On September 8 and 9, top trade officials of the United States and the other Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (“IPEF” or “Framework”) partner countries—Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam—launched formal negotiations in Los Angeles.

This marked the first in-person ministerial-level meeting since the IPEF launched on May 23, 2022 and follows three informal meetings since May 2022, the latest event being the virtual ministerial on July 26-27, discussed in detail in our previous post.

The Los Angeles ministerial involved intensive discussions on what to include in the scope of the Framework. Ultimately, the IPEF partners reached consensus on ministerial statements for each of the four IPEF framework pillars: Trade, Supply Chain, Clean Economy, and Fair Economy. All 14 IPEF partners have joined three of the pillars, and 13 joined the fourth—with just India opting out of the Trade pillar. While this near unanimous support for the four pillars is certainly a positive sign, the real work begins now.

This blog post summarizes how the ministerial statements characterize the four pillars and outlines next steps for the Framework and key remaining questions.

Takeaways from the Ministerial Statements

The ministerial statements confirmed the four pillars of negotiation and provided added clarity on the scope and content of each pillar. While the statements add little to the substance, they indicate a political commitment among the partners to the Framework.

Continue Reading IPEF Partners Adopt Ministerial Statement and Negotiation Objectives

There have been several recent developments in international efforts to combat trade in goods made with forced labor, with important implications for responsible sourcing and global trade compliance programs.

On September 14, 2022, the European Commission (“Commission”) published a proposal to ban products made with forced labor from the EU market. The proposal notably goes beyond banning the importation of such products and would also create a ban on the export of products produced with forced labor and require their withdrawal from the EU market.

Meanwhile, enforcement by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) of the U.S. forced labor import prohibition has continued to intensify, including under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (“UFLPA”). In early August 2022, CBP clarified the process for updating the UFLPA Entity List. In addition, CBP recently announced that it intends to integrate forced labor compliance requirements into the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (“CTPAT”) “trusted trader” program.

We discuss these developments and their implications below.

EU Forced Labor Product Ban

The European Commission has proposed a Regulation prohibiting products made with forced labor from being imported to, exported from, or sold in the EU, following an announcement by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during her State of the Union address in September 2021.

The Commission’s proposal is the first step in the EU’s formal legislative process. The Regulation will now have to be agreed by the European Parliament and Council to become law, following which there will be an agreed delay—the Commission has proposed two years—before it applies in EU Member States. As it usually takes at least 12 months, and often closer to 18 months, for the European Parliament and Council to agree on a legislative text after a proposal by the Commission is published, it is unlikely that the Regulation will be adopted before the end of 2023, and it is therefore unlikely to become applicable earlier than late 2025.

Continue Reading Breaking Developments in Forced Labor Trade Enforcement—the EU’s Proposed Forced Labor Product Ban and Recent Developments in U.S. Customs Enforcement

The Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment has published a draft new law to protect Irish critical technology and infrastructure from potentially harmful non-European foreign investment.  The Screening of Third Country Transactions Bill 2022 legislatesto curb so-called “third country” (meaning non-European Union/non-European Economic Area countries) hostile actors using ownership of, or influence over businesses and assets in the Irish state to harm Ireland’s security or public order. 

First time to screen

It will be the first time Ireland has screened investment from a non-European country with a view to halting that investment if it poses such a threat.  The draft new law responds to the EU Investment Screening Regulation (EU) 2019/452 (“Regulation” – see more in Covington blogs here and here) which allows – but does not oblige – European Union Member States to screen foreign investment for risks to their security or public order.  

EU fears

The Regulation reflected a growing concern within Europe about the purchase of strategic European companies by foreign-owned firms, those concerns now heightened as a result of Covid and, more recently, by the war in Ukraine. 

The European Commission (“EC”) guided on June 22 2021, that “(s)uch transactions may put European collective security or public order at risk, especially when foreign investors are state owned or controlled, including through financing or other means of direction…while remaining open to investment, the EU is equipped to protect its essential interests.” 

Continue Reading Ireland to screen non-European foreign investments

On July 26-27, 2022, the Biden Administration hosted a two-day virtual meeting with top trade officials from the 13 other partners of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (“IPEF” or “Framework”)—Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. This was the first ministerial meeting since the 13 initial participants[1] agreed on May 23, 2022 to launch “collective discussions towards future negotiations” on the Framework. The IPEF currently focuses on four “pillars”: (1) Trade; (2) Supply Chains; (3) Clean Energy, Decarbonization, and Infrastructure; and (4) Tax and Anti-Corruption. Touted as a “21st century economic arrangement designed to tackle 21st century economic challenges,” the IPEF is said to offer what Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo calls a “innovative and flexible approach,” and is “internationally designed not to be a ‘same old, same old’ traditional free trade agreement.”

