There are separate efforts in Congress to end normal trade relations between the United States and China. While the two bills by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., are slightly different, they would both significantly increase tariffs on goods imported into the United States from China.

The lawmakers believe increasing the tariffs will hurt China economically and give the United States an advantage.

“As an exporting economy, their survivability economically is completely dependent on how much of their goods they can send to the United States,” Rep. Smith said.

How much would tariffs increase?

If either of the bills are approved, popular items the U.S. imports from China would see tariff increases. 

  • Video game consoles like Xbox and PlayStation would go from being tariff-free to 35%. 
  • The $200 million of dog and cat food imported annually would increase from 0% to 10%. 
  • The $23 billion of furniture and bedding that’s currently tariff-free in most cases would be 40% for items like wooden dining tables and cribs, and 45% for a light fixture.

“We don’t want to get any more dependent on China than we already are. That’s why this step is necessary, right now. Rebuild our manufacturing base, strengthen our working class, take on China,” Sen. Hawley said.

Here’s where the proposals differ

Smith’s proposal links U.S.-China trade relations to human rights. Every year, the U.S. would have to examine China’s human rights record and determine that the CCP is improving in its treatment of Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities. If there is no improvement, the tariffs remain at the increased level. It used to be that way until President Bill Clinton delinked human rights from trade with China in 1994.

“We’re talking about a country in China that has so excelled in human rights abuse, torture, forced abortion, religious persecution, like almost nowhere else on Earth,” Rep. Smith said.

Hawley’s bill is focused on American workers. It would automatically increase tariffs as described earlier and give the president the authority to make them even higher.

Previous tariff increases

China has a history of retaliating after the United States increases tariffs. For instance, when former President Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum in 2018, China responded with increases on fruits, meats, wine, tubing, piping and more. 

But the lawmakers aren’t concerned about that kind of retaliation.

“Let them follow through on it,” Rep. Smith said. “We should not be aiding and abetting an economy that props him up. And by him, I mean Xi Jinping, and by extension, the entire Chinese Communist Party.”

“We are already too dependent on China. We found that on COVID. I mean where are much of our critical supply chains located, China, where are too many of our medical supply chains located, China, again, our manufacturing China,” Sen. Hawley said.

Both lawmakers strongly disagree with the decision to allow China into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. They believe China’s WTO admittance, along with normalizing trade relations, has led to lost jobs in the United States as companies moved overseas for cheaper labor.

If Hawley’s bill is approved, it will take effect in two years. Smith’s legislation would take effect immediately.

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