Washington – In a letter that echoes medical device industry talking points, three Minnesota congressmen have joined 37 colleagues in calling for the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to remove medical technology products and components from a list of Chinese imports subject to a 25 percent protective tariff.
Republican Representatives Erik Paulsen, Tom Emmer and Jason Lewis signed the letter. Paulsen, whose district includes many medical technology companies, was a lead author along with Democratic Rep. Scott Peters of California.
"We are requesting that all medical technology products be removed from the Section 301 tariff list," the letter, dated May 15, states. "Not doing so would not only hurt U.S. manufacturing as the majority of imports from China are inputs to manufacture finished medical technology products right here in America, but also impacts their ability to compete globally."
Raising the cost of Chinese imports to U.S. med tech companies would "potentially increase health care costs, which would limit patient access to lifesaving technology," the letter continues.
The tariffs proffered by the Trump administration are designed to force changes in unfair trade tactics by the Chinese. But they are also designed to force companies to buy American and to create American manufacturing jobs to deal with an international trade deficit, especially China's $375 billion trade surplus with the U.S. in 2017.
The bipartisan congressional letter, signed by 18 Republicans and 22 Democrats, mirrored written statements to Lighthizer by Minnesota's Medical Alley Association and the national Advanced Medical Technology Association, known as AdvaMed.
Like those submissions, the congressional letter stressed the U.S. medical technology industry's consistent global trade surplus. The industry operates at a nominal loss for all med-tech products bought from and sold to China, but for the products proposed for tariffs by the Trump administration, the U.S. runs a slight surplus, med-tech trade groups said.
None of Minnesota's five Democratic representatives signed the letter. A spokesman for Rep. Rick Nolan said the congressman was unaware of the letter but agrees with its points and would have signed it had he known about it.
A spokesman for Rep. Keith Ellison said Ellison was unaware of the letter, but he did not say where Ellison stood on exempting med tech products from tariffs.
Rep. Betty McCollum's chief of staff, Bill Harper, said McCollum does not support the tariffs, but that the letter was just "tweaking a disastrous policy" with a focus on fund-raising for the midterm elections.
"No business in Minnesota asked us to sign this letter," Harper said.
Democrats Tim Walz and Collin Peterson did not respond to requests for comment.
The letter reprised an industry argument that nothing in a government report on unfair Chinese trade tactics used to justify the tariffs concerned abuses in the medical technology sector.
"The medical technology industry was not mentioned in the 183-page document," the letter states. "The report contained no evidence of intellectual property theft involving U.S. medical technology manufacturers and included no mention of forced technology transfers in this sector."
No evidence of wrongdoing is not an argument limited to the med-tech industry. Best Buy executive Mike Mohan used the same rationale at a public hearing Tuesday when he asked for flat screen TVs, like those his company imports from China, to be taken off the tariff list.
Without tariffs, the Chinese market for medical devices was expected to be "a significant growth opportunity for U.S. manufacturers," the letter says. With tariffs, China is expected to retaliate with policies that stem the flow of U.S. exports into the country, a circumstance that led the congressional letter writers to reach a verbatim conclusion to one in written pleas from Minnesota's Medical Alley Association.
"These actions," Paulsen, Peters and others wrote, would "benefit China's domestic manufacturers at the expense of U.S. manufacturers."