The Framework’s novel approach, however, has raised a flurry of unanswered questions. Key U.S. stakeholders, for instance, have questioned the Biden Administration’s decision not to discuss tariff reductions or market access as part of the IPEF negotiations. Concerns have been raised about the enforceability of any agreements concluded among Framework partners. Potential agreements within each pillar remain largely unknown or undisclosed, even though the Framework partners have spent months engaged in a “scoping exercise” to define the components of each pillar.

This latest ministerial meeting added little clarity. No joint statement was released at the end of the meeting, suggesting that more remains to be done before formal, text-based negotiations begin. But as negotiators approach the one-year anniversary of President Biden’s announcement of the initiative at the October 2021 East Asia Summit meeting, there is growing expectation of more concrete outcomes. The dates for the next ministerial meeting have not been formally announced, though informal reports speculate that the Framework partners may hold the next meeting in September 2022, possibly as the first in-person ministerial.

This alert outlines the scope and objectives of the IPEF’s four pillars, the progress to date and next steps, key remaining questions, and stakeholder reactions thus far.

Continue Reading Biden Administration Hosts the First Indo-Pacific Economic Framework Ministerial: Updates, Outlook, and Remaining Questions

Background

As we previously reported, President Biden and Congress took steps in March 2022 to revoke Russia’s most-favored-nation (or “MFN”) trade status, known as Permanent Normal Trade Relations (“PNTR”) status under U.S. law.  As a result of these actions, the Suspending Normal Trade Relations with Russia and Belarus Act (“Suspending NTR Act”) entered into force on April 8, 2022, formally revoking PNTR status for Russia and Belarus.  Under the terms of the Act, imports into the United States of products from Russia and Belarus became subject to tariff rates set out in column 2 of the U.S. tariff schedule, rather than the column 1 rates that had previously applied.  Column 2 tariff rates are often higher—sometimes much higher—than MFN tariff rates in column 1, and as a result of this change, tariffs on U.S. imports from Russia increased from an average of approximately three percent to 32 percent.  In addition to implementing this immediate change in applicable tariff rates, the Suspending NTR Act also temporarily authorized the President, through the end of 2023, to increase even further tariffs applicable to imports from Russia and Belarus.

On June 27, pursuant to the authority granted under the Suspending NTR Act, President Biden issued Presidential Proclamation 10420, announcing that the United States would further increase tariffs applicable to certain categories of imports from Russia, worth approximately $2.3 billion annually.  U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) recently issued guidance on these tariff increases, which will apply effective July 27, 2022.  This alert provides additional information on the forthcoming tariff increases, and discusses potential implications for importers of Russian goods.

Overview of July 27 Tariff Rate Increase on Certain U.S. Imports from Russia

Since revocation of PNTR status in April, products imported into the United States from Russia and Belarus have been subject to tariff rates set forth in column 2 of the U.S. tariff schedule.  Under the terms of Presidential Proclamation 10420, however, duty rates of 35 percent ad valorem will apply to 570 categories of Russian products in lieu of column 2 rates, beginning July 27, 2022.  These product categories have an estimated value of approximately $2.3 billion annually.  The Proclamation does not impact imports from Belarus, which will remain subject to column 2 tariff rates.

Continue Reading Increased Tariffs on Certain U.S. Imports from Russia Effective July 27, 2022: What Companies Need to Know

On July 14, 2022, the U.S. Department of Commerce (“Commerce”) issued a request for a range of additional factual information in connection with the agency’s ongoing circumvention inquiries into solar cells and modules from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam that employ inputs from mainland China.[1]  The deadline to respond is July 21st.

In the July 14 memorandum, Commerce seeks information about the:  (1) amount of investment necessary to construct and start-up certain facilities, (2) non-financial barriers (e.g., access to inputs, qualified technical employees, technologies, research and development, etc.) that companies typically face to establish and begin certain operations, and (3) research and development (“R&D”) expenses associated with conducting certain operations.  These types of facilities/operations involved in:

  • refining silicon into solar-grade polysilicon,
  • producing ingots from solar-grade polysilicon,
  • producing wafers from solar-grade ingots,
  • producing solar cells from wafers,
  • producing solar modules from solar cells, and
  • the same operations and products as foreign producers and exporters responding to Commerce’s solar circumvention inquiries. 


