On August 29, 2018, the United States circulated a request for consultations to the World Trade Organization (WTO) members. The US has requested that the WTO help resolve a dispute between the US and Russia concerning additional duties imposed by Russia on certain US goods.

A request for consultations is similar to other forms of dispute resolution. The request for consultations formally initiates a dispute in the WTO. If after 60 days of consultations, the parties have not been able to resolve the dispute, the complainant may request adjudication by a panel.

In its claim initiated earlier this week, the US claims that the additional duties imposed by Russia are inconsistent with provisions of the WTO’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) 1994, and appear to impair the benefits accruing to the US under GATT 1994. The US claims that Russia is imposing duties on US goods, and that it is not imposing comparable duties on similar products originating in the territory of other WTO members.

The claim also includes a statement that Russia appears to be applying duty rates that are greater than those in Russia’s WTO schedule of concessions. The “schedules of concessions” is a document that reflects specific tariff concessions and other commitments a member gives in the context of trade negotiations.

 

In a recent opinion, the United States Court of International Trade (CIT) upheld its categorical ban of the importation of fish and fish products caught with gillnets in the habitat of the critically endangered vaquita, off the coast of Mexico.

In a July 26, 2018 Order, the CIT granted a preliminary injunction sought by several conservation groups prohibiting the importation of certain fish and fish products from Mexico which had been caught using gillnet — fishing nets hung from boats that entangle fish and shrimp — within the limited range of the vaquita, the smallest porpoise in the world.  Experts believe that just 15 vaquitas remain and all inhabit a small area in the Northern Gulf of California, between Baja California and Mexico.  The CIT entered an order, pending final adjudication, banning the importation of shrimp, curvina, sierra, and chano fish from Mexican commercial fisheries that use gillnets within the vaquita’s range under the authority of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (“MMPA”).

The government subsequently filed a “motion to clarify” in which it questioned the scope of the ban and whether it was immediately effective.  Specifically, the government challenged the scope of the MMPA with respect to illegal commercial fisheries, whether other federal environmental protection statutes rendered the express duties of the MMPA inoperative, and asserted that the regulatory challenges with respect to implementation made immediate implementation impossible. The CIT rejected each of these challenges and held, unequivocally, that the ban was effective immediately.

The CIT determined that nothing in the language of the MMPA limited its authority to “legal” fisheries and, in fact, the MMPA was not limited to “commercial” fish, let alone, “legally caught” commercial fish. The CIT also found that the MMPA and other federal environmental protection statutes were “complimentary” and “non-duplicative” and, as such, did not excuse the government from its obligations under any of the statutes. Finally, the CIT “discern[ed] no merit” in the government’s argument lengthy certification processes meant that the ban was not effective immediately.

The CIT Opinion did not mince words in upholding its prior determination and chastising the governments request for “clarification.”  The decision serves as cautionary reminder that the words of the CIT, or any Court, are meant to be followed by governments, importers, and brokers alike.

 

On Monday, July 30, 2018, the World Trade Organization (WTO) released new resources regarding trends in global trade. The resources issued by the WTO are the latest editions of the annual publications of World Trade Statistical Review, Trade Profiles and World Tariff Profiles.

World Trade Statistical Review provides an in-depth analysis of trends in global trade, including the types of goods and services being traded.

Trade Profiles provides a concise overview of global trade by providing key indicators on trade for 197 economies and highlighting the breakdown of exports and imports for each economy.

World Tariff Profiles is a joint publication of the WTO, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the International Trade Centre (ITC). The publication provides comprehensive information on the tariffs and non-tariff measures imposed by over 170 countries and customs territories.

Additional information about the publications and additional data can be found on the WTO’s website with links to download the publications.

On June 27, 2018, a coalition of U.S. steel users, the American Institute for International Steel (“AIIS”), and two steel trading companies filed a complaint in the United States Court of International Trade (“CIT”) challenging the Trump Administration’s imposition of a 25% tariff increase for steel products.  AIIS’ challenge, however, is not made to the scope of the tariff or the countries effected, but to the constitutionality of the tariff itself.

