Tomorrow, the House Ways & Means Trade Subcommittee will hold a “Hearing on Supporting U.S. Workers, Businesses, and the Environment in the Face of Unfair Chinese Trade Practices.” While not technically related, the hearing follows the November announcement that the House and Senate will “conference” China competition bills and “immediately begin a bipartisan process of reconciling the two chambers’ legislative proposals so that we can deliver a final piece of legislation to the President’s desk as soon as possible.”

Any discussion of improving competitiveness through trade – especially as it relates to diversifying supply chains away from China – must include GSP renewal. China is excluded from GSP, and many GSP countries are natural alternative suppliers to China. By eliminating tariffs on China’s competitors, GSP makes them more viable alternatives to low-cost Chinese producers.

There are no two ways about it: loss of GSP makes Chinese producers more competitive. This is especially true for products where Section 301 tariffs on China may lead U.S. companies to seek alternative suppliers given the near-perfect overlap of products included on the Section 301 lists and GSP-eligible lists. And it’s not just about expiration, the dynamic applies to all types of GSP losses.

For example, while Section 301 tariffs covered just 54% of U.S. imports from China from January-September 2021, during the same time period the products on Section 301 lists accounted for:

  • 96% of the estimated $763 million in extra tariffs from GSP expiration
  • 97% of the estimated $318 million in extra tariffs from individual GSP product exclusions (e.g., competitive need limitations or “CNLs”)
  • 90% of the estimated $312 million in extra tariffs due to lost GSP for India

Imposing an extra $150 million per month in tariffs on China’s competitors is a funny strategy for helping American companies move supply chains out of China. Backpacks are a good example of how that strategy has failed. After GSP benefits were extended to backpacks in 2016, GSP imports steadily gained market share. The Section 301 tariffs supercharged the trend – with gains now directly at the expense of China – but GSP expiration at the end of 2020 stopped both GSP imports’ rise and Chinese imports’ fall.

“GSP” and “China” issues don’t exist in a vacuum and therefore shouldn’t be treated as such. Here’s what should be done:

  1. Congress should renew GSP as soon as possible. GSP expiration cost American companies at least $763 million in extra tariffs through September, and they’re likely to top $1 billion in 2021 if not renewed this year.
  2. As part of renewal, Congress should amend GSP rules (e.g., CNLs) to keep as much trade under the program as possible. The more tariff benefits to GSP countries, the greater the incentives to leave China (and comply with eligibility criteria, as discussed here).
  3. The Administration should make restoring GSP for countries such as India a priority. In November, 75 House Members sent a letter supporting just that, and a U.S.-India joint statement said the U.S. would consider restored GSP. Talks should move as quickly as possible.