3/8/17 Update: Section 232 Duties on Steel & Aluminum – Part IV

Dear Friends,

Further to the below, President Trump signed two Presidential Proclamations today – one on steel imports and one on aluminum imports (available here and here).  As expected, the President is imposing an additional 25% duty on steel, and an additional 10% duty on aluminum, imported from all countries except Canada and Mexico beginning on March 23, 2018.  The details are as follows:

Steel Duties

* the 25% additional duty will apply to “steel articles” imported from all countries except Canada and Mexico as of March 23, 2018; 

* “steel articles” are defined by reference to Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) 6-digit subheading, as follows:  “7206.10 through 7216.50, 7216.99 through 7301.10, 7302.10, 7302.40 through 7302.90, and 7304.10 through 7306.90, including any subsequent revisions to these HTS classifications”;

* the 25% additional duty will apply to articles entered, or withdrawn from warehouse for consumption, as of March 23, 2018;

* imports from Canada and Mexico are exempted from the additional duty for now; the proclamation describes the special relationship the United States has with these countries and concludes that steel imports from these countries should be exempted, but qualifies it by saying “at least at this time”; this exemption is likely tied progress with the on-going NAFTA renegotiations and could be taken away by the President with little notice; also, it seems clear that the President means to exempt articles produced in Canada or Mexico, not just articles imported from Canada or Mexico (you cannot ship steel produced in China through Canada and avoid the additional U.S. duty);

* imports from countries with which the United States has “a security relationship” (e.g., allies, like the EU, Australia, Japan, Korea, etc.) are encouraged to discuss with the Administration “alternative ways to address the threatened impairment of the national security” presented by imports from their country; this could possibly lead to a series a ‘voluntary-restraint-type’ arrangements being negotiated where exporting countries agree to limit exports to certain levels; 

* there will be a petition-based, product exclusion process run by the Department of Commerce (with input from other agencies); the standard for exclusion will be whether the article is (i) produced in the United States “in a sufficient and reasonably available amount or of a satisfactory quality” or (ii) subject to specific national security considerations; petitions need to be filed by “a directly affected party located in the United States” (i.e., foreign suppliers need not apply); Commerce will issue formal procedures for this process by March 18th;

* the duties will remain in effect until “expressly reduced, modified, or terminated”;

* Commerce will continue to monitor the situation with regard to imports and their impact on the national security and recommend further actions to the President, as needed.

Aluminum Duties

* the 10% additional duty will apply to “aluminum articles” imported from all countries except Canada and Mexico as of March 23, 2018;

* “aluminum articles” are defined by reference to Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) classification, as follows:  “(a) unwrought aluminum (HTS 7601); (b) aluminum bars, rods, and profiles (HTS 7604); (c) aluminum wire (HTS 7605); (d) aluminum plate, sheet, strip, and foil (flat rolled products) (HTS 7606 and 7607); (e) aluminum tubes and pipes and tube and pipe fitting (HTS 7608 and 7609); and (f) aluminum castings and forgings (HTS 7616.99.51.60 and 7616.99.51.70), including any subsequent revisions to these HTS classifications”;

* the 10% additional duty will apply to articles entered, or withdrawn from warehouse for consumption, as of March 23, 2018;

* imports from Canada and Mexico are exempted from the additional duty for now; the proclamation describes the special relationship the United States has with these countries and concludes that aluminum imports from these countries should be exempted, but qualifies it by saying “at least at this time”; this exemption is likely tied to progress with the on-going NAFTA renegotiations and could be taken away by the President with little notice; also, it seems clear that the President means to exempt articles produced in Canada or Mexico, not just articles imported from Canada or Mexico (you cannot ship aluminum produced in China through Canada and avoid the additional U.S. duty);

* imports from countries with which the United States has “a security relationship” (e.g., allies, like the EU, Australia, Japan, Korea, etc.) are encouraged to discuss with the Administration “alternative ways to address the threatened impairment of the national security” presented by imports from their country; this could possibly lead to a series a ‘voluntary-restraint-type’ arrangements being negotiated where exporting countries agree to limit exports to certain levels;

* there will be a petition-based, product exclusion process run by the Department of Commerce (with input from other agencies); the standard for exclusion will be whether the article is (i) produced in the United States “in a sufficient and reasonably available amount or of a satisfactory quality” or (ii) subject to specific national security considerations; petitions need to be filed by “a directly affected party located in the United States” (i.e., foreign suppliers need not apply); Commerce will issue formal procedures for this process by March 18th; 

* the duties will remain in effect until “expressly reduced, modified, or terminated”;

* Commerce will continue to monitor the situation with regard to imports and their impact on the national security and recommend further actions to the President, as needed. 

