On August 9, 2023, the Biden administration issued a much-anticipated Executive Order establishing a new regime to limit certain U.S. investments in key Chinese technology sectors to prevent the financing of Chinese military advancement. The order, once implemented via regulation, will prohibit U.S. persons from investing in, or engaging in certain other transactions with, Chinese companies engaged in specified conduct involving semiconductors and microelectronics, quantum information technologies, and artificial intelligence. The regulations will likely come into force in 2024 after multiple rounds of public comment, including an initial 45-day comment period that is now underway on an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (“ANPRM”) issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury (“Treasury”).

The regulations will prohibit some investments altogether, while others will be subject only to official notification requirements. Treasury, which will implement and enforce the restrictions, stated that it anticipates exempting “certain transactions, including potentially those in publicly traded instruments and intracompany transfers from U.S. parents to subsidiaries.”Continue Reading Amid Growing Trade Tensions, U.S. Imposes Unprecedented Restrictions on Outbound Investments to China

The United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom are increasingly using trade policy tools as a means to promote certain sustainability goals related to human rights and the environment.  For instance, Steptoe covered in a previous post the trade restrictions proposed at the end of 2021 aimed at illegally deforested products.  More recently, amidst increasing concerns regarding forced labor in certain regions, the EU has proposed legislation which would ban making available within the EU, and exporting from the EU, products made with forced labor – resembling, to some extent, the forced labor ban that is in place in the US. Meanwhile, the UK has adopted a more piecemeal and geographically targeted approach through the adaptation of existing legislation focused on export controls and the prevention of modern slavery.Continue Reading Measures Banning Products Made with Forced Labor: US, EU and UK Approach

On October 12, 2022, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced it would be seeking public comments regarding the effectiveness of the actions related to the Section 301 investigation of China’s Acts, Policies, and Practices Related to Technology Transfer, Intellectual Property, and Innovation.  The two specific actions under review are the imposition of additional tariffs under Section 301 on products on List 1 and List 2 (covering $34 billion and $16 million in imports as of 2018, respectively), which were subsequently modified by the imposition of List 3 and List 4A (totaling $325 billion in imports as of 2018).  This notice marks the next step in the USTR’s “review of necessity,” a statutory-mandated four-year review process.  A portal for submitting these comments will open on November 15, 2022, with a deadline of January 17, 2023.
Continue Reading USTR Announces Next Steps in Statutory Four-Year Review of China 301 Tariffs

Since the beginning of the Biden Administration, and particularly since earlier in 2021, U.S. companies and importers have been looking forward to the prospect of a reduction in the tariffs originally imposed in 2018 and 2019 following the Section 301 investigation against China or, at a minimum, a resumption of the exclusion process that was largely suspended in 2020 aside from extensions in limited circumstances.  While several avenues for the elimination or reduction of Section 301 duties have presented themselves, to date, none have been adopted.  Nevertheless, the coming months may offer several opportunities for U.S. companies interested in reducing their Section 301 duty liability to advocate for relief.
Continue Reading Section 301 Duties on Imports from China: Current Status of Prospects for Relief

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) supports the existing prohibition on the importation of goods into the United States made with forced labor under Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930 (19 U.S.C. § 1307).  Enforcement of the UFLPA began on June 21, 2022.  Companies with supply chains that have links to Xinjiang specifically and China more generally should be concerned about the implications of UFLPA enforcement.

The UFLPA requires U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to apply a presumption that imports of all goods, wares, articles, and merchandise mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China (Xinjiang), or by entities on the UFLPA Entity List (described below), are prohibited from entry into the United States under 19 U.S.C. § 1307.  The scope of the UFLPA extends to goods made outside of or shipped through China that include inputs made wholly or in part in Xinjiang.  There is no de minimis exception.  Priority enforcement areas include polysilicon, cotton, and tomatoes.Continue Reading Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, Part II: Enforcement

On May 23, 2022, President Biden announced the launch of negotiations for the long-awaited Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (“IPEF”).  The IPEF had been under consideration for some time, but was finally announced during the President’s first trip to Asia.

These negotiations are beginning with a total of 12 countries in addition to the United States:  Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.  Many of the countries on the list had been predicted (e.g., Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and Singapore), but some were unexpected (e.g., Brunei and the Philippines).  While Taiwan had indicated interest in joining, it was excluded from this launch largely because of concerns that its inclusion would prove an irritant to China, which might in turn dissuade other countries from joining.  Nevertheless, there appears to be support in the Administration and elsewhere for continued bilateral engagement on trade and investment issues. On May 27, 2022, Fiji also joined the IPEF, the first Pacific Island nation to join the framework.Continue Reading The Biden Administration Announces the Launch of Negotiations for the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity

The Office of the United States Trade Representative (“USTR”) has recently initiated a statutory four-year review of the two actions taken under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended, in the investigation of China’s Acts, Policies, and Practices Related to Technology Transfer, Intellectual Property, and Innovation.  The two specific actions under review are the imposition of additional tariffs under Section 301 on products on List 1(covering $34 billion in imports as of 2018) and List 2 ($16 million in imports), which were subsequently modified by the imposition of List 3 and List 4A.

