As President Joe Biden's administration debates whether to lift tariffs on Chinese-made injection molds, U.S. tool building companies are continuing their aggressive push to keep the duties in place.
More than 15 U.S. mold-making companies submitted formal comments to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai since mid-November, saying that it's vital to their economic health to keep 25 percent tariffs on made-in-China plastic and rubber injection molds.
It continues a campaign the American Mold Builders Association started in September, but what's new is the USTR is now — as part of the government's formal tariff review process — also officially asking those who oppose the duties to make their best case.
It's been hotly contested in the past. In 2018, more than 200 opponents of the tariffs, including many injection molding companies relying on Chinese molds to make automotive components, flooded the USTR with comments and convinced the agency to lift the tariffs for one year.
The duties were originally imposed in July 2018 as part of the first round of then-President Donald Trump's aggressive use of tariffs on Chinese manufacturing.
This current USTR review by the Biden administration covers hundreds of products, not just injection molds.
But the mold-making industry appears to be adopting an early, vocal strategy to try to protect its position — more than 15 of the 89 comments USTR received by Dec. 12 came from plastic mold makers.
"We have gotten several orders since this tariff has been in place for molds that were previously built in China," said Dan Glass, an AMBA board member and sales and project manager at Strohwig Industries in Richfield, Wis. "We cannot compete without the tariffs. ... It helps level the playing field with our Chinese competition."
Westminster Tool Inc. told USTR that the tariffs let it hire eight additional staff and invest $2.5 million in new equipment. It said the tariffs encourage plastic molding companies to use U.S. mold builders.
"If these tariffs were to be removed, we would not be able to compete with Chinese industry that cuts costs in ways that would be illegal here in the United States," the company said. "In addition, the increase in work from this tariff has enabled us to buy new state-of-the-art equipment, giving us the resources to continue innovating."
Westminster Vice President Hillary Thomas sits on the AMBA board.
AMBA is urging its members to file comments with the USTR, noting previous efforts that saw hundreds of mold-making companies comment to the government and help restore the tariffs in late 2019, and keep them in place since then.
In this latest round, none of the 89 comments across all industries have asked the federal government to remove the injection mold tariffs, but it's still somewhat early, as companies have until Jan. 17 to file comments with the USTR.
In other industries, however, many comments have come in pushing to eliminate tariffs. The government is required by law to review the duties after four years.