Hope springs eternal. And it was with collective open arms that many U.S. businesses welcomed the recent talks between U.S. and Chinese officials to resolve their trade differences and downplay the specter of a full-blown trade war. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin went so far to say that trade war with China was “on hold.”
Hope and optimism soon fizzled. On May 29th, the White House released a statement contradicting Sec. Mnuchin, announcing that the Trump Administration would indeed move forward with a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion worth of goods imported from China. Besides focusing on goods that the U.S. has deemed are tied to “Made in China 2025” – the Chinese initiative to produce more advanced manufacturing goods domestically – the Administration also announced stiffer investment restrictions and enhanced export controls related to the acquisition of industrially significant technology. The final tariff list will be published by June 15th, and the proposed list of investment restrictions and export controls will be announced by June 30th.
Tariffs and New Focus on Export Controls
All of this comes as the White House and Capitol Hill have heated up their activity in recent months to curb commerce with China through tariffs and investment restrictions.
The Section 301 investigation, a key component of this push, has zeroed in on China’s trade practices related to intellectual property violations. Following a months-long inquiry, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) determined in March 2018 that China’s forced transfer of technology and intellectual property has discriminated against U.S. firms. The finding prompted President Trump to respond with a number of remedial actions including a proposed 25 percent tariff on $50 billion worth of U.S. imports from China.
More than 100 lines of the proposed tariff list directly impact the semiconductor supply chain, hitting fundamental components of the semiconductor manufacturing process. SEMI has fought back, strongly urging the removal of these tariff lines from the proposed tariff list. At a bare minimum, the tariffs against China will cost the U.S. tens of millions annually in additional taxes, create lost revenue as a result of reduced exports, threaten thousands of high-paying U.S. jobs, stifle innovation and curb U.S. technological leadership – all while not directly addressing U.S. concerns with China.
These tariffs, plus the new focus on export controls, is particularly troubling for the semiconductor supply chain. The recent move comes on the heels of other trade actions, including tariffs on steel, aluminum, and solar cells that will not only limit trade and opportunities for U.S. economic growth, but also will introduce significant uncertainty for U.S. businesses.
CFIUS Reform Moves Ahead, But Concerns Remain
At the same time, other government efforts that could encumber investment continue. Both the Senate Banking and House Financial Services Committees unanimously passed the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (FIRRMA). The legislation aims to upgrade the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) – the interagency body that reviews inbound foreign investment for national security concerns. With such rare bipartisan agreement on a major bill, it is expected to be passed by both chambers and signed into law later this year.
The current version of the bill is certainly an improvement on earlier drafts. The legislation no longer contains problematic language that would have given CFIUS the authority to review joint ventures between U.S. and foreign companies. The language would have, for the first time ever, expanded CFIUS’s jurisdiction to include outbound foreign investment. Given the semiconductor industry’s deep reliance on expansive global supply chains, this language was particularly concerning to our industry.
However, broad concerns remain about how CFIUS functions. In recent months, CFIUS has been used seemingly to evaluate transactions based on economic security, rather than the Congressional intent of national security. Should this trend continued, we worry that this could curb otherwise acceptable investments, stifling innovation and limiting growth, especially in the semiconductor industry.
SEMI Educates Lawmakers on Industry Impacts
With tensions likely continue to rise and efforts to wall off commerce with China ongoing, SEMI is engaging with policymakers to educate them on how these restrictions will potentially undermine the long-term health of the semiconductor industry. SEMI will continue to meet with policymakers about the critical importance of trade and investment to the continued success of the semiconductor industry. If you are interested in more information on trade, or how to be involved in SEMI’s public policy program, please contact Jay Chittooran, Public Policy Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.