Continue Reading Commerce Requests Factual Information in Solar Circumvention Inquiries on Level of Investment, Non-Financial Barriers, and Research and Development Expenses

On July 1, 2022, the U.S. Department of Commerce (“Commerce”) issued proposed rules implementing President Biden’s emergency declaration to provide temporary tariff relief on certain imports of solar cells and modules from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.[1] Commerce has provided the public with a 30-day period to comment on the proposed rules.

If enacted

On June 23, 2022, the UK introduced a series of further trade restrictions in relation to Russia, including in connection with certain security-related goods and technology, iron and steel products, communications interception and monitoring services, jet fuel and fuel additives, UK or EU currency banknotes and a broad category of “revenue generating goods” which includes a range of items used by various industries. The UK supplemented these measures with additional asset-freezing sanctions on June 29.

This alert summarizes these new sanctions measures and touches upon further recent UK sanctions developments, including proposals for further restrictions on the import of gold into the UK and Russian access to UK trusts services.

New Trade Restrictions

The Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 10) Regulations 2022 further amended the UK’s Russia sanctions Regulations (the “UK-Russia Regulations”) to introduce the new trade restrictions outlined, which came into force on June 23, 2022.

Continue Reading UK Introduces Further Sanctions Measures Relating to Russia

Importers of merchandise into the United States must use “reasonable care” in the importation process, which includes providing accurate and complete information necessary for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) to process and release the merchandise into the United States.[1]  Importers who fail to take this obligation seriously do so at their peril, because catching importer mistakes that result in duty underpayments is an enforcement priority for CBP.  If CBP determines that an importer has failed to exercise reasonable care, CBP may impose substantial civil penalties, even if an error was unintentional.[2]  However, where importers discover their own import compliance errors before CBP does, they may significantly reduce their exposure to penalties by proactively and voluntarily disclosing such errors to CBP with a “prior disclosure.”  This article summarizes the fundamentals of a prior disclosure, and reports on recent efforts by CBP to standardize prior disclosure practices across U.S. ports of entry.

Prior Disclosure Fundamentals

CBP encourages importers to file prior disclosures,[3] and it often makes sense for an importer to do so.  The statutes, regulations and procedures that govern the importation of merchandise into the United States are complex and constantly changing, such that even the most experienced and vigilant importers make mistakes.  A prior disclosure allows an importer to disclose its violations of Customs laws and regulations to CBP and pay any unpaid duties or fees owed.  In exchange, the importer limits exposure to otherwise applicable penalties, by limiting the penalty to the interest owed.  CBP benefits as well, receiving prompt payment of duties owed (plus interest) without using internal resources to conduct an investigation of the reported violations and enforce a penalty order. 

Continue Reading Voluntary Disclosures to CBP: What Importers Need to Know About the Changing Landscape

On Monday 13 June, the UK Government tabled a Northern Ireland Protocol Bill (The NIP Bill) giving it the power to dis-apply parts of the N Ireland Protocol (NIP), an integral part of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).  The EU’s response was immediate: unfreezing the 2021 legal action commenced in response to the UK’s unilateral decision not to apply checks to incoming goods from GB to N Ireland.  In the months to come, the UK may face a second legal action by the EU in respect of The NIP Bill.  Without resolution, this issue could ultimately undo the TCA, igniting a trade war between the EU and the UK.

On 14 June, the first UK Government flight taking asylum seekers and refugees from the UK to Rwanda was prevented from taking off by a last minute intervention by an ECHR Judge.   This intervention triggered a backlash among right-wing politicians and commentators, who began to call for the UK to withdraw from the Convention itself – a suggestion which was not discounted by the PM when he was asked about it later.  It will take several months for the courts to decide whether the policy is legal: during that time, the Government appears to have accepted that no more flights to Rwanda can depart, leaving its flagship immigration policy equally grounded.

But the question of membership of the ECHR matters not only for the important principle of international protection of human rights, but because the ECHR is one of the pillars on which the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) rests.  The GFA brought an end to 30 years of The Troubles, and imposed an obligation on the UK to incorporate the Convention into the law of N Ireland to make it directly enforceable in N Ireland’s courts. The UK’s 1998 Human Rights Act did this.  Leaving the ECHR, therefore, to force through the Rwanda asylum policy, would breach the GFA, which the UK Government argues The NIP Bill is intended to defend. 

How did we get here?

Continue Reading Northern Ireland Protocol and the ECHR