese retaliatory threat to US tech MORE has slapped tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum although six countries, including Canada and Mexico, and the 28-nation European Union have temporary exclusions. 

As of Wednesday, more than 3,800 requests for steel product exclusions has been submitted to Commerce but the department had posted fewer than 100 of those requests, the lawmakers said.

“The significant delays in publicly posting product exclusion requests risk serious and permanent financial harm to many petitioners that, even in [the Department of Commerce's] judgment, should not be subject to the Section 232 tariffs,” they wrote. "More generally, it is critical that [the Department of Commerce] dedicate the resources necessary to complete the product exclusions process expeditiously."

The senators expressed concern that the interim final rule indicates that Commerce bypassed the clearance procedures required for the collection of information.

Without those procedures, including minimizing paperwork for those petitioning for exclusions, it “heightens the risk that due process and procedural fairness will be compromised.”

They also said they were worried about the amount of detail being requested on the products — more than 70 attributes of each steel or aluminum import — and the inability of small businesses to go through trade associations to consolidate product information and make submissions on behalf of multiple businesses.

“With the Section 232 tariffs already in effect as of March 23, the request and objection forms force petitioners and objectors to choose between expediting their submissions, which can be denied for any inaccurate or incomplete information, and enduring unwarranted tariff charges or product exclusions for lengthier periods of time,” the senators wrote.

“Given the public interest in an expedient product exclusion process that offers due process and procedural fairness, we urge you to implement improvements to each area of concern outlined above as soon as practicable,” they wrote.