When it comes to GSP eligibility criteria, imposing higher tariffs without accomplishing any positive changes in GSP country policies is the absolute worst-case scenario. It is also the norm.
Due to GSP country terminations of Turkey (May 2019) and India (June 2019) and partial suspensions of Thailand (April 2020, December 2020), American companies have paid about $800 million in extra tariffs. Despite costs to American companies and workers rapidly approaching $1 billion, there has been no progress on any of the issues raised in those country reviews.
With GSP expired for six months, why are we worried about old country reviews? Because the Senate-passed GSP renewal legislation, the House Republican companion bill, and a separate House Democratic bill, all add numerous criteria that could be justified to revoke a country’s GSP status but nothing providing direct help or indirect incentives for countries to comply. If history is a guide, new tariffs on Americans are much more likely than U.S. policy “wins” in GSP countries. Congress should do everything in its power to avoid setting up such lose-lose situations as part of its GSP renewal bill.
Tariff trends make the (lack of) outcomes look even worse. If exporters in India/Turkey/Thailand were suffering, you’d expect to see U.S. tariffs faced falling over time as American companies cut back orders and found alternative sources in other countries. The opposite has happened, with tariffs paid on (previously GSP-eligible) imports from all three countries hitting new highs in April and/or May 2021. While American companies pay $50+ million per month in extra tariffs, the exporters in India, Turkey, and Thailand are thriving. American companies and workers clearly have borne the brunt of GSP terminations.
It’s worth reiterating: there has been no resolution of – or even tangible improvements on – any of the issues raised during the country reviews. There have been no “victories” for American companies or interests, only losses. That includes export losses given that India stopped delaying imposition of Section 232 steel/aluminum retaliatory tariffs immediately after GSP talks collapsed.
This is not to suggest that eligibility criteria can’t or shouldn’t be added. But if policymakers want to create an environment where new criteria are more likely to raise standards – and avoid lose-lose outcomes like these recent cases – Congress should incorporate other changes into GSP renewal legislation to:
- make countries care more about keeping GSP benefits
- help countries make progress on the new criteria
- prevent abuse/misapplication of the new criteria
- minimize collateral damage when actions are necessary