On January 12, 2018, President Trump issued a statement announcing that he will approve certain sanctions waivers necessary in order to preserve the Iran nuclear deal. At the same time, he called on the U.S.’s European allies to work with the U.S. to fix the flaws of the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or the JCPOA), or he would terminate the deal.

President Trump began his statement by condemning the Iranian regime as the world’s leading state sponsor of terror. He also added 14 more Iranian individuals and entities to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List.

In his statement, President Trump explained that he is open to working with Congress on bipartisan legislation dealing with Iran. However, any bill must include four critical components. First, the bill must allow immediate inspection by international inspectors at all nuclear sites. Second, it must demand that Iran not come close to possessing nuclear weapons. Third, there must be no expiration date on these requirements. Finally, the bill must subject Iran’s long-range missile program to the same sanctions imposed on its nuclear weapons program.

Although President Trump waived the application of certain nuclear sanctions, he stated that “this is a last chance.” He called on the U.S.’s European allies to fix the Iran deal and made it clear that if the allies cannot agree on a new supplemental JCPOA, President Trump will not waive sanctions again to stay in the deal. The President also reserved the right to withdraw from the deal immediately if he determines that an agreement is not within reach.

The President’s full statement can be found here.

In an attempt to become a modern hub in Southern China for domestic and international arbitration, the Government of Shenzhen announced at the end of December 2017 that it was combining two arbitration centers. The previous Shenzhen Court of International Arbitration (“SCIA”) and the Shenzhen Arbitration Commission will be combined into one center called the Shenzhen Court of International Arbitration.

The merger of the two institutions will help integrate the resources of both institutions and further build the Shenzhen arbitration platform.

This is part of China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative, which calls for investment in and development of trade routes in that region. The One Belt, One Road Initiative is part of the growth of Chinese exports and a push by China to expand its trading network.

Both the SCIA and the Shenzhen Arbitration Commission had jurisdiction to handle contract disputes and various types of commercial disputes. In December 2016, the SCIA promulgated new arbitration rules relying heavily on the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules, which made the SCIA the first Chinese institution to make this move.

The UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules provide comprehensive procedural rules regarding arbitral proceedings arising out of commercial relationships. The UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules provide a model arbitration clause, set out rules regarding appointing arbitrators, and establish rules related to the effect and interpretation of the awards.

Once the combination is effective, cases submitted to either of the institutions will be handled by the SCIA. It is still unclear what rules will apply to cases that the parties had agreed to submit to the Shenzhen Arbitration Commission and which panel of arbitrators will be used to arbitrate those cases. The combination into one arbitration body does mean that arbitration rules consistent with international standards, like the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules, will likely be applied to more cases in China.

In a customs classification case, Chemtall, Inc. v. United States, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a U.S. Court of International Trade (“CIT”) ruling that the vinyl polymer acrylamide tertiary butyl sulfonic acid was properly classified under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (“HTSUS”).

The Federal Circuit was called on to distinguish between “Amides” and “Other” in a heading of the HTSUS that covers amides, their derivatives and salts thereof. The case considered the appropriate duty rate for the product that Chemtall, Inc. (“Chemtall”) is importing.

The HTSUS is a hierarchical structure for describing all goods in trade for duty, quota, and statistical purposes. Goods are classified in accordance with the General and Additional U.S. Rules of Interpretation, starting at the 4-digit heading level to find the most specific provision and then moving to the subordinate categories. The United States International Trade Commission maintains and publishes the HTSUS. However, the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection of the Department of Homeland Security (“CBP”) is responsible for interpreting and enforcing the HTSUS.

The Federal Circuit affirmed the CIT determination that the chemical product of the plaintiff-appellant Chemtall, acrylamide tertiary butyl sulfonic acid, is not an amide, but rather is a derivative of an amide.

The significance of this categorization is that derivatives of amides are subject to a higher duty rate, which is almost double that of amide imports. The categorization that Chemtall argued applied carries a 3.7% duty rate. However, the federal judge affirmed the decision of the CBP to apply the higher 6.5% duty rate for the product.

The full opinion of Chemtall, Inc. v. United States, case number 2016-2380, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit can be found here.

Some of the most important trade partners of the U.S. are raising concerns about the proposed U.S. plan to overhaul its tax code. The finance ministers of Europe’s five largest economies voiced concerns about the tax plan in a letter sent to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday, December 11, 2017.

