(Possible) Delay in Scheduled Increase in Section 301 Duties

As you have likely heard by now, President Trump announced this past Sunday that “substantial progress” has being made in the on-going trade talks with China; as a result, he will be delaying the scheduled increase in tariffs applicable to Chinese-origin goods included on List 3; and that both sides are planning “a Summit” at Mar-a-Lago (reportedly in late March) to “conclude an agreement.”  While additional details have yet to emerge, we wanted to share some initial thoughts with you on what to look for when they do.

 First, the duty rate applicable to articles included on List 3 is scheduled to increase from 10% to 25% on March 2, 2019 (i.e., this coming Saturday).  We believe that a Federal Register notice, presidential proclamation, or some other official statement will be issued this week confirming the delay (i.e., we do not believe that the scheduled tariff increase can be delayed by tweet).

 Second, in any deal, it will be important to pay particular attention to the enforcement mechanisms that are included.  If the Trump Administration’s goals include reducing the United States’ trade deficit with China, then including a unilaterally-imposable ‘snapback’ type of enforcement mechanism would help achieve that.  For example, if the United States reserves the right to re-impose duties if China fails to live up to its commitments in one or more areas (e.g., failing to stop engaging in cyber theft – something China has not admitted to doing in the first place), then that will create significant uncertainty for U.S. businesses, which should impact sourcing/investment decisions.  If duties of 25% could be imposed on the articles you purchase from a given country with little-to-no advance notice, would you continue sourcing from there, or would you look to eliminate that risk by sourcing from elsewhere?  Thus, even if a deal resolving the dispute is ultimately reached, it will be important to understand how the agreement will be enforced.  It is likely (in our view) that, even if a deal is reached, that trade with China will not return to what it was before.     

 Finally, it seems strange that President Xi would be willing to come to the United States to conclude such a deal given the appearance it creates.  Where a “summit” like this is held matters, in terms of public/political perception.  This is why such summits are usually held in a third country, so as not to give the appearance that one side has ‘won,’ or is more powerful than the other (compare the Trump-Kim summits held in Singapore and in Vietnam; the Reagan-Gorbachev summit held in Iceland; etc., to Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV kneeling in the snow in front of Pope Gregory II’s castle in Canossa).  It is not clear why President Xi would be willing to come to the United States (and to one of President Trump’s golf resorts, in particular) to conclude such a deal.  The optics on that within China cannot be good (of course, if China thinks it is getting a very good deal . . . ).

 Time (and the terms of the deal) will tell.

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

 

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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

Section 301 — The U.S. Imposes Additional Duties on ~$200 Billion Worth of Chinese-Origin Imports

Dear Friends,

President Trump announced today that the United States would be moving ahead to impose additional duties on a further $200 billion worth of Chinese-origin imports (referred to as ’List 3’).  According to the announcement, the additional duties will start at 10% and run through the end of the year.  If the matter has not been resolved satisfactorily by then, the rate will be increased to 25% on January 1, 2019.  The additional duties will become effective next Monday, September 24, 2018.  A copy of the Statement from the President is attached for your reference: 

The additional duties will apply to Chinese-origin goods classified in the tariff subheadings included on the final list.  This list has not been published yet, but, given the effective date (a week from now), it is expected in the next day or two.  The Section 301 Committee has been considering the comments and testimony received on the list of 6,031 tariff subheadings originally proposed for List 3.  It is being reported that a relatively small number of tariff subheadings (a few hundred) are being removed from the final list as a result of this process.

Once the final List 3 is published, it is widely expected that China will retaliate by imposing additional duties on a list of U.S.-origin products worth approximately $60 billion.  It is also being reported that China may decline any invitation issued by the United States to begin negotiations until after the midterm elections and/or may engage other levers domestically to squeeze U.S. companies doing business in China.

If China does retaliate, the President’s statement says that the Administration “will immediately pursue phase three, which is tariffs on approximately $267 billion of additional imports.”  This would be List 4 and it would cover all of the remaining imports from China.

This is the latest (and undoubtedly not the last) salvo in the on-going trade war between the United States and China.  Unfortunately, it is hard to view this salvo as being effective.  Rather than force the parties to the table, an additional 10% duty is arguably offset by the declining value of the yuan (which is down high single-digit percentages in a year) and is likely going to be viewed as a sign of wavering resolve from a president in a contentious midterm election year.  In short, today’s announcement will likely prolong the trade war, rather than help bring it to a speedy conclusion (which, in all fairness, may be the plan after all – if the war drags on long enough, companies will start to leave the war zone . . .).

We hope this is helpful.  If you have any questions about the Section 301 duties (or China’s retaliation), please let us know.

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       

US to Impose Trade Measures on China as a Result of Section 301 Investigation — List of Products Impacted

Dear Friends,

Further to the below, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative published the list of products proposed to be hit with an additional 25% duty upon importation from China, as a result of the determination that certain acts, policies and practices by China related to foreign ownership/joint venture requirements, forced technology transfers, the acquisition of U.S. companies and assets to obtain cutting edge technology, etc. are “unreasonable or discriminatory and burden or restrict U.S. commerce” and President Trump’s March 22 memo (discussed below).  A copy of USTR’s notice is attached.

According to the notice, the list was compiled by identifying the products that benefitted from China’s unfair/discriminatory policies, removing the products whose inclusion would cause disruptions to the U.S. economy and ranking the remainder by likely impact to U.S. consumers (with the list being drawn from those products with the lowest consumer impact).  The products to be assessed the additional 25% duty are identified by 8-digit tariff classification.  The list includes a variety of products and industries, including chemicals (many of which appear to be active pharmaceutical ingredients), drugs, iron, steel, aluminum, turbines, engines/motors, aerospace materials, pumps, compressors, various types of production machinery, scales, construction equipment, paper making machinery, various types of machine tools, hand tools, certain computer equipment & accessories, magnets, batteries, etc.  Particularly hard hit are articles classified in Chapters 84, 85 and 90.  At this point, the list of products is not final.  The USTR is accepting comments on the proposed list of products, the appropriate duty rate, etc. until May 11, 2018 (with rebuttal comments being due by May 22, 2018).  The USTR will also hold a public hearing on May 15, 2018.   

All companies that import from China should review the list of products proposed to be hit with the additional duties.  If you are importing one or more articles included on this list, then you should consider submitting comments to the USTR and/or appearing at the hearing, as well as pursuing other alternatives.  We would be happy to discuss these options with you further, if helpful.

Also, as it just recently did with regard to the steel and aluminum section 232 duties, we expect that China will respond to this development by threatening to impose additional duties on U.S. products imported into China.

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

Best regards,
Ted

Section 232 Recommendations (Steel & Aluminum Reports) – Part III

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

Section 232 Recommendations (Steel & Aluminum Reports) Part II

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