US trade regulators approve some Apple tariff exemptions amid broader reprieve

U.S. trade regulators on Friday approved 10 out of 15 requests for tariff exemptions filed by Apple amid a broader reprieve on levies on computer parts, according to a public docket published by the U.S. Trade Representative and a Federal Register notice.

The move by U.S. officials could make it easier for both Apple and small makers of gaming computers to assemble devices in the United States by lowering the costs of importing parts.

Apple did not say why it requested the exemptions, but the requests were for components such as partially completed circuit boards. Apple manufactures its Mac Pro computers in Texas, making the machine immune from tariffs, but such intermediate parts were subject to the levies.

Apple did not immediately return a request for comment.

Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the new Mac Pro, with a cost as high as $6,000, as he delivers the keynote address during the 2019 Apple Worldwide Developer Conference at the San Jose Convention Center on June 3, 2019.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

The Mac Pro computer starts at $6,000 and is intended for users such as music and motion picture studios. Due to its specialized design, the device has never sold in large numbers. But it became a political flashpoint earlier this year when The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple was moving production to China.

Apple never publicly commented on its exact production plans, but U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods complicated the assembly of PCs in the United States. The third list of U.S. tariffs that went into effect last year placed levies on both some fully assembled PCs as well as the major components to make them, meaning manufacturers faced cost increases even if they made machines in the United States.

The tariffs also hit the PC gaming industry, where enthusiasts often assemble their own custom machines from parts, many from China.

Apple applied for the exemptions for some components but President Donald Trump said U.S. regulators would not grant them. Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook later said during the company's July 30 earnings call that Apple wanted to keep making Mac Pros in the United States.

"We want to continue to be here," he told analysts on the call, adding that Apple was investing in capacity to do so.

On Friday, trade officials lifted tariffs on a range of computer components for Apple and all other manufacturers, including partially assembled main circuit boards and graphics cards. Those are critical to computer assemblers because they contain chips from Intel, Nvidia, and Advanced Micro Devices. Those chips are typically some of the most expensive parts in the machines.

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