Possible U.S.-Mexico Border Shut Down (Update)

Earlier today, President Trump further clarified his position on closing the border. 

 In response to questions from reporters at an unrelated event (the Opportunity and Revitalization Council Meeting), President Trump said that he has two issues with Mexico:  (1) failing to stop migrants transiting Mexico to the United States; and (2) failing to stop the flow of illegal drugs to the United States.  He said that he intends to put Mexico on notice and give it some time to address both issues – one year.  If these issues are not addressed within the year, then President Trump said that he would impose additional duties on automobiles imported into the United States from Mexico (he indicated that he may also impose tariffs on other products, but that cars are “the whole ballgame”).  If tariffs do not work, then he will close the border.  President Trump said that he views these issues (i.e., stopping the flow of people and drugs from Mexico to the United States) to be more important than passage of the USMCA. 

 So, it appears that the threat to close the border is (most likely) off the table for the time being.  That said, the Department of Homeland Security is still re-assigning CBP agents to help deal with the increase in the number of migrants seeking to enter the United States (750 so far, but could be up to 2,000 agents).  Since there are fewer agents to handle cargo clearance, it is leading to increasing delays at many of the land border crossings.  We expect this trend to continue, and likely to get worse, in the short term.

 We hope that this is helpful.  If you have any questions about this situation, or what you can do (or should be doing) to cope, please let us know.

 

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Possible U.S.-Mexico Border Shut Down

As you have likely heard by now, President Trump has threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border to all cross-border traffic (individuals and commercial) this week if Mexico does not do more to stem the tide of illegal immigration to the United States.  While such a shutdown would be devastating to many companies, it would not be unprecedented (Presidents Bush and Reagan each closed the border temporarily during their presidencies). 

 What we know so far is that U.S. Customs and Border Protection is reassigning at least 750 personnel to help with border security (which means that fewer folks are available to carry out cargo exams, etc.).  Also, the President of Mexico said some encouraging things about regulating migration through his country, so, as long as President Trump feels that progress is being made, he may not actually close the border.  Of course, if he feels that enough progress is not being made, we expect that he will do it.

 Accordingly, it is important that all companies that rely on cross-border trade (develop and) implement contingency plans to deal with this possibility.  If you have any questions about types of contingencies that are available, or if you would otherwise like to discuss these issues further, please let us know.

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

Important US Customs Ruling on Determining Country of Origin for Section 301 Purposes

Dear Friends,

U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently published a ruling that every company considering shifting production from China to Mexico (or Canada) as part of a strategy to mitigate the impact of the Section 301 duties should be aware of.  In Headquarters Ruling H300226, CBP concluded that, while the NAFTA Marking Rules (19 C.F.R. Part 102) are used to determine the country of origin of articles imported into the United States from Mexico for marking purposes, the traditional substantial transformation test is used to determine the country of origin of articles for Section 301 duty purposes.  A copy of the ruling is attached here for your reference: H300226.

As you will see from the ruling, parts of a motor were imported into Mexico for assembly.  The assembly operation in Mexico was sufficient to satisfy the applicable NAFTA Marking Rule, such that the finished article was considered to a “product of Mexico” for marking purposes.  CBP, however, then went on to say that the traditional substantial transformation test is used for purposes of “antidumping, countervailing, or other safeguard measures[.]”  CBP then applied the traditional substantial transformation test to the facts and concluded that the Mexican assembly operations were not sufficient to confer origin and, therefore, the finished motor imported into the United States was a “product of China” for Section 301 purposes.  So, in short, the product had to be marked to indicate that it was of Mexican origin, but the importer had to pay the Section 301 duty applicable to Chinese-origin articles.

This ruling highlights a few important points.  First, while the traditional substantial transformation test and the NAFTA Marking Rules are meant to embody the same origin principles, they do not always produce the same result due to the different nature of the tests (i.e., the traditional substantial transformation test is subjective; whereas the NAFTA Marking Rules are objective).  Second, for purposes of section 301, the traditional substantial transformation test must be used even if the goods are imported from an FTA-partner country (e.g., Mexico, Canada, Singapore, etc.).  The NAFTA Marking Rules may be helpful to that analysis, but are not determinative.  Finally, CBP is willing to live with this seemingly absurd result (i.e., an article marked “Product of Mexico” being subject to duties applicable to “products of China”).

I hope that this helps.  If you have any questions about these issues, 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

 

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