At the request of the US Senate Finance Committee, the US International Trade Commission (“ITC”) is investigating the trade and economic effects of foreign censorship practices on US businesses under Section 332 of the Trade Act of 1930 (“Section 332”).

A Section 332 investigation is only a fact-finding investigation, and does not itself lead to the imposition of tariffs or other trade restrictive measures.  However, if the ITC concludes at the end of an investigation that certain policies have burdened or restricted US commerce, the ITC’s conclusions could be used as the basis for further trade action, such as under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, which could result in the imposition of restrictions on trade.

Continue Reading The Trade and Economic Effects of Foreign Censorship Studied by the US International Trade Commission

Momentum is building for the United States to pursue a plurilateral digital trade agreement (or possibly a series of bilateral agreements) with trading partners in the Indo-Pacific region, as part of the Biden administration’s strategy to reengage with the region and counter Chinese economic influence.  This sentiment has been expressed in public statements from U.S. Trade Representative (“USTR”) Tai and National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell.  Furthermore, USTR Tai, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Vice President Kamala Harris have all discussed the issue of digital trade with foreign counterparts in the region over the past several months.

In addition to Biden Administration officials, other key stakeholders have announced their support for U.S. participation in a digital trade agreement in the Indo-Pacific.  Key members of Congress as well as allies and partners in the region have expressed interest in a U.S.-led digital trade pact.  U.S. industry also appears to be on board.  For example, more than a dozen industry and business groups – including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Semiconductor Industry Association and the Information Technology Industry Council – wrote a letter to USTR Tai stressing that developing digital trade rules with partners in the Indo-Pacific should be “a critical element” of the U.S. trade agenda, particularly in the face of rising digital protectionist measures globally.  The apparent buy-in from all key actors and stakeholders strongly suggests that a digital trade agreement in the Indo-Pacific is a serious possibility.

This alert discusses what a potential digital trade agreement might look like, based on existing precedent, and also hypothesizes what the alternatives to such an agreement might be.

Continue Reading The US Appears Poised to Pursue a Digital Trade Agreement in Asia – What Does that Mean?

The United States is currently considering proposals to extend cultural property agreements with the Governments of the Republic of Cyprus and Peru, respectively. Each agreement identifies various types of art and antiquities that have been found to be in jeopardy of pillage. Similarly, the United States received a request from the former government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan seeking emergency assistance with the protection of their cultural property. The extension proposals and the emergency request all seek United States import restrictions intended to protect the items by closing the US art purchasing market to these pilfered and illicitly traded items.

On October 5th, the Cultural Property Advisory Committee met to review the proposals and emergency request. At a later date, it will make a recommendation to the Biden Administration as to whether it ought to extend the agreements with Cyprus and Peru and whether to offer emergency protection to the former government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

###

Under the Enforce and Protect Act of 2015 (“EAPA”), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) is authorized to determine whether covered merchandise has entered the United States through evasion, resulting in the reduction or elimination of otherwise applicable antidumping (“AD”) or countervailing duties (“CVD”) on the merchandise.  19 U.S.C. § 1517.  Under the statute, if CBP “is unable to determine whether the merchandise at issue is covered merchandise,” i.e., subject to an AD or CVD order, CBP may “refer the matter to the {U.S. Department of Commerce (“Commerce”)} to determine whether the merchandise is covered merchandise” pursuant to Commerce’s authority to make AD/CVD scope determinations.  In Commerce’s new regulations, the agency establishes procedures that will govern its handling of these covered merchandise referrals from CBP.  19 C.F.R. § 351.227.  In doing so, Commerce formalizes what has been an ad hoc approach to these covered merchandise referrals under its existing regulations and establishes covered merchandise inquiries as a distinct proceeding segment alongside scope and anti-circumvention inquiries, which seek to answer similar questions regarding coverage of AD/CVD orders.