The letter was signed by Germany’s Peter Altmaier, France’s Bruno Le Maire, the U.K.’s Philip Hammond, Italy’s Pier Carlo Padoan and Spain’s Cristobal Montoro Romero.

The E.U. leaders are generally concerned that U.S. businesses will gain a competitive edge on international markets once the tax proposal is enacted. In the letter, the leaders voiced concern that the U.S. tax overhaul contains protectionist measures that could violate double-taxation treaties and breach the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.

The letter mentions certain provisions in both the proposed House and Senate bills. Two provisions in particular have prompted pushback from the E.U. leaders.

First, the 20% excise tax provisions on payments to foreign affiliated companies that is included in the proposed House bill would impact payments that are made for foreign goods or services. The finance ministers said that this could discriminate in ways that are at odds with the WTO rules and impose a tax on profits of non-U.S. companies that do not have a U.S. permanent establishment.

The finance ministers also criticized the anti-abuse tax provisions of the proposed Senate bill. The letter states that the anti-abuse tax provisions would impact genuine commercial arrangements of payments to foreign companies taxed at an equivalent or higher rate than in the U.S. The letter further explains that this could be harmful for international banks and insurers because it would make cross-border, intragroup financial transactions subject to a 10% tax that would be non-deductible. The E.U. leaders are concerned that this would distort international financial markets.

In response to the letter, a Treasury spokesperson said that they “appreciate the views of the finance minsters” and are “working closely with Congress as they finalize the legislation.”

In consultation with the Department of State and pursuant to Executive Order 13662, the Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) has updated Directive 4, which will expand sanctions on the Russian energy industry.

The new rules issued by OFAC prohibit certain activities by a U.S. person or within the United States, except where such activities are otherwise authorized by law or a license. The rules bar persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction from providing, exporting, reexporting (directly or indirectly) goods, services (except financial services), or technology in support of exploration or production for deepwater, Arctic offshore or shale projects that have the potential to produce oil in the Russian Federation, or in maritime area claimed by the Russian Federation and extending from its territory, and that involve any person determined to be subject to Directive 4.

Additionally, Directive 4 further prohibits the provision, exportation, or reexportation (directly or indirectly) of goods, services (except for financial services), or technology in support of exploration or production for deepwater, Arctic offshore, or shale projects that meet all three of the following criteria: (1) the project was initiated on or after January 29, 2018; (2) the project has the potential to produce oil in any location; and (3) any person determined to be subject to Directive 4, including their property or interests in property, either has a 33% percent or greater ownership interest in the project or owns a majority of the voting interests in the project.

Examples of prohibited projects include, for example, drilling services, geological services, and mapping technologies. The prohibitions do not apply to the provision of financial services, for example, clearing transactions or providing insurance related to such activities.

The full text of Directive 4, as amended, can be found here.  For a listing of persons that are subject to a directive under Executive Order 13662, see OFAC’s Sectoral Sanctions Identifications List.

Recently OFAC also announced new sanctions on Russia’s financial sector and energy sector, as set forth in the revised Directive 1 and Directive 2, respectively.

In a recently issued Final Determination, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) confirmed that the roasting of coffee beans substantially transforms the beans into a product of the country in which the beans were roasted.

Coffee producer Keurig Green Mountain (“Keurig”) requested the determination as to the country of origin assignment to green coffee beans that it imported into the United States and Canada and then roasted in those countries.  Specifically, Keurig sought the determination as it relates to the procurement of its products by the U.S. government and certain regulatory waivers for  “U.S.-made end products.”

CBP answered unequivocally that it has consistently held that the act of roasting coffee beans substantially transforms green coffee beans into a different article of commerce pursuant to 19 U.S.C. section 2518(4)(B).  Noting numerous letter rulings dating back to the mid-1980s, CBP concluded that “roasting” or “roasting and blending” substantially transformed green coffee beans for country of origin purposes.

Interestingly, CBP found that it did not have occasion to address whether other processes in coffee manufacturing would be considered substantially transformative.  For example, a portion of the green coffee beans at issue had been undergone a decaffination process in their country of origin, prior to importation into the U.S.  Accordingly, CBP did not address whether the decaffeination process alone would substantial transform a caffeinated bean to a new article of commerce.  Similarly, the beans at issue were roasted, flavored, ground, degassed, and packaged in the same country (either the U.S. or Canada).  Therefore, CBP did not have occasion to determine whether any of these other processes, alone or in combination, may create different articles of commerce throughout the coffee production process.

