Section 301 — Notice Delaying Duty Increase on List 3 from 10% to 25%

Dear Friends,

Further to the below, included here is an advance copy of a notice that will be published in the Federal Register next week officially delaying the increase in Section 301 duties on articles included on List 3 from 10% to 25%.  Based on the agreement reached by President Trump and President Xi last month (see previous post), the duty rate will now increase on such articles on March 2, 2019 (rather than on January 1, 2019) unless an overall agreement is reached, or there is a further delay.

Best regards,
Ted

 

 

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Section 301 — Standstill Agreement Reached

Dear Friends,

Further to the below, the United States and China have agreed to adopt a standstill agreement in the on-going trade war to provide time for the two side to negotiate an overall resolution.  According to the White House press release:

On Trade, President Trump has agreed that on January 1, 2019, he will leave the tariffs on $200 billion worth of product at the 10% rate, and not raise it to 25% at this time. China will agree to purchase a not yet agreed upon, but very substantial, amount of agricultural, energy, industrial, and other product from the United States to reduce the trade imbalance between our two countries. China has agreed to start purchasing agricultural product from our farmers immediately.

President Trump and President Xi have agreed to immediately begin negotiations on structural changes with respect to forced technology transfer, intellectual property protection, non-tariff barriers, cyber intrusions and cyber theft, services and agriculture. Both parties agree that they will endeavor to have this transaction completed within the next 90 days. If at the end of this period of time, the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the 10% tariffs will be raised to 25%.

A copy of the press release can be found here.

This will certainly come as good news to many companies (in particular, those importing articles included on List 3).  The increase in the duty rate applicable to articles included on List 3 from 10% to 25% has been delayed from January 1, 2019 to March 1, 2019.  It is also reasonable to assume that the U.S. Trade Representative will not begin the process for imposing duties on the remaining $267 billion worth of imports until after March 1st, at the earliest. 

This announcement also suggests that President Trump views the dispute with China to be a ‘little picture’ trade dispute, rather than a ‘big picture’ geo-political battle with a rising power.  That is good news for companies with significant investment in U.S.-China trade, as the former is at least susceptible to a negotiated settlement; whereas the latter is almost certainly not.  That said, a great deal of work remains to be done if the two sides are to reach an agreement within 90 days on “structural changes with respect to [China’s policies regarding] forced technology transfer, intellectual property protection, non-tariff barriers, cyber intrusions and cyber theft, services and agriculture.” 

While this may be a positive development, the outcome is still far from certain.  As a result, companies should continue to be looking at the various mitigation strategies.  If you have any questions about these strategies, or if you would otherwise like to discuss the situation further, please let us know.

Best regards,
Ted

USMCA Signed (But Not Finished) — Addendum

Dear Friends, 

Further to the below, it appears that President Trump is going “all in” on the USMCA. 

It is being reported that President Trump told reporters on the trip home from Buenos Aires yesterday that he intends to notify Congress “soon” that the United States is withdrawing from NAFTA (Article 2205 of NAFTA provides that a party may withdraw from the agreement with 6 months written notice).  If President Trump does formally withdraw from NAFTA, it would give Congress a stark choice – approve the USMCA, or the U.S. trade with Canada and with Mexico would go back to pre-NAFTA days (pre-1994). 

All companies with substantial investment in NAFTA trade should be concerned with this all or nothing approach.  If you would like to discuss what you should be doing now in response, please let us know.

Best regards,
Ted 

 

USMCA Signed (But Not Finished)

Dear Friends,

As you hopefully saw, the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (“USMCA”) was signed by President Trump, President Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Trudeau yesterday in Buenos Aires ahead of the G20 summit. 

Further to the below, however, the USMCA has a long way to go before it comes into effect.  The agreement is required to be ratified by the legislatures of all three countries.  While passage in Mexico and Canada is largely considered to be a formality, it is far from certain that the U.S. Congress will be so accommodating.  It is expected that the agreement will be taken up by the next Congress in early 2019.  It will be interesting to see how President Trump and a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives proceed.  Are the Democrats willing to give President Trump a victory by approving the USMCA?  Will the Democrats attempt to have changes made to the USMCA to secure passage (like was done by a Democratic-controlled House with previous FTAs)?  Will President Trump threaten to withdraw from NAFTA if the House does not approve the USMCA as is (i.e., it is either the USMCA or no agreement)?

Look for all of this to play out in early-to-mid 2019 (as nothing will likely happen once the 2020 presidential campaign kicks off in earnest in the fall of 2019).  In the meantime, if you have any questions about how the possible implementation of the USMCA impacts your business, please let us know.

Best regards,
Ted

The End of NAFTA?

Dear Friends,

President Trump announced earlier today that the U.S. and Mexico have reached a preliminary agreement on a new trade agreement. 

In a meeting with reporters from the Oval Office, and President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico on the phone, President Trump announced that the two countries have reached an agreement on new trade agreement.  According to the President, this agreement will be called the “U.S.-Mexico Trade Agreement” and it will replace NAFTA (which, the President said had bad connotations because it was such a bad deal for the United States).  The Administration intends to notify Congress this coming Friday of its attention to sign this new trade agreement (the Administration is required to notify Congress at least 90 days before signing any trade deal and President Nieto leaves office November 30th, which is ~90 days from Friday, so they are trying to get this in under the wire).

As for Canada, the two presidents seemed to express different views.  President Trump said that negotiations with Canada had not started yet, but would be begin shortly.  He also suggested that they would be short – saying that if Canada wants to negotiate fairly, we will do that; but that, if not, the United States will just impose a duty on Canadian-made automobiles (presumably under the on-going Section 232 investigation).  He also said that any deal could be a separate deal, or it could be integrated in to the new U.S.-Mexico trade agreement.  President Pena repeated stated that Mexico’s intention was to have a trilateral agreement that included Canada (not two separate bilateral deals, as seems to President Trump’s preference).