*     *     *

These additional duties will have a meaningful impact on the market that will go well beyond just producers or importers.  All companies that utilize steel or aluminum in their products are expected to be impacted.  As a result, there are a number of steps all companies should be taking to assess the impact.  For example, supply contracts should be reviewed (even for downstream – e.g., finished products) to determine whether cost increases due to increased customs duties can be passed on or not.  Companies should also be considering whether to apply for a product exclusion.  While the procedures will not come out for several more days, companies should be preparing now (this exclusion process is expected to be similar to that being used in the Section 201 cases, procedurally).  It is not clear whether exclusion will be granted with retroactive effect or not, so it would be best to get your petitions in as early in the process as possible.  We are helping a number of clients with the exclusion process and would be happy to discuss this or other issues related to these duties with you further.

We hope this is helpful.

Best regards,
Ted


It is being reported that the formal announcement regarding the section 232 duties will come as early as Thursday this week.  The reports also contain unclear/conflicting information on whether imports from certain countries could be exempted (the President had previously said that there would be no country-based exceptions, but that now seems to be in flux).  More to follow . . . .


Dear Friends,

Further to the below, it is being widely reported that the President has decided to impose a 25% duty on imported steel and a 10% duty on imported aluminum next week in response to the reports from Commerce.  It is not yet clear whether those additional duties will apply on imports from all countries, or just to imports from a subset of countries.

More to follow on this.  In the meantime, if you have any questions, please let us know.

Best regards,
Ted


Dear Friends,

As you may recall, early last year, President Trump issued two presidential memoranda instructing the U.S. Commerce Department to initiate an investigation into the national security implications of steel imports and aluminum imports into the United States.  If these so-called “section 232” (section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as amended) investigations determine that steel import and/or aluminum imports “threaten to impair the national security[,]” then the President can impose additional customs duties (among other things) on covered products.

Last Friday, the Secretary of Commerce issued his reports to the President in both matters (available here).   In each case, the Department of Commerce concluded that the quantities and circumstances surrounding steel and aluminum imports “threaten to impair the national security,” thereby opening the door to the imposition of import restraints.  Specifically, Commerce’s recommendations are as follows:

Steel – Alternative Remedies

1.  A global tariff of at least 24% on all steel imports from all countries, or

2.  A tariff of at least 53% on all steel imports from 12 countries (Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam) with a quota by product on steel imports from all other countries equal to 100% of their 2017 exports to the United States, or

3.  A quota on all steel products from all countries equal to 63% of each country’s 2017 exports to the United States.

The measures would apply to steel mill products classified in subheadings 7206.10 through 7216.50, 7216.99 through 7301.10, 7302.10, 7302.40 through 7302.90, and 7304.10 through 7306.90.

The goal of such measures is to ensure that U.S. steel producers utilize 80% of production of capacity.

The recommendation also includes a process to allow Commerce to grant requests from U.S. companies for specific product exclusions if there was insufficient domestic production, or for national security considerations.

Aluminum – Alternative Remedies

1.  A tariff of at least 7.7% on all aluminum exports from all countries, or

2.  A tariff of 23.6% on all products from China, Hong Kong, Russia, Venezuela and Vietnam. All the other countries would be subject to quotas equal to 100% of their 2017 exports to the United States, or

3.  A quota on all imports from all countries equal to a maximum of 86.7% of their 2017 exports to the United States.

These measures would apply to unwrought aluminum (heading 7601), aluminum castings and forgings (subheadings 7616.99.51.60 and 7616.99.51.70), aluminum plat, sheet, strip and foil (flat rolled products) (headings 7606 and 7607); aluminum wire (heading 7605); aluminum bars, rods and profiles (heading 7604); aluminum tubes and pipes (heading 7608); and aluminum tube and pipe fittings (heading 7609).

The goal of such measures is to ensure that U.S. aluminum producers utilize 80% of production of capacity.

The recommendation also includes a process to allow Commerce to grant requests from U.S. companies for specific product exclusions if there was insufficient domestic production, or for national security considerations.

The reports and recommendations are now under consideration by the President.  The President is required to make a decision on the recommendations by April 11th (for steel) and by April 19th (for aluminum).