As is often the case, a seemingly conclusive determination by CBP can still leave open significant questions related to the issues not squarely placed before the agency. Experienced counsel can help business determine what avenues of trade remain open and which are truly settled issues.

President Donald Trump announced his nomination of two Commissioners to the United States International Trade Commission (“ITC”) on September 28, 2017.

The two nominees are Dennis M. Devaney and Randolph J. Stayin.  If approved, Devaney of Michigan will serve the remainder of a nine-year term expiring June 16, 2023, and Stayin of Virginia will serve the remainder of a nine-year term expiring June 16, 2026.

Devaney and Stayin were nominated to fill the Commissioner positions of Commissioners Kieff and Pinkert, who left the ITC this year.  The ITC is headed by six Commissioners who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.  Currently, the ITC is operating with only four out of six Commissioners.  On October 2, 2017, the Senate received the nominations and referred them to the Committee on Finance.

Devaney is currently counsel at a law firm where he works on international trade matters as well as labor and employment issues. Devaney is a former Board Member of the National Labor Relations Board and former General Counsel for the Federal Labor Relations Authority. Devaney previously served as an ITC Commissioner in 2001 after being appointed by President Bill Clinton.

Stayin focused his legal practice on international trade policy and regulation. Earlier in his career he served as chief of staff to Senator Robert Taft, Jr., and was his trade advisor in negotiating the passage of the Trade Act of 1974. Stayin has represented clients before the ITC, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Court of International Trade, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and NAFTA dispute panels.

On October 12, 2017, the United States lifted its general commercial embargo on Sudan. Because Sudan has played a role in international terrorism, the U.S. has maintained a comprehensive embargo against Sudan since 1997. These sanctions were contained in executive orders and the Sudanese Sanctions Regulations (SSR).

Following a 16-month diplomatic effort, the United States removed sanctions that had prohibited U.S. persons from engaging in or facilitating most transactions that involved Sudan or its government. U.S. persons may now engage in most transactions without the need for a general or specific license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

On January 17, 2017, the U.S. temporarily lifted sanctions with respect to Sudan and its government. OFAC issued a general license that temporarily authorized transactions prohibited by the SSR, which was contingent on the U.S. government’s determination regarding Sudan’s developments in key areas. Earlier this month, the Secretary of State provided a determination to President Trump that the government of Sudan has made positive development in the cessation of hostilities in conflict areas, improving humanitarian access throughout Sudan, and addressing regional conflicts and threats of terrorism.

Effective October 12, 2017, the temporary general license is no longer operable and OFAC authorization is not required for proposed transactions that were previously prohibited by the SSR, unless the proposed transaction implicates the Darfur Sanctions Regulations or other OFAC-administered sanctions regulations.

While most sanctions were lifted, significant restrictions remain in place for those seeking to trade with Sudan, primarily with respect to export controls and individuals and entities listed on the Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN List). OFAC sanctions related to the conflict in Darfur still remain in place, and the revocation does not affect OFAC’s designations of any Sudanese persons pursuant to other sanctions authorities.

Additionally, this does not impact Sudan’s status as a state sponsor of terrorism. Pursuant to the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA), an OFAC license is still required for certain exports and reexports to Sudan of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices as a result of Sudan’s inclusion on the State Sponsors of Terrorism List (SST List).

General License A, which went into effect on October 12, 2017, authorizes exports and reexports of certain TSRA items to Sudan. General License A is available for review here. General License A replaces the need for any existing general or specific licenses currently issued to authorize conduct that was otherwise prohibited under the Sudan sanctions program.

U.S. persons are still required to comply with the export and reexport controls of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS). These requirements include restrictions that are maintained as a consequence of Sudan’s inclusion on the SST List and apply to certain exports and reexports of items on the Commerce Control List. BIS also maintains end-use and end-user controls on the export and reexport to Sudan of EAR99 items by U.S. persons and non-U.S. persons.

Despite lifting the general commercial embargo on Sudan, the sanctions revocation does not affect past, present or future OFAC enforcement actions related to violations of the SSR that occurred prior to January 17, 2017. Additionally, the revocation does not mean that sanctions cannot be quickly reimposed by the U.S.

