US lawmakers ask Biden administration to increase tariffs on Chinese-made drones

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday asked the Biden administration to impose higher tariffs on Chinese drones, including those shipped from other countries, and new incentives to boost U.S. drone manufacturers.

Representative Mike Gallagher, chairman of the House China committee, the panel’s top Democrat, Raja Krishnamoorthi, and 11 other lawmakers urged the administration to take immediate action against Chinese drone makers, including DJI and Autel.

This included hiking tariffs “to stop the mass proliferation of a technology in the U.S. market that poses a clear national and economic security threat,” they said in a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative, Commerce and Homeland Security departments.

USTR and Commerce said they received the letters but declined to comment.

DJI said it opposed restrictions based on country of origin and said it closely follows “all applicable data privacy protection laws, regulations, and norms in the U.S. and anywhere else we operate.” DJI added its drones “are helping U.S. businesses run more efficiently and solve problems.”

Autel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The letter said the current 25% additional tariff on Chinese drones is “insufficient to combat the surge” in imports.

The push on drones comes after several lawmakers have called on the Biden administration to raise tariffs on Chinese-made vehicles.

The Chinese drone companies hold more than 77% of the U.S. hobby drone market and over 90% of the market for commercial drones, the lawmakers said.

The letter noted Malaysia’s drone exports to the United States, which were minimal as recently as 2019, jumped to 242,000 units in 2022 and in the first 11 months of 2023 topped 565,000.

“These numbers raise concerns that the PRC may be using Malaysia to circumvent U.S. law through transshipment,” the letter said, referring to the initials of the People’s Repubic of China.

The letter also raised national security concerns about Chinese drones saying they “risk putting U.S. persons’

data in the hands of the PRC’s military and intelligence services.”

In November, the committee and other lawmakers asked the Biden administration to investigate and potentially sanction Autel Robotics. Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi introduced legislation seeking to ban the U.S. government from buying Chinese drones.

Congress in 2019 banned the Pentagon from buying or using drones and components manufactured in China.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Gerry Doyle)