The fact sheets put out by the USTR on the U.S.-Mexico Trade Agreement are available here.  A video of the meeting in the Oval Office is available on C-SPAN’s website.

While this is a momentous development, there are a few things to keep in mind.  First, the United States (and possibly Mexico?) appears to be willing to move forward without Canada.  It seems increasingly likely that President Trump intends to use his leverage (over autos, in particular) to present Canada with a ‘take it or leave it’ offer.  If Canada is not willing to accept President Trump’s terms, it is not clear whether Mexico would be willing to forego an agreement with the United States (that seems less likely based on today’s meeting).  Second, this process is far from over.  As mentioned above, the United States and Mexico are racing against a political deadline (when President Nieto leaves office November 30th), but that is not the only political consideration.  The U.S. political process/deadlines will also come into play, as mentioned in our previous updates.  It is not clear whether a renegotiated agreement can be finalized and ratified in the time available.  Nevertheless, all companies will meaningful NAFTA-related investment should be considering how today’s announcement is likely to impact their business and begin planning accordingly. 

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

Best regards,
Ted

 

Section 301 – Latest Update

Dear Friends,

Just a quick update on Section 301, and the process surrounding List 3, in particular. 

As you know, the U.S. Trade Representative is considering whether to impose an additional 25% duty on a list of tariff provisions that represent $200 billion worth of imports from China (this is ‘List 3’).  The Section 301 Interagency Committee will be holding a public hearing on the scope of List 3 beginning this week.  The USTR will hear testimony from approximately 350 interested parties over 6 days.  The hearing schedule and the list of parties testifying are attached here for your reference.

In addition, we wanted to let you know that, as of last Thursday, the USTR had received 386 product exclusion requests under List 1.  The oldest request was filed on July 16, 2018.  So far, none of the 386 product exclusion requests have been acted upon.  A list of the exclusion requests is attached for your reference.  The USTR is expected to publish a notice in the Federal Register opening the exclusion process for List 2 shortly.  A similar notice (presumably) will be published for List 3 shortly after that list is finalized (expected in mid-to-late September).  Remember, it is better to file your exclusion request as early in the process as possible (it is going to be a long line!).

Finally, there will be a meeting in Washington between Chinese and U.S. officials later this week. This meeting is billed as being between “mid-level” officials on both sides (so, it is likely a meeting about whether it makes sense to keep meeting).  While this is a positive sign, it does not mean that the end is near (by any stretch).  For one reason, the U.S. delegation is being lead by a Treasury Department official.  The trade agenda (at least when it comes to China) is being driven by the White House, Commerce Department and USTR (not by Treasury).  As a result, no major breakthroughs are expected at this meeting.  That said, it is also being reported that there could be a possible meeting between President Trump and President Xi at one of the international meetings both will be attending in November.  While a resolution may not seem likely, President Trump has demonstrated a certain penchant for ‘declaring victory’ after in-person meetings with world leaders (and leaving the details to be worked out by others later – e.g., the Singapore summit with North Korea, the White House meeting with EU Commission President Juncker last month).  Nothing would surprise me at this point.

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

Best regards,
Ted

Trade Update

Dear Friends,

There has been a lot going on with international trade in recent weeks and we wanted to flag for you a couple of items you may have missed.

The first involves the NAFTA renegotiation.  Rather than engage in discussions involving all three countries at once, the U.S. has focused its efforts on first reaching agreement with Mexico.  U.S. and Mexican officials have been in discussions over the past several weeks and talks are expected to continue this week.  The talks re-started following the Mexican presidential election in July.  This effort seeks to conclude a deal in August, so that the current Mexican president (President Enrique Pena Nieto) can sign the revised deal before he leaves office November 30th (thereby allowing the new president, President-Elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to focus on domestic issues). 

It appears that these bilateral talks are making progress, including on providing an exemption to the Automotive Section 232 investigation for existing Mexican auto plants (it is being reported that the U.S. is not willing to extend that exemption to future/new auto production in Mexico, to make sure that there is an incentive for companies to put new production in the United States).  That said, tough issues remain (e.g., a sunset clause, investor state dispute mechanisms, etc.).  In addition, Canada has not been included in these most recent discussions.  It appears that the U.S. and Mexico are intending to present Canada with a renegotiated agreement and a ‘take it or leave’ offer.  It is not clear how Canada will respond, if such an offer is made.  It should be an interesting couple of weeks.

The second involves the Steel and Aluminum Section 232 investigations.  While these are purportedly ‘national security’ investigations, President Trump announced last week that the U.S. would double the duties imposed on Turkish steel and aluminum imports (from 25% and 10% to 50% and 20%, respectively).  The U.S. Trade Representative also announced that it was reviewing Turkey’s continued eligibility under the Generalized System of Preferences program.   These efforts appear to be in response to Turkey detaining a U.S. citizen who is alleged to be involved in the July 2016 coup attempt. 

These developments show that President Trump is willing to use U.S. trade policy to influence other countries’ positions on unrelated issues.  While that may undercut the legal basis for some of these trade actions (e.g., is doubling the steel duties on imports from Turkey really related to U.S. national security concerns, or is it more of an effort to get Turkey to release Pastor Brunson?  Is the Automotive Section 232 investigation about U.S. national security, or about getting Mexico, Canada, the EU, Japan, Korea, etc. to change their policies on other issues?), and be a different way of doing things than previous administrations, it may be working (at least in the short term; in the longer term, this approach will likely come back to bite us in several different ways).

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

Best regards,
Ted