 

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Commerce began its preliminary phase antidumping and countervailing duty investigations pursuant to the Tariff Act of 1930. The Department of Commerce is looking into whether the imports of stainless steel flanges from China and India, which are alleged to be sold in the U.S. at less than fair value and alleged to be subsidized by the Chinese and Indian governments, are materially injuring the U.S. industry.

The U.S. antidumping law imposes special tariffs to counteract imports that are sold in the U.S. at less than fair value. The U.S. countervailing duty law imposes special tariffs to counteract imports that are sold in the U.S. with the benefit of foreign government subsidies. For these duties to be imposed, the U.S. government must determine that there is material injury, or a threat of material injury, by reason of the dumped and/or subsidized imports.

The probe by the Department of Commerce comes after two privately held companies filed petitions. The two petitioners are the individual members of the Coalition of American Flange Producers: Core Pipe Products, Inc. and Maass Flange Corporation. The petitioners alleged dumping margins in China ranging from 99.23% to 257.11%, and for India margins ranging from 78.49% to 145.25%.

The products covered by these investigations are certain forged stainless steel flanges, whether unfinished, semi-finished or finished. The term “stainless steel” refers to an alloy steel containing, by actual weight, 1.2% or less of carbon and 10.5% or more of chromium, with or without other elements.

It is the job of the Department of Commerce to determine whether the alleged dumping or subsidizing is occurring, and if so, the margin of dumping or the amount of the subsidy. The United States International Trade Commission (“USITC”) will determine whether the U.S. industry is materially injured or threatened with material injury by reason of the imports under investigation. If both the Department of Commerce and the USITC reach affirmative final determinations, then the Department of Commerce will issue an antidumping or a countervailing duty order to offset the subsidy.

The USITC is scheduled to make its preliminary determination regarding the injury on or before October 2, 2017. If the USITC determines that there is injury, the investigations will continue, and the Department of Commerce will makes its preliminary countervailing duty determination in November 2017, and its antidumping determination in January 2018, though these dates may be extended.

The results of the investigation could impact both importers and purchasers. Importers will be liable for any potential duties that are imposed by the U.S. government. Purchases could be impacted because the determination could result in increased prices and/or decreased supply of stainless steel flanges.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) announced a $415,350 settlement agreement with COSL Singapore Ltd. (“COSL”). The parties settled a potential civil liability claim for 55 apparent violation of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 560 (ITSR), which took place between October 2011 and February 2013.

COSL is a Singapore-based subsidiary of a Chinese oil field service company. It has several offshore drilling oil rigs and enters into charter agreements with third-party drilling companies to allow those parties to use its oil rigs.

Between October 2011 and February 2013, the procurement specialists for COSL purchased at least 55 orders of supplies from vendors located in the U.S. that were specifically intended for export or re-export to oil rigs located in Iranian territory. These purchases were made despite some warning from U.S. vendors that the goods should not be shipped or re-exported to countries subject to U.S. sanctions, including Iran.

OFAC determined that COSL used its own subsidiary companies, COSL Drilling Pan Pacific (Lbuan) Ltd. and COSL Drilling Pan Pacific Ltd., to export or attempt to export the oil rig supplies from the U.S. to Singapore and the United Arab Emirates before re-exporting or attempting to re-export the supplies to oil rigs located in Iranian territory.

COSL has agreed to pay $415,350 to settle potential civil liability, which is a lot less than what the potential liability could have been for COSL. The statutory maximum penalty amount for the apparent violations is $13,750,000, and the base penalty amount is $923,000.

OFAC considered aggravating and mitigating factors in determining the settlement amount. Some of the aggravating factors included: (1) COSL is a large sophisticated company doing business throughout the world; (2) COSL did not have an OFAC compliance program in place at the time of the transactions; and (3) OFAC determined that the exportation or re-exportation aided in the development of Iran’s energy resources.

The mitigating factors included: (1) COSL did not have any prior sanctions history; (2) COSL took remedial action by instituting an OFAC sanctions compliance program; and (3) COSL displayed substantial cooperation throughout the investigation process.

Companies that are involved in international trade and conduct business in the U.S. or with U.S. companies should have an OFAC compliance program in place. If companies are in a situation where they may have violated Iranian sanctions programs (or other U.S. sanctions programs), full cooperation with OFAC is essential.