Section 232 Investigations

International trade and international trade disputes were a predominant focus of President Trump and his trade officials throughout 2018. Thompson Hine’s Trump and Trade team has prepared a slide presentation to provide our readers with a broad overview of the most significant trade actions taken by the Trump administration last year. From the renegotiation of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which is now the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), to the many ongoing trade actions involving imports of steel, aluminum and products from China, it was a busy year. This overview concisely presents details and the current status of the president’s primary trade activities.

The presentation includes information on the current status of President Trump’s major trade actions, including NAFTA/USMCA negotiations, the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, and other bilateral trade negotiations with Japan, the European Union and the United Kingdom. It also provides details on major trade and tariff actions occurring in 2018, such as the Section 232 steel/aluminum tariffs, the Section 232 automobile and automobile parts investigation, and the Section 301 China-related tariffs.

We invite you to stay abreast of continuing developments in 2019 via our blog, TrumpandTrade.com. To receive an email notification whenever a new post is published, please subscribe to the blog.

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With growing congressional and business concerns over the backlog of Section 232 product exclusion requests and the lack of transparency in the review and decision-making processes of the Department of Commerce (Commerce), U.S. Senators Pat Toomey, Doug Jones and Thomas Carper submitted a letter November 26, 2018, to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting a formal review by this government agency as to how Commerce has been granting these tariff exclusions. Among the issues the senators asked to be evaluated are:

  • What criteria are used to make a determination to approve or deny a request, and how does Commerce adjudicate rebuttals?
  • What steps is Commerce undertaking to improve the timely processing of exclusion requests?
  • How does Commerce ensure transparency and adequate communication with parties who have filed requests?
  • How has Commerce trained staff to properly evaluate petitions?

On December 12, the GAO responded to this request, confirming that it will conduct such an analysis and study. While this announcement will no doubt please trade practitioners and U.S. businesses that have been frustrated by the Section 232 product exclusion request process, the results of any such analysis – much like decisions resulting from the Section 232 product exclusion request process itself – are months away. The GAO informed the senators that staff will be available to initiate a review in approximately three months. The final findings of any GAO report will most likely not be presented to the Senate until mid-2019, at the earliest.

The U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) determined December 7, 2018, by a 5-0 unanimous vote of its commissioners that U.S. industry is materially injured by reason of imports of common alloy aluminum sheet from China. This finding follows the determination of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA) in early November that such imports are subsidized and sold in the United States at less than fair value. (See Trump and Trade Update of November 9, 2018.) These are the first trade remedy cases that the Trump administration has “self-initiated,” starting a process that usually begins with a petition from the domestic industry. It’s been more than 25 years since the last self-initiated trade remedy case.

As a result of the USITC’s final affirmative injury determination, the ITA will now issue antidumping and countervailing duty orders on imports of common alloy aluminum sheet from China. The USITC, however, made a negative finding concerning critical circumstances as to imports of this product from China. As a result, imports of common alloy aluminum sheet from China will not be subject to retroactive antidumping or countervailing duties.

The USITC’s public report, Common Alloy Aluminum Sheet from China (Inv. Nos. 701-TA-591 and 731-TA-1399 (Final), USITC Publication 4861, December 2018), will contain the views of the USITC and information developed during the investigations. The report will be available by January 11, 2019; when available, it may be accessed on the USITC’s Official Publication Log.

With the international trade community’s focus on China (tariffs) and Mexico/Canada (NAFTA negotiations), it would be easy to forget another significant trade matter that the Trump administration has been seeking to finalize. According to reports, the revised Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) will be signed today after President Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in meet in New York City, where both are attending the start of the United Nations’ General Assembly plenary session. Continue Reading Revised Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement to Be Signed

The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has amended the exclusion request process for the tariffs on certain steel and aluminum products implemented under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. On March 8, 2018, President Trump exercised his authority under Section 232 and imposed a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports (with certain countries receiving exemptions). U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) began collecting the tariffs on March 23, 2018.

