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Walorski Has Made Tariff Exclusions Her Focus on House Ways and Means

Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., said that with an approval rate of just under 6 percent for steel exclusion requests when domestic firms objected, "it really looks like somebody's finger is on the scale." In a sit-down with International Trade Today, Walorski explained how what started with complaints from 10 businesses in her district -- which is heavy with steel-consuming RV manufacturers -- has made her office the place for companies around the country to share their problems with exclusions. "We knew this is probably what was going to happen," she said of the exclusion process that favors domestic producers.

Walorski, who has used her House Ways and Means Committee platform to press the administration on the inadequacy of its tariff exclusion processes, sent a letter to the Commerce Department this week complaining about, among other things, the vagueness of the denial letters, and the fact that every request adjudicated in recent weeks that had an objection and no rebuttal was denied.

She noted that the regulation requires that the domestic producer be able to supply the requester either immediately or within eight weeks, but some objecting companies either said they didn't know how fast they could supply, because it would depend on steel availability, or said it would take more than 21 weeks to produce that item.

Walorski earlier pushed the Commerce Department to allow rebuttals from requesters to domestic industry objections, but she acknowledged that her attempt to get relief for steel consumers has not been terribly effective, since most rebuttals have drawn surrebuttals, and nearly all were denied. But she's still trying to get Commerce to, as she put it, accept help in refining its process.

Walorski said Commerce should be more balanced in evaluating the competing claims of steel producers and steel consumers. "My job is to always represent my district, and as other companies see the same kind of thing in my state and in the country, this is just a voice that has to continue to be heard," she said.

She's not just pushing with Commerce. Walorski said she recently talked to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer four times in one week. She said when metals tariffs on Canada and Mexico are replaced with quotas, "we want to help guide that," though she would prefer that there not be quotas at all. "The devil's in the details here," she said of how quotas might be implemented.

Walorski has argued with Lighthizer about the fact that the administration said the tariffs would come off in the NAFTA region once a replacement for NAFTA was agreed to. "I reminded him that they promised to take tariffs off, and we got into a definition of what does 'promise' mean."

"When he sees me coming, he knows I'm loaded for bear," she said. And she said he's good-natured about it.

Lighthizer needs her vote for the new NAFTA. She didn't say whether she thought the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement is better than NAFTA, but said her constituents in agriculture are fans. "More than anything, they want this thing done." She also said that as Lighthizer consulted with Congress, members were able to make the auto rules of origin better. She said the most important thing Americans can do to get USMCA ratified, if that's what they want, is to reach out "to whoever they vote for."

While the steel and aluminum tariffs are tied up with ratification, Walorski has also been leading on China tariffs exclusions, an area where Congress has less leverage. She does support the president's confrontation of China, and she said "I think there's an end in sight" for the two countries.

When she pressed USTR in a Ways and Means hearing on whether he'd meet the deadline established in the appropriations package to create an exclusion process for List 3 of the Section 301 tariffs (see 1902270017), he said his view on the necessity -- or lack thereof -- for exclusions for the 10 percent tariff hadn't changed.

"We're staying on top of that. We will make sure we can get it," Walorski said. A few days after his testimony, she co-led a bipartisan, bicameral bill that would require an exclusion process be established for the largest of the three tariff lists. "It shouldn't take a bill," she said, but added that she didn't know if the USTR would establish the process without Congress passing a law.

"We're relentless," she said. "We have to be."