Miscellaneous Tariff Bill — One Step Closer to Reality

Dear Friends,

In a bit of good trade news, late last week, the Senate passed a slightly modified version of the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill Act of 2018 that had passed the House back in January 2018.  The bill authorizes temporary duty suspensions or reductions for hundreds products (the duty suspensions/reductions are generally effective for 2 years).  The bill also contains a provision extending certain customs user fees. 

The Senate version strikes a small number of products included in the House version, and modifies a handful of others.  As a result, the two versions of the bill will now need to be reconciled (given the small number of changes made by the Senate, the House will likely just vote on/pass the Senate version).  If this occurs, then it appears that the MTB will be sent to the President for signature as a stand-alone bill (rather than waiting to include it as part of a larger trade bill).  Given the concerns some in Congress have raised regarding the President’s recent trade policies – e.g., the handling of the ZTE enforcement case, the processing of Section 232 product exclusion petitions, etc., MTB’s best shot is probably as a stand-alone bill, rather than waiting to be included as part of a larger trade bill, as has been done traditionally.  It will also be interesting to see whether the President is inclined to sign such a bill.  While MTB is generally viewed as providing a limited benefit to U.S. manufacturers (the MTB’s intent is to provide a tariff break to manufacturing inputs that are not available domestically), the President has indicated in the past that MTB primarily benefits Chinese exporters.   

It is important to note that the MTB, if enacted, only impacts the Column 1, General rates of duty for covered articles (i.e., the Most Favored Nation/Normal Trade Relations rates).  The MTB does not change or otherwise impact Section 232 or Section 301 duties; those still apply.

All companies should review the list of products included in the MTB.  The provisions are not (supposed to be) company-specific.  Stated differently, any company that imports an article covered by a MTB description can claim the duty benefit (even if you were not the proponent of the provision).  Also, it is worth mentioning that the process of requesting MTB benefits will re-open in about a year (by October 15, 2019), so it is not too early to start preparing to participate in that process.

We hope this is helpful.  We helped numerous companies get their articles included in the MTB and would be happy to discuss this with you further.  If you have any questions, please let us know.

Best regards,
Ted

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A Possible Armistice in the U.S.-EU Trade War

Dear Friends,

Just a short note to let you know that an armistice may be in the works in the U.S.-EU trade war.

President Trump met with European Commission President Juncker at the White House today.  Following the meeting, the two each gave short statements to the media assembled in the Rose Garden. 

President Trump started by saying that the United States and EU were entering a “new phase” in their $1 billion bilateral trade relationship.  He went on to state that the two sides “agreed today . . .to work together towards zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods.”  He also mentioned that the EU had agreed to buy “a lot of soybeans” and to start importing more liquefied natural gas (the EU will be a “massive buyer of LNG”).  The two sides also agreed to start a dialogue on standards to help ease trade/reduce barriers and to work together to reform the WTO and combat unfair trade practices by other countries (read:  China).  He concluded by saying that these negotiations will start “now” and that the two sides will resolve both the U.S. steel and aluminum duties, as well as the EU retaliatory duties.

President Juncker gave a shorter statement that (largely) corroborated what President Trump said.  The two sides would negotiate a zero tariff agreement on industrial goods, cooperate more on energy and agriculture, begin a dialogue on standards and work together to reform the WTO.  He also said there was agreement that, as long as the parties are negotiating, no further tariffs would be imposed and existing tariffs would be reassessed.

This is a positive development.  That said, the devil is always in the details.  For example, it is not yet clear whether the United States will lift the 232 duties on steel and aluminum for EU origin products immediately, or only once an agreement is formally reached, etc.  Stay tuned for more.  In the meantime, if you have any questions, please let us know.

Best regards,
Ted

EU Retaliatory Tariffs – Enter into Force Today

Dear Friends,

As you may have heard, the EU has formally decided to impose retaliatory tariffs on certain products originating in the United States.  This is in response to President Trump’s decision to impose additional tariffs on EU steel and aluminium products.

The new additional tariffs will come into effect today, June 22nd.

List of affected items

The full list of affected EU tariff codes is set out in Annex I to Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2018/886, available here.  In almost all cases, products are subject to an additional duty of 25%.

The new tariffs affect all goods of US origin falling within the affected tariff codes that are imported into the EU from June 22nd, except for:

  • goods already exported from the US before 22 June (for which the importer must provide proof); and
  • goods for which an import licence exempting or reducing duty on the goods (e.g., by use of tariff quotas) has been obtained before 22 June.

As a result, if your goods have been shipped out of the US prior to the 22nd of June or if they are currently “on the water” or if  they are held under bond in the EU prior to the 22nd of June, they will not be affected by the additional tariffs.

The legislation also provides for additional tariffs on other product lines, which will take effect from the earlier of (i) 1 June 2021 or (ii) from the fifth day following a WTO ruling that the US is in violation of the WTO Agreement.  These products and tariff rates are listed in Annex II to the Regulation linked above.