The tariff increase is was enacted in March 2018 under Presidential Proclamation 9705. The President has authority to make such proclamations pursuant to Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 (19 U.S.C. 1862).  Section 232 directs the Secretary of Commerce, upon the application of any department, agency or interested party, to undertake an investigation of the effect of the importation of a product on national security.  The President then has 90 days to determine whether to concur with the finding of the Secretary with respect to the potential national security implications of a product.

AIIS alleges that Section 232 is an unconstitutional delegation of Congress’s exclusive authority to lay duties and regulate commerce with foreign nations under Article I of the U.S. Constitution.  Specifically, AIIS asserts that the broad definition of “national security” under Section 232 lacks an “intelligible principle” to circumscribe the President’s authority under the statute. Under Section 232, the President may consider the “close relation” of economic warfare and our national security, including the effect on domestic industries and the “weakening of our internal economy” in making a determination regarding the imposition of tariffs in the name of national security.

As evidence of the alleged lack of an intelligible principle, AIIS points to the fact that the President is not required consider, for example, the source of products (i.e., whether the products are imported from close allies), the specifications and use of the products as they relate to national security concerns (i.e., the fact that some steel imports are used to manufacture weapons or other products that aid national security), or the possible negative economic ramifications of protectionism on national security grounds (i.e., economic retaliation).  In addition, Section 232 does not contain any provision for judicial review of the President’s determination.

The government has not yet filed a response to the Complaint and whether the Court will entertain these constitutional challenges remains to be seen.  Nevertheless, as protectionist policies and threats of trade wars continue to mount, all industries must continually evaluate not only the effect of changes in relevant tariffs, but consider whether novel challenges such as those raised by AIIS may be necessary to protect the rights of industry members.

On Tuesday, May 29, 2018, the U.S. Court of International Trade (CIT) ruled that the anti-dumping and countervailing duties for steel nails from Vietnam do not apply to zinc wall anchors.

In August 2016, OMG Inc. asked the Department of Commerce to determine whether wall anchors were within the scope of the anti-dumping and countervailing duties imposed on steel nails imported from Vietnam. The Department of Commerce determined that zinc wall anchors from Vietnam that were imported by OMG Inc. fit unambiguously within the scope of the anti-dumping and countervailing duty orders.

The CIT considered the common meaning of the term “nail” by consulting dictionary meanings and trade usage, and it reversed the previous scope ruling from the Department of Commerce. The CIT determined that because OMG’s zinc anchor is a unitary article of commerce, the entire product must be considered as a whole, and the entire item did not fit within the definition of a nail. Based on trade usage, the pin (a component) is considered a nail, but the unitary article of commerce is considered an anchor, not a nail.

The CIT remanded the case to the Department of Commerce for further consideration consistent with the CIT’s opinion.

The case is OMG Inc. v. United States, case number 1:17-cv-00036-GSK, in the U.S. Court of International Trade. You can read the full opinion here.

In a May 22, 2018 Opinion and Order, the U.S. Court of International Trade (“CIT) upheld the U.S. Department of Commerce’s (“Commerce”) use of a Thai nail producer, rather than a Dubai producer, as a surrogate for the calculation of anti-dumping duties to be assessed on two nail producers from the United Arab Eremites (“UAE”).  As a result, the nails will be assessed an 0.87% duty rate, not the 7.8% rate that the nails had been preliminary assigned.

In determining the appropriate anti-dumping duty to be assessed, Commerce had considered using, among others, the financial statements of Overseas International Steel Industry LLC (“OISI”), a Dubai-based subsidiary of one of the UAE nail producers at issue.  Commerce determined, however, that the subsidiary acted as “toll processor,” meaning that it was a service provider that used subcontractors to convert raw materials to finished products, but did not actually produce nails itself.  Accordingly, because OISI was not a producer, Commerce found that its financial records lacked some significant line items, including for material costs and inventory.  Therefore, Commerce determined that the financial records of a Thai nail producer, L.S. Industry Co. Ltd. (“LSI”), were a more fitting basis for its calculation of a constructed value profit on which the anti-dumping duties were based. As a result of using LSI’s financial statements, the anti-dumping duty calculation fell from the 7.8% rate contained in Commerce’s preliminary determination to 0.87%.