*           *           *

We believe that it is likely that the President will take some action to “adjust imports” based on these reports.  Accordingly, all companies that rely on steel and/or aluminum articles need to evaluate the impact such action may have on their production.  This would apply not only to companies that import covered articles (which will be the articles hit with additional duties and/or quota limitations), but companies that import downstream articles (e.g., parts made of steel or aluminum) as well.  The actions being contemplated are significant enough to have a ripple effect that impacts far more than just the covered products.

If you have any questions about these reports, or what sort of evaluation you should be doing as a result, please let us know.

Best regards,

Ted

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The Future of KORUS

Dear Friends,

As you have likely seen in the press over the past few days, there has been a good deal of speculation about whether the Trump Administration would withdraw from the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS).  While it is still a possibility, it appears that the decision has been placed on hold for the time-being.

As you know, one of the big focuses for the Trump Administration is addressing bilateral trade deficits (i.e., a country exporting more goods and services to the United States than the United States exports to that country).  This view drives much of the President’s trade policy (and rhetoric).  The effort to combat trade deficits is central to the U.S. position in the NAFTA renegotiations (and our relationship with Mexico, in particular), as well as our relationships with China, Germany and others.

As for Korea, there is more than just trade involved here (e.g., North Korea).  These other geo-political concerns likely played a big role in the decision not to withdraw from KORUS at this time.  We expect that the parties will continue to negotiate to address the Administration’s concerns (the United States ran a net trade deficit of $17 billion with Korea in 2016 — for just goods, the deficit was $27.7 billion; but for services there was a surplus of $10.7 billion).  If the deficit concern is not addressed to the Administration’s satisfaction (which Korea has not done to date), withdrawal is a real possibility.

As a result, we recommend that all companies that rely on KORUS, either for imports into the United States, or exports to Korea, review their long-term contracts to make sure they are covered in case the Administration does decide to withdraw.  For example, if you entered into a contract assuming that the goods would be able to be imported duty free (into either country), would you (or your customer) be able to get out of the contract if the U.S. withdraws from KORUS?  Who will bear the significant increase in duties?  Better to think about these types of issues now, so you are prepared if it actually happens.

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

Best regards,
Ted

Trump on Trade/NAFTA’s Future – Part III

Dear Friends,

On the NAFTA front, there were two further developments this past week of which we wanted to be sure you were aware.

The first was a notice from the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office published in the Federal Register on Tuesday requesting public comment and input on what the U.S. position should be in negotiations with Canada and Mexico to modernize NAFTA.  Specifically, the USTR is interested in comments addressing the following topics:

(a) General and product-specific negotiating objectives for Canada and Mexico in the context of a NAFTA modernization.
(b) Economic costs and benefits to U.S. producers and consumers of removal of any remaining tariffs and removal or reduction of non-tariff barriers on articles traded with Canada and Mexico.
(c) Treatment of specific goods (described by HTSUS numbers), including comments on (1) Product-specific import or export interests or barriers, (2) Experience with particular measures that should be addressed in negotiations, and (3) Addressing any remaining tariffs on articles traded with Canada, including ways to address export priorities and import sensitivities related to Canada and Mexico in the context of the NAFTA.
(d) Customs and trade facilitation issues that should be addressed in the negotiations.
(e) Appropriate modifications to rules of origin or origin procedures for NAFTA qualifying goods.
(f) Any unwarranted sanitary and phytosanitary measures and technical barriers to trade imposed by Canada and Mexico that should be addressed in the negotiations.
(g) Relevant barriers to trade in services between the United States and Canada and Mexico that should be addressed in the negotiations.
(h) Relevant digital trade issues that should be addressed in the negotiations.
(i) Relevant trade-related intellectual property rights issues that should be addressed in the negotiations.
(j) Relevant investment issues that should be addressed in the negotiations.
(k) Relevant competition-related matters that should be addressed in the negotiations.
(l) Relevant government procurement issues that should be addressed in the negotiations.
(m) Relevant environmental issues that should be addressed in the negotiations.
(n) Relevant labor issues that should be addressed in the negotiations.
(o) Issues of particular relevance to small and medium-sized businesses that should be addressed in the negotiations.
(p) Relevant trade remedy issues that should be addressed in the negotiations.
(q) Relevant state-owned enterprise issues that should be addressed in the negotiations.