Recommended actions

We suggest that you:

  • review the tariff codes for any products imported into the EU and identify those caught by these measures;
  • verify that none of those would qualify as “originating in the US”. We note that products that are manufactured in another country but have a high US content may qualify as ‘US-origin’ goods if the local manufacturing  / processing is not sufficient to confer origin. You should therefore carefully review the origin of products caught by the additional duties that have US content.

 

The situation remains fast-moving, and we note in particular recent news reports that suggest that the EU may offer to reduce its tariffs on automobile imports in exchange for relief from the new US measures.  If the US agrees, then the EU will drop its retaliatory measures.

Please do let us know if you have any questions on the new measures, or if we can assist in any way.

Best regards,

Ted

Section 301 – China’s Response

Dear Friends,

As expected, China has responded to today’s U.S. announcement with one of its own. 

 

China’s announcement mirrors the position adopted by the United States.  China will impose an additional 25% customs duty on approximately $34 billion worth of imports from the United States, as of July 6, 2018.  This list includes various agricultural products, certain food/juice/beverages, automobiles, auto parts, etc.  China is also considering imposing a 25% customs duty on a second list of U.S. products worth approximately $16 billion.  Both lists are attached here (although in Chinese, the tariff classifications are provided). 

This is the latest, but undoubtedly not the last, round in this dispute.  We expect that the U.S. administration will issue a response (likely in a tweet, at least initially) over the weekend (if not sooner).  A few months back, when China threatened to retaliate for any U.S. duties imposed under section 301, President Trump said he would up the ante by imposing a 25% customs duty on an additional $100 billion worth of imports from China.  We may now get to see if he is willing to make good on that threat.

Best regards,
Ted       

Section 301 – US Imposes Additional Duties

Dear Friends,

Earlier today, the White House issued a statement confirming that the United States will impose an additional 25% customs duty on $50 billion worth of imports from China.  The additional duty will be assessed on goods that “contain industrially significant technologies[,]” including those “related to China’s Made in China 2025 strategic plan to dominate the emerging high-technology industries[,]” according to the statement.  The statement goes on to say that the additional duty is “essential to preventing further unfair transfers of American technology and intellectual property to China, which will protect American jobs.  In addition, they will serve as an initial step toward bringing balance to the trade relationship between the United States and China.”  Finally, the statement indicates that the United States will consider further additional duties if China retaliates (which it is expected to do).  A copy of the White House statement is attached.

Following the issuance of the White House statement, the U.S. Trade Representative published a notice on its website containing the list of products/tariff classifications that will be subject to the additional 25% duty.  The list is broken down into two pieces and focuses on “industrial” (not consumer) products.

The first piece contains 818 of the original 1,333 tariff classifications proposed in the list published on April 6, 2018.  These 818 tariff classifications represent approximately $34 billion worth of imports from China and the additional 25% duty will be assessed beginning on July 6, 2018.  A copy of this list is attached here: List 1.

The second piece contains 284 new tariff classifications identified by the interagency Section 301 Committee as benefitting from China’s industrial policies, including Made in China 2025.  These 284 tariff classifications represent approximately $16 billion worth of imports from China.  This list of tariff classifications will be subject to a new/separate public notice and comment process (including a hearing).  The details are expected to be published shortly.  A decision will be made whether to impose additional duties on products on this second list thereafter.  A copy of this list is attached: List 2.

The USTR notice also states that it will “soon provide an opportunity for the public to request exclusion of particular products from the additional duties subject to this action.”  This process will be detailed in a subsequent Federal Register notice.

We recommend that all clients review both lists published by the USTR.  We also recommend that clients keep their eye on the news.  It is widely expected that China will retaliate by imposing duties on U.S. exports to China.  In such a case, it is likely that the administration will seek to expand the second list of products subject to additional duties (the President had previously threatened to impose duties on an additional $100 billion worth of Chinese imports).  Finally, it is also important to stay tuned for the Federal Register notice that will be published with additional details, including on the product exclusions process.

We hope that this is helpful.  If you have any questions, please let us know.

Best regards,

Ted

Section 301 Update II

Dear Friends, 

Further to the below, while there were some mixed signals sent yesterday, the Administration clarified today that the imposition of the section 301 duties is being suspended.  It is being reported that China and the United States have made enough progress in negotiations to warrant suspending the imposition of tariffs (as well as China’s retaliatory tariffs) for now.

While this is a positive development, it is also subject to change.  As a result, for now, we are recommending that companies continue to pursue exclusions just in case.

If you have any questions, please let us know.

Best regards,
Ted  


Dear Friends,

Further to the below, we wanted to provide a brief update on the Section 301 situation and request your assistance.

First, the update.  Roughly, 2,900 comments were submitted in response to the list of Chinese-origin articles the USTR proposed to subject to an additional 25% duty upon importation into the United States.  The comments were both opposed to, and in favor of, the imposition of additional duties (with the vast majority being opposed either broadly, or with regard to the inclusion of specific articles on the proposed list).  A 3-day hearing was also held this past week where approximately 125 individuals provided verbal comments either in opposition to, or in favor, of the additional duties.  Rebuttal comments are due this coming Tuesday, May 22nd.

