Price tag for tariff waivers at least $80 million: Examiner analysis

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Watchdog,Jennifer Peebles

Bayer wants a tariff break worth at least $10 million a year. DuPont wants a similar break for $4.8 million a year. GE, $1.4 million. And Spalding — the sporting goods folks — want at least $1 million.

There’s a lot of money at stake in the war over tariff breaks doled out by Congress: At least $80 million a year, according to an analysis of government data by The Washington Examiner.

Dozens of private companies, from multinational giants to mom-and-pop shops on Main Street, have asked Congress to waive or reduce the tariffs on items they import into the U.S.

How much each firm would save on each tariff waiver has not been clear in the debate so far. Over the next few months, analysts at the U.S. International Trade Commission and the Congressional Budget Office will research each product, determine whether anyone in the U.S. makes that item, and report back to Congress on how much the U.S. Treasury would lose if the tariffs were cut. The CBO put a price total tag of $100 million annually on the last set of tariff waivers, passed two years ago.

But we weren’t satisfied with the idea of waiting a few months to find out how much all this stuff was worth. The question of whether these tariff breaks are legit – or just another form of earmarks, which are supposed to be banned – is being talked about right now. We wanted answers about which firms stand to benefit the most from the waivers.

So, we poked around a little, and we found that many of the products for which tariff waivers are being sought this year have been the subject of previous waivers within the last three sessions of Congress — and the ITC and CBO have previously done estimates for those products, which the ITC has published on its website in thousands of PDF files.

We scraped the data from the PDFs — some 10,000 pages — and used it to create a database of recent estimates for items proposed for tariff breaks. That allowed us to find fairly recent value estimates for many of the tariff waiver requests now pending before Congress. Of the roughly 1,500 unique items for which tariff waivers have been proposed this year, our initial analysis has matched 450 of them.

That’s just a third of the items on the list, but it’s a start. And if we’ve matched only a third of the items, and already we’ve come up with tens of millions of dollars in estimated annual breaks for these firms, the final tally will be a whopper.

Our analysis shows that companies have asked Congress to temporarily suspend annual tariffs of at least $80 million and to reduce another $29 million in tariffs. Many of the bills would adjust the tariffs for three years, so multiply those numbers by three for a total.

Take a chemical compound we’re all familiar with. The feds refer to it as “acetylsalicylic acid.” You and I know it as aspirin.

It was once made in the U.S.A., but not anymore. It’s imported now from France, Spain, China and Thailand.

If any company’s name is synonymous with aspirin, it has to be Bayer. The German chemical giant is one of two firms that have asked Congress to waive the tariff on aspirin this year.

When it last came up for a waiver, the CBO estimated that about $10.5 million of aspirin was imported into the U.S. each year, for which the Treasury collects $367,500 in tariffs.

Nearly all of the 10 firms with the largest proposed savings are big multinational chemical firms, including Bayer, BASF, the Swiss firm Syngenta and the one-time Bayer spinoff Lanxess, The Examiner found.

Belgian chemical maker Solvay has asked for suspensions or reductions on items with a total tariff bill of $52.6 million each year, our analysis showed. But the value of each waiver is capped at $500,000, bringing Solvay’s total proposed savings to just under $5 million. (Click here to see an interactive chart showing the firms that asked for the most lucrative tariffs.)

That may not be much consolation to Lowe’s Stores, who have sought a tariff waiver for ceiling fans. The last time ceiling fans came up for a waiver, four years ago when it was sought by Memphis-based Hunter Fan Co., the feds estimated that it would cost the Treasury a whopping $36.6 million a year in tariffs (paid on $780 million worth of merchandise).

We plan to keep digging into this issue, and if we can match more items on the list, we’ll report back with updated totals.

Jennifer Peebles is The Examiner’s data editor. Contact her at jpeebles@washingtonexaminer.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DCPeebles.

Notes on spreadsheet: The spreadsheet below contains information on the instances where The Washington Examiner was able to match a product proposed for a tariff waiver this year with cost estimate data done in recent years by the Congressional Budget Office and the U.S. International Trade Commission. To see more columns of information, including bill numbers and the countries from which the product is imported, click this link.
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