- Major operational changes have occurred at trade-related U.S. government agencies and courts due to personnel and public safety concerns over the COVID‑19 outbreak in the United States.
- The Office of Personnel Management has announced that as of March 17, 2020, and until further notice, federal offices nationwide are open but “maximum telework flexibilities” are in place for all eligible employees “pursuant to direction from agency heads.”
- Trade-related U.S. government and court websites provide status updates.
- Helpful website links from the U.S. government, foreign governments and international organizations are regularly updated to keep international trade professionals informed on changes to the business environment caused by the pandemic.
As the novel coronavirus pandemic alters our daily lives, how we interact with each other and how we conduct business, obtaining current and reliable information has become critical, both professionally and personally. This bulletin provides international trade professionals updates on the trade-related government agencies and courts affecting their businesses and helpful website links providing COVID-19 information. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has indicated that federal offices nationwide “continue to perform mission critical functions and operations as determined by agency heads” but that maximum telework flexibilities are being provided to all eligible employees.
Trade Agencies and Court Status
U.S. Department of Commerce – While Commerce has published no formal notice of its operating status, meetings with visitors from outside of the agency have been canceled in the past week. Further, the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has canceled its export control forum scheduled for April 2020.
U.S. Department of the Treasury – While Treasury has published no formal notice of its operating status, the “public engagement” schedule for the next several weeks is currently empty, suggesting that all outside meetings have been canceled. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has not indicated yet whether its operations have been affected.
U.S. Department of State – The Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) has indicated that its core activities across its Licensing, Compliance, Policy and Management offices continue to function. However, the notice states, “staffing and other adjustments across the Department and interagency are being made” as the agency follows OPM guidance.
- Licensing Activities – All electronic application systems are currently in normal operational mode, and new licenses continue to be accepted for processing; however, a longer than normal processing time should be expected.
- Registration, Commodity Jurisdiction Requests and General Correspondence – These filings via the Defense Export Control and Compliance System (DECCS) continue and are being processed as they are submitted; responses may be delayed by the current operational environment.
DDTC states that it has established a new option for industry to submit disclosures and related information (e.g., exhibits, extension requests and responses to DTCC inquiries) by allowing submissions via email to DTCC-CaseStatus@state.gov. If a disclosure cannot be submitted via email, DDTC indicates that the continued use of regular U.S. mail is acceptable.
U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) – The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has offered no update on its operating status.
U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) – The ITC has stated that it remains open while its employees are teleworking full-time. The Secretary’s Office will accept only electronic filings during this time. Filings must be made through the ITC’s Electronic Document Information System (EDIS) at https://edis.usitc.gov. No in-person, paper-based filings or paper copies of any electronic filings will be accepted until further notice. Visitor access to the building is now closed and will remain so through April 3, 2020.
- Section 337 Hearings – Administrative law judges (ALJs) have been ordered to postpone any hearings scheduled in the next 60 days. All discovery will continue and any essential outside participation by staff will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
- Title VII Matters – All antidumping and countervailing duty preliminary phase staff conferences have been cancelled for the next 60 days. All ITC Title VII votes will be conducted by notation; there will be no in-person votes for the next 60 days. Regarding hearings for final phase Title VII investigations, five-year (sunset) reviews, and those held under Section 332 and Section 131, the ITC has decided not to hold in-person hearings and interested parties will be invited instead to answer written questions issued by the ITC with certified written responses.
