The American Mold Builders Association has waded into the China mold tariff issue, hiring a Washington lobbyist firm to call on the Trump administration to bring back tariffs on injection molds made in China.
AMBA said the tariff helped its members gain business and that U.S. toolmakers were hurt when the tariffs came off late last year, as "orders dried up."
The trade association hired The Franklin Partnership to lobby the White House, Congress and policymakers "to support U.S. manufacturers against low-cost imports from China," the Indianapolis-based trade association said in announcing the move Nov. 7.
On Dec. 28, the U.S. government unexpectedly put a hold on what had been a steep 25 percent tariff on Chinese molds. The tariff had been put in place in mid-2018 as part of the first round of $34 billion in duties on Chinese imports.
The mold tariff was suspended for at least one year, but it could be extended beyond that period.
The U.S. Trade Representative's suspension of the China mold tariffs was handed down between the Christmas and New Year's holidays, normally a quiet time for policy announcements. The decision came as the government got a lot of requests seeking exemptions from plastics processors for injection molds, which are a staple of the plastics industry.
Processors, including some big automotive molders, argued that the 25 percent tariffs would be difficult for them to absorb, causing major problems in their already price-sensitive markets.
Some of the processors said higher mold costs would make their U.S. manufacturing operations less competitive and would cause job losses.
But one thing that really rankled U.S. mold makers were claims that the U.S. mold sector did not have enough capacity and lead times were being stretched out for U.S.-made molds. China could make molds quicker, the processors claimed.
Kym Conis, AMBA's managing director, said that was not true.
"Many of those who sought the exclusion from the tariffs claimed a lack of U.S. capacity, which is just not the case," she said. "Lead times for a Chinese and a U.S. mold are virtually identical, so this really was just about getting the 'China price' all along," she said.
"When the Trump administration announced that 25 percent tariffs on imported Chinese molds would take effect in July 2018, our members immediately saw an increase in business and requests for quotes," she said. "However, once the U.S. Trade Representative granted the exclusion from the tariffs, those orders dried up."
AMBA represents more than 200 companies out of an estimated 1,439 U.S. mold building establishments.
Conis explained why AMBA hired the lobbyist, which is an unusual move for the tooling trade association.
"Policymakers are trying to do the right thing, but we are up against Chinese-owned firms in the U.S. and other large importers who want the tariffs to stay off another year so they can buy lower-cost molds. The facts are indisputable, and we need to have our voices heard in Washington," she said.
USTR said in an Oct. 31 notice in the Federal Register that companies that want to continue to have Chinese injection molds exempted from tariffs must file requests by Nov. 30.
Assistant Managing Editor Steve Toloken contributed to this report.