Comments on these issues (or any others) must be submitted to USTR by June 12, 2017.  In formulating any comments, it is important to keep in mind that this Administration has a different perspective than previous ones when it comes to modernizing or liberalizing NAFTA.  We believe that this effort (at least from a US perspective) will be aimed more squarely at benefitting the United States than previous efforts (which may have looked more at benefitting the NAFTA region as a whole, or US companies with operations in Mexico or Canada).  The following quote from the summary is clear (and consistent with the Administration’s messaging on trade to date): 

“The United States intends to commence negotiations with Canada and Mexico regarding modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The NAFTA was negotiated more than 25 years ago, and, while our economy and U.S. businesses have changed considerably over that period, NAFTA has not. The United States seeks to support higher-paying jobs in the United States and to grow the U.S. economy by improving U.S. opportunities under NAFTA.”

Emphasis added.  A copy of the notice is available here.

The second development relates to a study the USTR requested the U.S. International Trade Commission undertake related to NAFTA imports.  The study, entitled “Probable Economic Effect of Providing Duty-Free Treatment for Currently Dutiable Imports,” will examine the impact of providing duty-free treatment to imports of currently dutiable imports from Canada and Mexico.  Specifically, the ITC will provide a report containing its advice as to the probable economic effect of providing such treatment on (i) industries in the United States producing like or directly competitive products, and (ii) consumers.  The ITC has been asked to look at every dutiable article in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule.  The ITC has also been asked to specifically address the probable economic effects of eliminating tariffs on any dutiable agricultural imports from Canada or Mexico.   

The report is due by August 16, 2017.  A copy of the ITC notice of initiation can be found here and the USTR’s letter to the ITC can be found here.

*     *     *

These efforts to modernize NAFTA/trade with Canada and Mexico represent a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity.  Every company that produces articles in the NAFTA territory, sources articles in the NAFTA territory or competes with articles produced or sourced in the NAFTA territory has a strong incentive to participate in this process.  Given how quickly it is moving, companies need to assess their opportunities/challenges and decide how best to engage now.  Those who do not do so will likely find themselves at a competitive disadvantage once this process is over. 

We are helping numerous clients perform this assessment, as well as develop and implement strategies (offensive or defensive) to maximize the potential benefits.  If you have any questions about how to go about this, please let us know.

Best regards,
Ted

 

International Trade-Related Executive Orders

Dear Friends,

What an interesting time to be working in international trade! 

We are writing to make sure you saw the Executive Orders President Trump issued over the past few days on international trade issues.  All of the Executive Orders are available here.

The Presidential Executive Order Addressing Trade Agreement Violations and Abuses was signed on April 29, 2017.  It directs the Secretary of Commerce and the United States Trade Representative to conduct “comprehensive performance reviews” of all international trade and investment agreements the United States is a party to, as well as trade relations with those WTO member countries with which the United States does not have a trade agreement, but does have a significant trade deficit in goods. The goal of these reviews is to (i) identify violations or abuses by our trading partners, (ii) trade or investment agreements that have not created new U.S. jobs, had favorable effects on our trade balance, increased U.S. exports, etc., and (iii) make recommendations to address the issues identified in (i) and (ii). 

Based on statements President Trump has made to date, we expect that NAFTA as it relates to trade with Mexico, the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the WTO Government Procurement Agreement and others to receive negative marks under the standards to be used in the performance reviews.  What will be more interesting are the recommendations that are made to address those perceived shortcomings (e.g., revising rules of origin, withdrawing from agreements, etc.).  The performance reviews must be submitted to the President by October 26, 2017.

The Presidential Executive Order on Establishment of Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy was also signed on April 29, 2017.  It creates a new Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy (OTMP) within the White House.  The stated mission of the OTMP “is to defend and serve American workers and domestic manufacturers while advising the President on policies to increase economic growth, decrease the trade deficit, and strengthen the United States manufacturing and defense industrial bases.”

These Executive Orders encapsulate much of the President’s trade policy, which is focused on (1) seeking to identify and remedy unfair trading practices, and (2) reducing the trade-in-goods deficits the United States has with other countries.  Companies should be viewing these Executive Orders as a creating an opportunity to engage with the Administration to help shape the recommendations for addressing the problems that they perceive exist with trade.

We are assisting numerous clients navigate these issues.  If you would like to discuss your specific situation and what you should be doing further, just let us know.

Best regards,
Ted

Trump on Trade/NAFTA’s Future – Part II

Dear Friends,

It is being widely reported this afternoon that President Trump is considering imposing a 20% tax on imports from Mexico in order to pay for the border wall (which would mean that U.S. companies/consumers will be paying for the wall, not Mexico. . . ). 

