WASHINGTON - Best Buy's chief merchandising and marketing officer told federal trade officials Tuesday that a 25 percent tariff on Chinese-made flat-screen TVs will not stop unfair Chinese trade practices.
Speaking to a panel assembled by the U.S. trade representative, Best Buy's Mike Mohan said stealing intellectual property or forcing unwanted partnerships between U.S. and Chinese companies so the latter can gain access to U.S. technologies "are not seen in the Chinese flat-panel television industry."
Mohan was among 44 U.S. business people scheduled to weigh in on the first of three days of public hearings on the Trump administration's Chinese tariff plan. Many asked that certain products or components be exempted from the import tax.
The tax is meant to make American companies more competitive by punishing unfair Chinese trade tactics. The end result, according to the White House, will be growth in American manufacturing jobs.
Richfield-based Best Buy, with 110,000 employees, was one of the largest companies represented at Tuesday's hearing.
Business representatives got five minutes each to make their case. Mohan used his time to explain why Best Buy, which owns and sells the Insignia brand of Chinese-made TV's, believes taxing flat screens won't change the playing field, much less level it.
Increasing the price of TVs imported from China will not affect Chinese trade policy directly, Mohan maintained. He added that "targeting flat-panel televisions will not indirectly affect China's policies because the overwhelming majority of TV panels sold in the United States are made in China. There are no near-term alternative sources, meaning consumers will have no choice but to continue purchasing TVs made from Chinese panels. Developing alternative sources would entail massive new investments that could take several years, if ever, to develop."
Mohan cited a study that predicted a potential 23 percent increase in TV prices to consumers as a result of the tariff, a situation he said would "adversely affect Americans - namely, U.S. consumers and businesses."
His points echoed some trade analysts who say the capital expense of building or refitting manufacturing plants could cost significantly more than simply paying 25 percent more for Chinese products and components and passing along the increase to their customers.
Tariff supporters like economist Robert E. Scott of the Economic Policy Institute say that shifting productive capacity back to America may cost more initially, but will profit the country in the long term by creating and securing jobs.
Mohan focused on what he called the "disruptive" nature of the tariffs.
Placing a 25 percent tariff on flat screen TV's will "not accomplish the desired purpose and instead will have negative unintended consequences on U.S. retailers like Best Buy, American workers, and consumers," he concluded.
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