Now the request — we assisted several clients prepare comments and testimony opposing the imposition of the additional duties.  We also assisted these clients in discussions with their respective Congressional delegations and were able to get commitments of support.   We advanced several different arguments during this process, but one, in particular, seemed to resonate especially well.  Based on that positive feedback, we wanted to follow-up with all of you to see if your companies are similarly-situated and, if so, if you would be willing to join our effort to gain a broad-based exemption.

In short, we requested that USTR categorically exempt from the proposed additional duties products manufactured in China by wholly foreign-owned enterprises (“WFOEs”).

As explained in greater detail in our previous updates (below), the USTR concluded that China used foreign ownership/joint venture requirements, compulsory technology transfers, the acquisition of U.S. companies and assets, etc. to obtain cutting edge U.S. technology and that those practices were “unreasonable or discriminatory and burden or restrict U.S. commerce”[.]  It was then determined that the “appropriate” remedy “to obtain the elimination” of those practices was to impose an additional 25% duty on the identified articles.  So, stated simply, the USTR’s goal is to identify articles on which the imposition of additional duties will force China to change its unfair policies.  

WFOEs, which are, by definition, owned entirely by non-Chinese entities, are not subject to the ownership restrictions (i.e., a WFOE does not have a joint venture partner).  WFOEs in most industries are also not subject to compulsory technology transfer through government licensing, for example.  As a result, the imposition of additional duties on articles produced in China by WFOEs will have no impact on Chinese government policy (i.e., there is no “forced” technology transfer when the manufacturer involved is a WFOE, therefore, assessing duties on articles produced by a WFOE does not make sense).

Accordingly, we requested that the USTR categorically exempt from any Section 301 duties articles produced in China by a WFOE.  We also pointed out that such an exemption would be easily administrable from a customs perspective.  A new ‘special program indicator’ could be created that, when used, meant that the importer was certifying that the articles being imported were produced by a WFOE (similar to how claims are made now under our more recent free trade agreements).  Such a certification would be subject to audit/verification by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.  The manufacturer identification (or MID) codes could also be used to help ensure that only articles produced (not just sold) by the WFOE were entered under the exemption.  

We believe that such a request has a meaningful chance of success for a couple of reasons.  The first is that exempting articles produced by WFOEs is consistent with the Section 301 determination (i.e., the goal is to get China to lift its restrictive ownership requirements so U.S./foreign companies can operate without local joint venture partners; WFOEs are already entirely foreign owned).  Second, this exemption request is a lot easier to justify than picking and choosing among the large number of compelling stories U.S. companies told in the context of their HTS-specific requests (i.e., assuming the USTR wants to provide some exemptions, our categorical request would be easier to grant than picking and choosing from among the numerous HTS-specific requests companies made).  Finally, it is also administrable.

As mentioned, our WFOE exemption has received positive feedback at a number of levels.  Accordingly, if you are opposed to the imposition of the Section 301 duties (either because you are on the list in this round, or you fear being on the list in the next potential round) and the articles you import are produced by a WFOE, please let us know.  Regardless of whether you filed comments already or not, we believe that you have the opportunity to engage with the Administration on this issue as part of our coalition.

We hope this is helpful.  If you have any questions, please let us know.

Best regards,
Ted

Section 232/Section 301 Update

Dear Friends,

I wanted to share with you a couple of thoughts on the Section 232/Section 301 process that I thought might be helpful.

The first is a reminder.  The temporary exclusions from the Section 232 duties on steel (an additional 25%) and aluminum (an additional 10%) granted to products of Canada, Mexico, Australia, Argentina, Brazil and the EU expire at midnight on Monday, April 30th (i.e., tomorrow).  While there has been some reports that the Administration intends to extend the temporary exclusions for some countries (i.e., those that have expressed a willingness to negotiate a voluntary export restraint-type agreement), that is not likely to extend to all countries.  Based on what the EU has said publicly about its willingness to accept a VER, it seems likely that the additional duties will go into effect on Tuesday.

The second is also a reminder.  As companies grapple with the Section 232/Section 301 duties, many are reviewing their imports and determining whether articles are correctly classified or not (e.g., if an article is on the list of products proposed to be subject to the Section 301 duties, can the article be re-classified in a different HTS provision not on the list?).  Many companies are also reviewing the publicly-available data of their competitors. . . .

 As many of you know, U.S. Customs and Border Protection makes available to the public manifest data for import and export shipments.  The manifest data includes information such as the name and address of the foreign shipper & U.S. consignee/notify party, the ports of lading and unlading, the carrier, a description of the goods, weight, etc.  This data is obtained by private companies that repackage it (and often add their best guess at classification, entered value, etc.) and then sell it to the public for a fee. 

You may also know that CBP allows companies to request confidential treatment for their manifest data.  Under the regulations, if a company requests confidential treatment, CBP will not disclose the names and addresses of the importer/consignee, foreign shipper or notify party and any other identifying marks. 

The process to obtain confidential treatment is pretty straight-forward (it involves submitting a letter to CBP HQ) and we recommend that all clients pursue confidential treatment every 2 years.

We hope that this is helpful.  If you have any questions, or if you would like any assistance with Section 232/Section 301 issues, including requesting confidential treatment for your manifest data, please let us know.

Best regards,
Ted