Before the CIT, a domestic nail producer argued that Commerce had erred in its determination that OISI was not the proper analog because OISI uses the same raw materials and production process as the UAE producer and that the financial statements sufficiently reflect all necessary information, such as material costs and inventory.

The CIT determined that, even if the domestic producer’s arguments were true, there was still not a sufficient basis to overcome “the presumption of administrative regularity” that insulates Commerce’s decision making.  The CIT found that Commerce had concluded that OISI was a toll producer and, therefore, did not consider its financial statements.  Instead, Commerce determined that LSI’s was the best surrogate and based its well-supported analysis on LSI’s financials.  Ultimately, the CIT found that there was no clear error demonstrated in the record which would warrant the Court’s substitution of its judgment for that of Commerce.

 

On May 8, President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal completed in 2015, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The scuttling of the deal re-imposes sanctions on the country that had been suspended as part of the agreement. In an Alert published Thursday, partner Nevena Simidjiyska examines this development and the specific sanctions involved, and discusses its impact on U.S. companies doing business with Iran.

The White House, Washington, D.C.Pursuant to the JCPOA, which was signed under President Obama in 2015, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program by curbing its enrichment of uranium, spent fuel processing, and research and development activities. In exchange, the U.S. lifted most “secondary sanctions” targeting non-U.S. persons and companies that transact business with Iran and allowed the importation of certain Iranian products into the U.S. In addition, the U.S. allowed non-U.S. entities that are owned or controlled by U.S. persons to engage in certain transactions with Iran under OFAC’s General License H. A number of foreign affiliates of U.S. companies started doing business and made investments in Iran pursuant to these authorizations.

The U.S. government will reinstate all sanctions against Iran that were lifted by the JCPOA, including General License H. The reinstatement will take place in two phases – 90 and 180 days after the May 8 withdrawal – to allow U.S. and non-U.S. businesses to wind down their existing business with Iran. The sanctions that will be re-imposed and the authorizations that will be revoked are listed below. All parties engaged in any of the activities listed below should take necessary steps to wind down these activities by the dates indicated to avoid sanctions and enforcement actions under U.S. law.

To read the full text of the Alert, we invite you to visit the Fox Rothschild website.

In an earlier post, we examined the U.S. Court of International Trade’s (CIT) opinion in which it sustained the U.S. Department of Commerce’s (“Commerce”) shift of position on antidumping duties for frozen fish fillets from Vietnam.

Two recently filed complaints brought before the CIT, however, have challenged Commerce’s application of antidumping duties to certain separate-rate respondents. The plaintiffs in the respective complaints, various Vietnamese fish fillet producers, allege that Commerce has improperly assigned them a duty rate from an outdated, prior review.

In the most recent administrative review of antidumping duties on Vietnamese fish fillets, Commerce calculated certain duties based on the sole mandatory respondent, GODACO Seafood Joint Stock Company (“GODACO”).  Commerce determined that GODACO failed to cooperate to the best of its ability and, accordingly, assigned duty rate of $2.39 per kilogram of fillets based on the adverse facts available. Commerce preliminarily applied this same antidumping duty to all non-mandatory respondents, including the plaintiff companies.

When Commerce released the final results of its administrative review on March 23, 2018, however, the plaintiff companies were assigned an antidumping duty of $3.87 per kilogram, the antidumping duty rate set as part of a new shipper review completed more than five years ago.

In the Decision Memorandum accompanying the results, Commerce asserted that it was bound to “pull forward” the prior duty rate under the CIT’s decision in Albemarle Corp. v. United States, Case No. 2015-1288, 2015-1289, 2015-1290 (May 2, 2016).  The plaintiff companies dispute the application of Albemarle, asserting that they have been unreasonably and punitively assigned a duty rate which exceeds the most recent antidumping duty by more than a dollar.  Moreover, the plaintiff companies note that duty rate assigned to them based on their status as separate-rate respondents is now higher than other Vietnamese companies who did not respond or cooperate with U.S. authorities in any way.

