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

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NAFTA is Dead, Long Live the USMCA!

Dear Friends,

As you have undoubtedly seen by now, last night, an agreement was reached on a revised trade agreement that will replace NAFTA.  The new agreement will be called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (“USMCA”).  The USMCA contains new provisions that were not in NAFTA (e.g., digital trade, data storage location requirements, etc.) and changes to others (e.g., agriculture, financial services, de minimis, certain rules of origin, such as autos, investor protections, trade remedies, etc.).  There are also side letters on how products of Canada and of Mexico will be treated, if the United States proceeds to impose additional duties on autos and auto parts (or other products) under Section 232.  There is a great deal in the revised agreement and all companies with meaningful NAFTA (or now, USMC) activity should be reviewing the proposed text to determine how it impacts their operations.  The text of the agreement is available here.

That said, the agreement has a long way to go before it comes into effect.  

As indicated below, the unofficial deadline to get a deal done was last night.  The deadline was based on the fact that President Pena Nieto leaves office December 1st.  Under U.S. law, President Trump has to publish the text of any agreement 60 days before signing.  Therefore, if the goal was to have the agreement signed before President Nieto leaves office, the text had to be published by September 30th.

Signing the agreement, however, is not the end of the process.  The agreement must be ratified by each of the three countries.  In the United States, that process (which includes a study by the U.S. International Trade Commission on the potential economic impact and consideration by both the House and Senate) will take meaningful time (i.e., months).  As a result, USMCA implementing legislation will not be considered until well after the first of the year. 

In addition, given the mid-term elections in a few weeks and the resulting uncertainty over the composition of the next Congress, it is not clear whether the agreement will have the votes necessary for passage.

It should be an interesting next few months.  Again, our recommendation is that all companies with meaningful cross-border activity with Canada and/or Mexico review the text and start planning for the alternatives (i.e., a new USMCA, an old NAFTA, or possibly no agreement at all).

If you have any questions, or if you would like to discuss these issues further, 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

 

Trump Trade Agenda Presentation

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking at an industry-based international trade compliance forum in Houston.  My topic was ‘The Trump Trade Agenda:  Where Are We And Where Are We Going?’ (admittedly, I had more questions than answers to this question).  I addressed the Section 232 investigations on steel and aluminum, the Section 301 investigation on China, NAFTA renegotiation and few other trade issues that have begun to bubble up.  I thought you might find the presentation to be of interest: Trump on Trade Agenda.

If you have any comments or questions on the presentation, please let me know.

Best regards,

Ted

 

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

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