As relevant background, CBP’s EAPA investigations focus on the specific question of whether certain imports by particular companies are unlawfully evading applicable ADs and/or CVDs.  These investigations follow allegations of evasion (e.g., fraudulent country of origin markings, misclassification, transshipment, etc.) by interested parties (e.g., other U.S. importers of the covered merchandise, a U.S. producer of the domestic like product, or a trade association) and can result in the imposition of various remedies by CBP.  For example, if CBP determines that there is reasonable suspicion that covered merchandise entered the United States through evasion, it may impose “interim measures” including the suspension of liquidation of unliquidated entries, extension of the period for liquidating unliquidated entries, and an array of other measures (e.g., requiring a single transaction bond or the posting of cash deposits).  Continuation of these remedies is available to CBP following a final determination as to evasion, and CBP may also pursue other recourse (e.g., penalty actions) against the companies subject to investigation.

Continue Reading Revisions to the Department of Commerce’s Antidumping / Countervailing Duty Regulations: Covered Merchandise Referrals

The Final Rule published by the Department of Commerce (“Department”) on Monday, September 20, 2021, makes certain modifications to the Department’s regulations on new shipper reviews of antidumping and countervailing duty order. Among other changes, the new regulations increase the burden for parties requesting new shipper reviews by requiring more documentation supporting the sales under review and by requiring certifications from unaffiliated customers.  These changes are intended to enhance the Department’s ability to assess whether new shipper review requests are based on “bona fide” sales.  Several of the more burdensome requirements contained in the proposed version of the rule, issued last August, did not ultimately survive the notice and comment process.  Even so, the additional requirements imposed by this regulatory amendment will likely make it more difficult for parties to seek and obtain new shipper reviews, and could give the Department greater leeway in rejecting such requests.

Provided for by Section 751(a)(2)(B) of the Act, a new shipper review allows a foreign exporter or producer that did not export subject merchandise to the United States during the period of the original antidumping (AD) or countervailing duty (CVD) investigation, and is not affiliated with an exporter or producer that did export, an opportunity to obtain its own dumping or countervailing duty margin after it makes its first U.S. sale on an expedited basis.  Regulations for new shipper reviews are outlined in 19 CFR Section 351.214.

Continue Reading Revisions to the Department of Commerce’s Antidumping / Countervailing Duty Regulations: New Shipper Reviews

On September 6, 2021, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) announced that it had proposed a global carbon levy on carbon emissions from ships for consideration by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to “accelerate the uptake and deployment of zero-carbon fuels.”  The International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners (INTERCARGO) co-sponsored the proposal.

ICS, which represents national shipowner associations and over 80% of the world merchant fleet,  explained in its announcement that the carbon levy “would be based on mandatory contributions by ships trading globally, exceeding 5,000 gross tonnage, for each tonne of CO2 emitted.”  Funds generated by the levy “would go into an ‘IMO Climate Fund’ which, as well as closing the price gap between zero-carbon and conventional fuels, would be used to deploy the bunkering infrastructure required in ports throughout the world to supply fuels such as hydrogen and ammonia, ensuring consistency in the industry’s green transition for both developed and developing economies.”

In this article, we review the developments leading up to this proposal and its prospects, and consider the implications for the shipping industry and supply chains more generally if a global maritime carbon levy were to be adopted by the IMO.

Continue Reading Is a Global Maritime Carbon Levy on the Horizon? Why Companies Should be Paying Attention to the IMO Proposals and Preparing for Potential Supply Chain Disruption

The United States has imposed trade restrictions on imports of solar cells and panels starting in 2012, and since then, the number and nature of these restrictions has grown.  The last several weeks have seen a potential for further increase and/or extension of these measures, further complicating trade in this critical component of alternative energy.

First, on September 2, 2021, a World Trade Organization (“WTO”) panel circulated its report in United States – Safeguard Measure on Imports of Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaic Products (DS562), upholding the Section 201 safeguard tariffs imposed by the United States on crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells (“solar safeguard”).  The solar safeguard is a 2.5GW tariff-rate quota that was imposed by the United States in 2018 on imports of solar cells from most countries.  The tariff was initially set at 30 percent, and was scheduled to be reduced by five percentage points each year in the subsequent three years (lasting for a total of four years).  China challenged the solar safeguard at the WTO, arguing that the U.S. International Trade Commission (“ITC”) failed to comply with the 1994 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (“GATT”) and the Agreement on Safeguards when conducting its safeguard investigation.  China argued that the ITC had failed to demonstrate that imports of products increased “as a result of unforeseen developments,” as required by the GATT, while also attacking the ITC’s analysis regarding the link between increased imports and serious injury.  The WTO dispute settlement body has historically been skeptical of safeguard actions, often finding them inconsistent with members’ obligations.  However, in this instance, the panel rejected all of China’s claims, and affirmed the reasoning of the ITC.