This “review of necessity” is being conducted pursuant to 19 U.S.C. § 2417(c), which obligates USTR to revoke any action taken under Section 301 after four years unless parties that benefit from that action requests its continuation.  If continuation is requested, USTR is then required to evaluate the “effectiveness in achieving the objectives of Section 301” and the “effects of such actions on the United States economy, including consumers” for any action taken under Section 301.Continue Reading USTR Starts “Review of Necessity” of Section 301 Tariffs

In October 2021, President Biden announced the United States’ intention to pursue an “Indo-Pacific Economic Framework” (IPEF) as a means of strengthening U.S. ties in the Asian region.  Substantive discussions on the IPEF have not yet begun, and indeed, there has not yet been an announcement how the negotiations will be conducted or which nations will be involved.  Nevertheless, enough about this proposed framework of agreements has been announced that companies in the region can begin to prepare for the process.  This article will discuss what is known about the IPEF, why the current administration is taking this approach, and how countries in the Asian region may be affected by this new agreement.

By way of background, in February 2016, after years of negotiations, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was signed.  The TPP covered 12 countries, including the United States, and was described as a high-standard “21st Century” trade agreement.  However, one of then-President Trump’s first actions in office was to withdraw the United States from the TPP.  The remaining TPP countries renegotiated the agreement without the United States (essentially removing certain elements of the agreement the United States alone had backed), and ultimately entered into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).  Since President Biden’s inauguration in January 2021, pressure has been building for the United States to reengage with Asia on economic and commercial matters.  The IPEF is the United States’ current policy response.Continue Reading The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework: How the United States Intends to Re-Engage with Asia on Trade

2021 was an eventful year for international trade law and policy in the EU, with developments in several key areas.

The EU strengthens its trade policy toolbox

In the light of the recent ongoing problems with multilateralism and the continuing rise of China, the EU focused hard on strengthening its trade enforcement toolbox in a wide variety of trade related areas. This includes the use of recent tools and proposals for new instruments:

  • The Amended Trade Enforcement Regulation entered into force on 13 February 2021. This greatly expands the EU’s capacity to adopt trade countermeasures against third countries. It can now do so even before dispute settlement proceedings at the WTO or under other international agreements have been concluded if these are blocked by the other party. This would include, for instance, situations where a trading partner appeals an adverse panel report “into the void” to the non-functioning Appellate Body at the WTO, as well as in relation to a broader range of violations. The Commission is due to undertake a review of the Trade Enforcement Regulation, to consider additional commercial policy measures in the field of trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, by 13 February 2022.
  • The FDI Screening Regulation, which has been in force since the end of 2020, has led to a growing number of FDI mechanisms notified or updated by Member States to the European Commission throughout 2021 (see here). For the EU, which did not have a role in FDI screening prior to this, this mechanism is starting to become a game-changer. In November 2021, the Commission published its first annual report on the screening of foreign direct investments into the EU. Of the 265 cases notified to the Commission between 11 October 2020 and 30 June 2021, 80% were closed by the Commission in Phase 1, whereas 14% of cases proceeded to Phase 2, with additional information being requested from the notifying Member State (the remaining 6% were still under assessment on 30 June 2021). The Commission issued an opinion, with recommended measures, in less than 3% of the notified cases. Actual prohibitions of investments by Member States appear to be limited for the moment, although there have been such instances (like Italy’s prohibition of the proposed acquisition of control in LPE, an Italian semiconductor equipment company, by a Chinese company). Moreover, parties sometimes abandon envisaged transactions prior to a formal prohibition. The imposition of conditions appears more common.
  • On 5 May 2021, the Commission published its proposal for a new Regulation to address distortions by foreign subsidies. The Regulation introduces three new instruments that would give the Commission the power to investigate foreign subsidies granted to companies active in the EU and identify whether they are causing distortions in the EU single market. Should the Commission identify distortive foreign subsidies, it could impose redressive measures to counteract their effects (see our blog post describing the Commission’s proposal here). If adopted, which currently appears likely, it would give the Commission far-reaching new powers. The Committee on International Trade, the leading committee in charge of the file within the European Parliament, has released its draft report on the proposal on 17 December 2021, generally supporting the new instruments and suggesting additional protections against home-market monopoly advantages and known future subsidies.
  • On 8 December 2021, the Commission published a proposal for a new anti-coercion instrument. The aim of this instrument would be to deter and, if necessary, retaliate against third countries exerting economic coercion against the EU or its Member States in order to influence their political decisions and policy choices (see our blog post describing the Commission’s proposal here). This is another example of a novel instrument in the field of trade that would grant the Commission with robust powers to address trade policy issues.
  • Negotiations on a proposed new International Procurement Instrument have also progressed in 2021. This instrument would enable the EU to limit, on a case-by-case basis, access to its public procurement market by companies from third countries which restrict access to their own procurement markets by EU businesses. This would represent a significant overhaul of the EU’s current public procurement system, which is currently one of the more open ones globally.

Continue Reading EU Trade: 2021 Takeaways, 2022 and Beyond – What to Expect

2022 is shaping up to be a critical year for the Biden Administration regarding U.S. international trade policy.  In 2021, the Biden Administration made headway in resolving some of the challenges with United States’ allies that arose during the last Administration, and trying to build bridges in important regions that had perhaps had been neglected.  But in a number of other critical areas, and arguably in the most significant areas, the Biden Administration made little tangible progress over the past year.  The discussion below offers a look back at the key developments in 2021 with respect to U.S. trade relations with the EU, China, the rest of Asia and North America, and a look ahead at what could come in 2022.
Continue Reading The US International Trade Agenda: A Look Back, A Look Ahead