BIS has acknowledged that the number of filings has far surpassed expectations – as of August 20, BIS had received more than 38,000 exclusion requests and more than 17,000 objections – amid growing concerns over the importance of a transparent, fair and efficient product exclusion and objection process. The amendments seek to address these concerns and will create a process for rebutting objections filed to exclusion requests. They also attempt to clarify the criteria BIS considers during the review process to grant or deny an exclusion request. Continue Reading Department of Commerce Amends Section 232 Exclusion Process for Steel and Aluminum Products

Late Wednesday night, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced targeted relief from the voluntary quotas the United States successfully negotiated with South Korea, Argentina and Brazil on steel, and with Argentina on aluminum. U.S. companies may now apply for product exclusions seeking steel or aluminum from these countries based on insufficient quantity or quality available from U.S. steel or aluminum producers. In such cases, the Department of Commerce has stated that an exclusion from the negotiated quota limits “may be granted and no tariff would be owed.” Previously, the product exclusion request processes were limited to steel and aluminum from countries that were fully subject to the Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively, and did not allow for the submission of product exclusion requests for steel and aluminum products subject to the Section 232 tariffs from countries with negotiated quotas, which allowed imported products within the quotas to be exempt from those tariffs. Continue Reading President Trump Amends Section 232 Steel and Aluminum Product Exclusion Request Processes for Imports from Countries under Negotiated Quotas

On August 10, 2018, President Trump announced on Twitter that the United States would double Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkey, referencing the drop of the Turkish lira as his reason for hiking the tariffs. Later that day, the White House issued a presidential proclamation directing that a 50 percent ad valorem tariff be imposed on steel articles imported from Turkey. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross released a statement the same day saying that “since the imposition of the Section 232 tariff in March, exports to the United States have declined and domestic capacity utilization has increased, but not to levels sufficient to remove the threat to national security. Doubling the tariff on imports of steel from Turkey will further reduce these imports that the Department found threaten to impair national security as defined in Section 232.” The increased tariff rate went into effect on August 13, 2018.

In response, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan increased tariffs on several U.S.-origin products with a presidential decree published in the Turkish government’s Official Gazette on August 15, 2018. Turkey increased tariffs on products such as rice, tobacco, vehicles, alcohol, coal and cosmetics. With Erdoğan’s decree, tariffs on passenger cars, alcoholic drinks and leaf tobacco have been doubled, resulting in tariffs of 120 percent, 140 percent and 60 percent respectively. Other U.S. products now facing tariffs include nuts, cosmetics, plastics and paper. Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay stated that the tariffs were “within the framework of the principle of reciprocity in retaliation for the conscious economic attacks by the United States.” These Turkish tariffs went into effect on August 15, 2018.

The Department of Commerce has announced the initiation of a Section 232 investigation into whether the present quantity and circumstances of uranium ore and product imports into the United States threaten to impair national security. The decision was in response to a petition filed by two U.S. uranium mining companies and consultations with industry stakeholders, members of Congress, the Department of Defense, Department of Energy and other interested parties. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has sent a letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis informing him of the initiation of the investigation. Continue Reading Department of Commerce Initiates Section 232 Investigation into Uranium Imports

In March 2018, President Trump announced that under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, the United States would increase tariffs on imports of certain steel products by 25 percent and imports on certain aluminum products by 10 percent on countries worldwide, including imports from the members of the European Union (EU) and Turkey. Although the EU was initially exempted from the imposition of tariffs, these tariffs came into place pursuant to two Presidential Proclamations issued on May 31, 2018. In response, the EU and Turkey announced their intent to impose retaliatory tariff measures. Continue Reading European Union and Turkey Announce Tariffs on Certain U.S. Products

On May 23, 2018, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced the initiation of an investigation to determine the effects on the national security of imports of automobiles – including cars, SUVs, vans and light trucks – and automotive parts. See Thompson Hine International Trade Update, dated June 1, 2018. At that time, the Department of Commerce established certain deadlines for submitting comments and for requesting to appear at a public hearing. In a June 21, 2018 Federal Register notice, the department extended the public comment period to June 29, 2018 and the rebuttal period to July 13, 2018. Requests to appear at the hearing are now due June 29, 2018. The hearing dates of July 19 and 20, 2018 remain unchanged.