- Agency Meetings, Seminars and Briefings – All scheduled in-person meetings with outside persons have been cancelled or postponed for the next 60 days.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – CBP refers users to DHS.gov/coronavirus for information related to the COVID-19 pandemic, where it states that “all air, land and sea Ports of Entry (POEs), CBP Officers (CBPOs) and Border Patrol Agents (BPAs) continue to identify and refer individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 or a travel history to China, Iran, or certain European countries in the past 14 days to CDC or local public health officials for enhanced health screening.” As has been occurring for several weeks, the rerouting of all flights with passengers who have recently been in China, Iran and certain European countries continues through select airports with established resources, procedures and personnel. A February 3, 2020 bulletin explained that “[c]rew, and flights carrying only cargo (i.e., no passengers or non-crew), are excluded” from U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s arrival restrictions imposed on February 2, 2020. It has also been reported that “CBP continues to process cargo at its normal rate as there has been no identified threat as it relates to cargo shipments” and that “vessels or embarked crewmembers or passengers that have recently been in China will have their arrivals fully vetted to safeguard the American public yet facilitate trade. This safety protocol is not anticipated to slow down the movement of cargo.” With decreases in vessel operations, several ports closed and terminal operations suspended, however, the volume of cargo has been reduced.
U.S. Census Bureau – Many U.S. Census Bureau employees are operating remotely via telework. During this time, call centers and email inboxes will remain open to assist customers’ daily trade needs. However, the agency will have limited access to physical mail. For those companies that are submitting a Voluntary Self-Disclosure (VSD) or data request, please make the submission electronically to the Trade Regulations Branch (TRB) in a password-protected file to firstname.lastname@example.org (for VSDs) or Data User & Trade Outreach Branch (DUTOB) to email@example.com (for data requests). Additionally, such submissions may be sent to the bureau’s secure fax at 301.763.8835.
U.S. Court of International Trade (CIT) – According to its statement of March 12, it appears that there have been no adjustments in CIT operations, except as listed below.
- People who have traveled to China, Iran, Ireland, South Korea, the United Kingdom, or any of the 26 countries located in the Schengen Area of Europe within the last 14 days; reside or have had close contact with someone who has traveled to one of these areas within the last 14 days; have been asked to self-quarantine by any hospital or health agency; or have been diagnosed with, or have had contact with, anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, must inform the court security officers upon entering the courthouse and will be denied permission to enter. Attorneys who are so affected and scheduled to appear before the CIT must notify the court so that appropriate safeguard measures can be taken. Attorneys may appear via teleconference or videoconference with the approval of the presiding judge. These restrictions will remain in place until further notice.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit – Per a public advisory notice and an administrative order, the Federal Circuit began restricting public access to the National Courts Building complex on March 16, 2020. On March 19, the Court issued an updated public advisory stating that all cases scheduled for argument during the April 2020 sitting will now be conducted by telephone conference and no in-person hearings will be held. All existing deadlines in cases currently remain in effect. The court has suspended the requirement to file paper copies of all electronic filings but will continue to accept “documents that can only be filed by paper and filings from parties who are not permitted to file electronically.” Such filings should be submitted either by mail or by deposit in the court’s night box. Mail and third-party commercial deliveries will be limited to the lobby. Any other deliveries must be coordinated ahead of time with relevant court staff.
Useful U.S. Government Website Links
The U.S. government has established multiple websites to assist the public:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- Presidential proclamations, executive orders, presidential memoranda – Presidential Actions
- Presidential briefings and statements – White House Press Room
- The President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America
- State Department – COVID-19 Country Specific Information
- Small Business Administration – SBA Guidance & Loan Resources
- OSHA – Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID‑19
U.S. Government International Trade-Related Websites:
- Resources for the shipping industry – Guidance for Ships
- Resources for airlines – Updated Interim Guidance for Airlines and Airline Crew
- Resources for cargo ships – Reporting Maritime Death or Illness to DGMQ
- S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
- Export-Import Bank of the United States – Program Waivers, Extensions and Other Provisions
- World Health Organization (WHO) – Resource Page
- Group of Seven (G7) Leaders – Statement
- European Council – Statement on Economic Policy Response
- European Union – European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control
- United Kingdom – UK Government Response
- Government of Canada – Resources for Canadian Businesses
Thompson Hine has launched a multidisciplinary COVID-19 Task Force to monitor the latest developments and guidance from public health officials and assess the potential impacts on our clients and their businesses. The COVID-19 Task Force page on our website provides a centralized location for recent publications, webinars, articles and resources that you may find helpful.