While nothing is imminent, this is a further example of how the rhetoric on renegotiating/withdrawing from NAFTA is being ratcheted-up.  Any company with meaningful investments in Mexico, or that otherwise imports meaningful volumes from Mexico, should be modeling different scenarios and developing contingency plans.  We are assisting numerous clients with this and would be happy to discuss the issues with you further.  If you would like to do so, please let me know.

Best regards,
Ted

Trump on Trade/NAFTA’s Future

Dear Friends,

Earlier today, I had the privilege of speaking at a seminar hosted by my colleagues in Toronto entitled “Trade and Business Strategies for a Post-Globalization World – CETA, Brexit, NAFTA and Preserving Cross Border Data Flows.”  I spoke on a panel entitled “NAFTA’s Prospects and Preserving its Benefits” with colleagues from the US, Canada and Mexico.  I thought that you might find the slides from this panel to be of interest.

If you have any questions about the future of NAFTA, or trade in general, in these interesting times, please let me know.  Also, please check out our “Trump on Trade” webpage for further updates.

Best regards,
Ted

 

Recent NAFTA Penalty Decision

Dear Friends,

We are writing to let you know about an all-too-common misunderstanding of the law by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that, as the attached penalty decision demonstrates, can be an expensive trap for the unwary.

The issue involves claims made under NAFTA that are later corrected/revoked by the importer after being informed by the exporter that the goods no longer qualify – and more specifically what the importer is liable for in such a situation.

In the situation involved in the attached decision, a U.S. company imported goods from a related party in Mexico and claimed NAFTA preference based on a NAFTA Certificates of Origin provided by the exporter/producer.  The NAFTA eligibility of the goods hinged on the fact that a key component was itself NAFTA originating.  The exporter/producer had a NAFTA Certificate of Origin covering this component from an unrelated supplier.  Based on the applicable rule of origin, the finished goods would originate, provided that this component originated.  Since it had a NAFTA Certificate of Origin from the unrelated component supplier, the exporter/producer certified that the finished goods were originating and the importer made claims based on the exporter/producer’s NAFTA Certificate of Origin.

Years after the claims were made, the unrelated component supplier advised that its component was actually of Chinese origin and revoked its NAFTA Certificates of Origin.  This resulted in the finished goods no longer qualifying for NAFTA.  After confirming this analysis, the exporter/producer notified the U.S. importer that the goods it had previously certified as being NAFTA originating no longer qualified.  The U.S. importer then filed a corrected declaration with CBP at the appropriate Port of entry pursuant to 19 C.F.R. §181.21(b).  The corrected declaration identified all of the effected entries over multiple years.  In terms of duties, however, the importer only tendered the duties and Merchandise Processing Fees on the unliquidated entries.  The importer’s position was that it had acted with reasonable care when it relied on the NAFTA Certificate of Origin voluntarily provided by the exporter/producer (and the exporter/producer acted reasonably when it relied on a facially valid NAFTA Certificate of Origin for the component voluntarily provided by the third-party supplier).  The fact that the supplier revoked its certification years after the fact does not make those claims negligent acts.  If the importer was not negligent, there was no basis to reopen the liquidated entries.

The Port disagreed and chose to treat the corrected declaration as a prior disclosure (i.e., an admission of a culpable violation of the law).  Since the importer did not tender all of the duties covered by the “prior disclosure,” it was deemed to be invalid and the Port initiated a penalty action.  The Port sought duties and MPF of approximately $400,000 and a penalty based on a claim of negligence of approximately $800,000.  After much back and forth, the importer was ultimately able to get the case referred to CBP Headquarters for a decision.  As you will see from the attached, CBP Headquarters confirmed that an importer that relies on a facially-valid NAFTA Certificate of Origin is exercising reasonable care and that, if that certificate is later revoked, the importer is not liable for the duties or MPF on the liquidated entries.  The Port’s $1.2 million demand was remitted in full.

This an issue that any company that imports under NAFTA should be aware of, as the approach taken by the Port involved here is not an isolated instance.  We have 3 similar cases currently pending at other Ports and are aware of at least one other situation handled by another firm.  Importers should remember (particularly since CBP seems not to) that NAFTA (unlike our more recent FTAs) is an exporter-based agreement, which means that an importer who relies on a facially-valid NAFTA Certificate of Origin voluntarily provided by the exporter has a good argument that it exercised reasonable care.  If that certificate later turns out to be incorrect, then the importer will be liable for the duties and fees on the unliquidated entries (i.e., the past 10 months or so), but not on the liquidated ones.  As demonstrated by the attached, remembering this can help ensure that the company does not tender monies to the government unnecessarily.

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

Best regards,
Ted