Commerce has not yet filed its response defending this alleged departure from agency practice.  If Commerce’s response relies on Albemarle as controlling precedent, however, it could signal a significant shift in the Department’s policies.

On March 19, 2018, the Department of Commerce published procedures for product-specific exclusions from the Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum products, and has begun to accept exclusion requests.  Each exclusion request will be available for public comment for 30 days after filing. After the 30-day public comment period, the Department of Commerce will review the exclusion request and any objections, and will make a determination. According to Commerce, processing of exclusion requests will normally not exceed 90 days.  Determinations will also be posted for public review on regulations.gov. In evaluating exclusion requests, the Department of Commerce, in consultation with other Administration officials, will consider whether a product is produced in the U.S. of a satisfactory quality or in a sufficient and reasonably available amount.

Only individuals and organizations operating in the U.S. that use steel or aluminum in business activities (e.g., construction, manufacturing, or supplying steel or aluminum to users) in the U.S. may request an exclusion. Separate requests must be submitted on each distinct type and dimension of steel or aluminum product to be imported. The request must include a full factual description of the specific product, including: 1) the single type of steel or aluminum product required using a 10-digit HTSUS code, including specific dimensions; 2) the quantity of product required (in kilograms) under a one year exclusion; and 3) a full description of the properties of the steel or aluminum product, including chemical composition, dimensions, strength, toughness, ductility, etc. Only fully completed exclusion requests will be considered.

Any individual or organization in the U.S. may file objections, but Commerce will only consider information directly related to the exclusion request. Organizations submitting objections must provide specific information on the product that their company can provide that is comparable to the steel or aluminum product that is the subject of the exclusion request. Such information should include the steel or aluminum products manufactured in the U.S., their production capabilities in the U.S., a discussion on the suitability of their products for the application(s) identified by the exclusion requestor, and the delivery time and availability of the products they manufacture relative to the specifications provided.

Approvals will be made on a product basis and are limited to the applicant, unless the DOC approves a broader application.

The forms for submitting steel and aluminum exclusion requests, and objections to specific exclusion requests, are available on regulations.gov.  The steel docket number is BIS-2018-0006 and the aluminum docket number is BIS-2018-0002.

Please contact Brittney Powell or Lizbeth Levinson for questions about applying for an exclusion from the steel or aluminum tariffs.

On March 8, 2018, the President of the United States issued two Presidential Proclamations announcing the imposition of tariffs on imported steel and aluminum products under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.  This law allows the President to impose additional tariffs on imports when national security is impacted.

The proclamations impose worldwide tariffs on all countries (with a few exceptions as noted below) of 10% on aluminum imports and 25% on steel imports.  These tariffs apply in addition to any antidumping or countervailing duties collected on affected imports.  The tariffs are imposed on imports of steel mill products, which are defined at the 6-digit level of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (“HTS”) as: 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 codes.  The tariffs are imposed on imports of the following aluminum articles: (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 Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) will begin to collect tariffs on goods entered, or withdrawn from warehouse for consumption, on or after 12:01 a.m. eastern daylight time on March 23, 2018, and the tariffs will continue unless actions are expressly reduced, modified, or terminated.  There is no set duration for tariffs; however, the Department of Commerce will monitor and review the status of imports with respect to national security on an ongoing basis.  Importers of record are liable for the payment of tariffs to CBP.  CBP has instructed importers to report the following HTS classifications for imported merchandise subject to the additional duty (in addition to the regular HTS classifications): HTS 9903.80.01 (25 percent ad valorem additional duty for steel mill products) and 9903.85.01 (10 percent ad valorem additional duty for aluminum products).

Country-Wide Exemptions

Certain countries have been granted exemptions from the tariffs at the President’s discretion, which apply to imports based on the country of origin, not the country of export.  As of the date of this post, imports from the following countries have been exempted until April 30, 2018: Canada, Mexico, Australia, Argentina, South Korea, Brazil and  member countries of the European Union (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom).  As of May 1, 2018, imports from all countries will be subject to the tariffs.  Additional countries may be exempted, and the status of the currently exempted countries may change after May 1, 2018.

Please contact Brittney Powell or Lizbeth Levinson for the latest developments regarding the Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs.