The International Trade Commission voted yesterday to raise the tariff on imported television sets from the current 5 per cent to 25 per cent for the next two years to aid the domestic television industry.
If President Carter approaves the commission's decision, the higher tariff could add between $200 million and $300 million to the $2 billion American consumers spent last year for color sets alone.
Labor unions and television makers united to press the case for relief from foreign competition. The coalition of workers and manufacturers in the television industry is the latest in a series of similar alliances in industries hard hit by imports.
Last year, specialty stellmakers and the United Steel Workers joined forces to obtain temporary quotas on the import of stainless and tool steels. Last month, the trade commission, a six-member agency that recommends trade policy options to the President, urged relief for shoe workers and manufacturers.
Steelmakers have a separate petition pending before the President's special trade representative to reduce competition.
The President will be forced to balance the increasingly protectionist demands of many of his labor union backers against the threat of retaliation against U.S. products by foreign countries.
The world's major trading nations are meeting in Geneva now trying to negotiate reductions in both tariff and nontariff trade barriers.
According to an analyst for the White House inflation-monitoring agency, the Council on Wage and Price Stability, the average wholesale price of an imported color television before tariffs is $280. With a 5 per cent tariff that price rises to $294.
At the 25 per cent level recommended by the commission for the next two years, the wholesale price would rise to $350. The commission voted to lower the tariff to 20 per cent for the following two years and to 15 per cent for a fifth year. Then the tarriff would revert back to the 5 per cent level.
President Carter has 60 days to accept, reject or modify the commission recommendations. If he changes them in any way, Congress then has 90 days to override him.
Before he must act on television sets, however, the President must decide what to do about the commission's recommendation last month that the government impose a combination of tariffs and quotas to protect American shoemakers from foreign competition.
The trade commission estimated that the proposed systems of shoe tarrifs and quotas would cost consumers about $190 million a year, but private analyses say the nation's total show bill could rise as much as $500 million.
Most imported television sets come from Japan, although Taiwan and South Korea are also significant exporters to the United States.
Union and some manufacturers had advocated a quota, which would place a limit on the number of foreign televisions that could be sent to the United States.
A coalition of 11 labor unions and four companies called the Committee to Preserve American Color Television (COMPACT), urged President Carter yesterday to "strengthen" the trade commission recommendations and impose quotas on television imports.
The American Retail Federation, an organization of retail stores, called the commission's recommendation "another protectionist move at great cost to the Amercian comsumer and the retail industry."
The average American-made color set costs about $30 more than the average foreign set, according to a trade commission economist. American makers have told the commission, an economist said, that if the higher tariffs are approved, they will raise prices somewhat.
Last week, when the commission found that the industry was being seriously hurt by imports, members noted must of the 12 American television manufacturers were losing money.
Color television imports accountd for 37 per cent of the market last year, twice as much as in 1975. For years imports have dominated the black-and-white industry in the United States. Only seven American black-and-white TV manufacturers remain.
The number of persons employed in color television manufacturing in the United States fell from 36,500 in 1971 to 23,000 in 1975, a drop of 37 per cent.
The trade commission staff estimated that if the tariff increase on color televisions is passed on by importers (who absorb the other half) and American makers raise prices by the same amount, there would be an increase of 4,000 jobs in the American television industry, and a $200 million to $250 million price increase to consumers.
If American makers - who are not using 25 per cent of their color manufacturing capacity - do not raise prices, there would be more than 4,000 jobs created and the total cost to consumers would be between $100 million and $125 million, the commission staff said.
Analysts for both the trade commission and the Council on Wage and Price Stability have not completed similar studies on black-and-white television. When unions and manufacturers filed their complaints last fall, only color was involved. The commission subsequently broadened its investigation to include the black-and-white industry.