U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has been a staunch supporter of the use of tariffs to punish China but he's also gone to bat in recent weeks for business constituents that want relief from them.
The South Carolina Republican sent nearly identical letters to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer last month on behalf of seven textile and chemical manufacturers around the state. Graham urged the ambassador to consider exempting certain raw materials those companies import to Palmetto State factories.
"For decades, China has engaged in unfair trade practices including forced transfer of technology and intellectual property," Graham wrote in the letters, which were first reported by The New York Times last week. "China's behavior has unjustifiably burdened and restricted U.S. commerce and I'm encouraged by President Trump's attention to this important issue."
The rub, according to Graham, is that increased global competition "forces domestic manufacturers to absorb the additional cost of a tariff."
"This could put South Carolina companies at a competitive disadvantage," he wrote.
Graham included the tariff codes for 50 China-made products — from yarn to chemicals — in the letters. He said the added import penalties on those items could "economically harm consumers and stifle economic growth in South Carolina."
He then thanked Lighthizer for his attention "to these constituent requests and your continued efforts to combat China's unfair trade practices."
President Donald Trump has imposed tariff increases on $250 billion of Chinese goods in his escalating trade dispute with the economic giant. Beijing has responded by placing retaliatory penalties on $110 billion of U.S.-made products.
While Graham supports the Trump tariff strategy, he acknowledged in August that they will cause "some pain here.”
His office released a statement about the Lighthizer letters but declined to comment further.
"Only a fool would not know that Lindsey Graham fights tooth and nail for business in South Carolina," according to the prepared remarks. "He takes great pride in standing up for working men and women in our state, and that’s never going to stop.”
In a statement, the S.C. Democratic Party blasted Graham for intervening on behalf of the companies while "giving a full-throated support" of what it called Trump's "dangerous tariffs," adding that he's "too cowardly to confront the president about it."
According to the Times report, nine of the 50 items that Graham cited have been removed from the revised tariff list, benefiting Mitsubishi Chemical America in Greer, Archroma U.S. in Allendale County, Domtar in Fort Mill and Bennettsville, and Standard Textile in Union.
The InterTech Group Inc. was among the three other businesses that were seeking relief.
The North Charleston-based conglomerate imports a chemical from China to make fire-protection gear at a plant in the Rock Hill area for municipal fire departments and other customers, said Robert Johnston, executive vice president and chief strategy officer.
The increased tariffs "will have to be passed on to consumers," Johnson said last week.
"It will have an impact on our business, and obviously we think it's harmful to manufacturing jobs in South Carolina," Johnston said.
That's why InterTech reached out to Washington, he said.
"I'm happy to see Sen. Graham has taken that and moved the ball forward," Johnston said.