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US optical industry voices opposition to tariffs

Several US-based vision organisations have, in a joint letter, warned that the US Government’s proposed tariffs on optical related goods could have a damaging impact on the sector.

On behalf of the US Ophthalmic sector The Vision Council, the American Acady of Ophthalmology, National Association of Opticians and Optometrists, Opticians Association of America, National Association of Vision Care Plans, Prevent Blindness and OneSight have issued a joint letter to the United States Trade Representative opposing the tariffs.

A proposed tariff, that could be as high as 25%, on lenses, frames, sunglasses, binoculars and telescopes, among many other products, is part of President Donald Trump’s US$300 billion (AU$430 b) escalating trade war with China. The Section 301 Tariffs Hearing Panel has recently been receiving feedback on the proposed tariffs from affected industries.

According to the joint letter, if implemented, the tariffs would have a significant effect on the pricing of glasses and lenses in the US, since any increase in price would likely be passed directly to patients.

Additionally, the letter warned that patients would not have many options to avoid the tariffs.

It stated: “The overwhelming majority of spectacle lenses and spectacle frames are imported into the US because no mass spectacle lens or spectacle frame production exists in the US. Furthermore, most of these components are produced in China, which is especially true for spectacle frames where 83.4% of the units originate.”

A comparable percentage of the US’ reading glasses and sunglasses are also imported from China.

It also stated that there was significant public backlash to a proposed 2.3% excise tax on the sale of medical devices to support Obamacare, making a potential 25% increase an even more unpopular prospect.

The Ophthalmic organisations also believe that the tariff is unlikely to have an impact on China’s “unfair trade practices related to the forced transfer of American technology and intellectual property,” Trump’s justification for the tariffs.

They state that manufacturing optical products does not require any significant technology and can’t be regarded as innovative, and that they have no knowledge of a company being forced to share technology with a Chinese partner in order to establish a manufacturing base there.

Trump’s trade war with China has been intensifying since 2018, with the US currently imposing tariffs on $250 billion (AU$359 b) of products from China and an additional US$300 billion (AU$430 b) threatened. In retaliation China has imposed US$110 billion (AU$157 b) in tariffs on US goods, and is considering other quantitative and qualitative measures.

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