Continue Reading U.S. Imports of Solar Products Face Increased Restrictions

There exists a deep-seated practice and tradition of resorting to consensus as the favoured means of decision-making at the World Trade Organization (WTO).  This practice was carried over from the time of its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).  This marked preference for decision-making by consensus over voting has been enshrined in Article IX:1 of the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO (Marrakesh Agreement) which provides that: “[t]he WTO shall continue the practice of decision-making by consensus followed under GATT 1947”.

However, Article IX:1 of the Marrakesh Agreement also states that: “[e]xcept as otherwise provided, where a decision cannot be arrived at by consensus, the matter at issue shall be decided by voting”.

Thus, while the Marrakesh Agreement formally recognizes consensus as the preferred means of decision-making, it also clearly recognizes the validity of taking decisions by voting as a subsidiary means when consensus is unattainable on any given matter.

As an added twist to decision-making at the WTO, Article IX:1 of the Marrakesh Agreement also establishes that: “[d]ecisions of the Ministerial Conference and the General Council shall be taken by a majority of the votes cast”.  In other words, majority voting was intended to be the default means of decision-making for the Ministerial Conference (MC) and the General Council (GC).

Nevertheless, in practice, voting at the WTO never takes place.  Instead, WTO Members have strictly adhered to consensus since the WTO’s inception.

In this three-part series, we intend to explore how the WTO Membership’s traditional aversion to voting as a means of decision-making is coming under fire and putting a strain on the proper functioning of the WTO.

Each part will in turn discuss the following three instances where significant pressure is currently building up on consensus as the exclusive means of decision-making at the WTO: (i) the appointment of Appellate Body (AB) members; (ii) the proposed decision to waive certain provisions of the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement) with regard to combatting COVID-19; and (iii) the outcomes of negotiations on e-commerce, investment facilitation, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and the domestic regulation of services conducted as “joint statement initiatives” (JSIs).

This first instalment of our three-part series will focus on the appointment of AB members.

Continue Reading Tensions Between Consensus and Voting in WTO Decision-Making – Part I: Appointing Appellate Body Members

This November, the United Kingdom will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, from October 31 to November 12, 2021.  As part of its preparations, the UK Parliament International Trade Committee recently launched an inquiry on COP26 and international trade.  The Committee will be accepting submissions until September 7, 2021 on the series of questions that make up its call for evidence.  One of those questions asks,

What discussions, if any, are planned to develop a multilateral approach to carbon pricing systems (including border adjustment mechanisms), green subsidies and investment funds, the curbing of fossil fuel subsidies, a circular economy and sustainable supply chains?

A multilateral approach on most of these issues seems very unlikely, notably border adjustment mechanisms.  As discussed in a previous post, the European Union is pursuing its Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism unilaterally.  The United States and others may follow suit.  This post explores the possibility of reaching a multilateral agreement on curbing fossil fuel subsidies, which could have serious implications for producers and downstream purchasers.

Continue Reading Phasing Out Fossil Fuel Subsidies: Any Prospect for Meaningful Multilateral Action?

The European Commission’s recently released proposal for a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) forms a critical part of the European Union’s Fit for 55 Package, discussed in a previous blog.  The proposed EU CBAM will require importers of certain products into the EU to pay for the tons of carbon emissions embedded in those products in the form of CBAM certificates, the price of which would be tied to the price of emissions allowances under the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS).  The CBAM is expected to be phased in gradually from 2023 in the form of detailed emissions reporting requirements, transitioning to full implementation by 2026.  Although the EU CBAM has yet to be approved and details of the mechanism remain to be fleshed out via implementing acts, companies would benefit by evaluating their potential exposure now, not just to the EU CBAM but also to the measures that may be implemented in response by other countries, including the United States.

Continue Reading The EU CBAM: What the Proposed Regulation Covers, What Happens Next, and What Companies Should be Thinking About Now