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Results of the European elections held in the UK on 23 May resulted in a significant defeat for the ruling Conservative party and a win for the Brexit Party, a single issue political group seeking for the UK to withdraw from the European Union. Several contenders, including former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, are taking a hard-line approach to Brexit and have pledged that under their leadership the UK will leave the EU with or without a deal on Brexit day. Other candidates, such as Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Sajid Javid, promise to unite Brexiteers and Remainers and “deliver Brexit”. Whomever succeeds May will inherit a daunting task. For business, the latest developments mean prolonged uncertainty and an increased fear of an abrupt departure from the EU with trade on World Trade Organization terms.

In an attempt to create a majority in the UK Parliament to ratify the withdrawal agreement she negotiated with the EU, Prime Minister May intended to made certain concessions. Among them was the idea of negotiating a new and separate customs union with the EU that would take effect when the UK is no longer part of the EU internal market. The Brexit Party rejects this proposal and it may not be tenable for the next Conservative Party leader. Nevertheless, pressure to avoid a hemorrhaging hard Brexit, may yet result in further consideration of a separate customs union with the EU. It is useful then to consider what a customs union without single market access and EU membership might look like and how it could affect business.


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Effective May 10, 2019 importations of merchandise covered under the Section 301 third tranche, manufactured in China and entered into the U.S., are subject to the increase in additional duties from 10 to 25%.  However, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection updated guidance, the increased duties of 25% will not apply to goods a)

The European Union has just released a list of U.S. products for retaliatory tariffs following the recent announcement by the U.S. of its intent to levy additional duties on European products. The EU list covers nearly $23 billion worth of U.S. goods including tractors, luggage, frozen fish, fruit, wine, ketchup, nuts, and orange juice. 

In response to a long running dispute with the European Union (EU) over subsidies to Airbus, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has proposed additional tariffs on certain products of the EU covering approximately $11 billion in trade.  The proposed list covers 317 tariff subheadings and includes fish, cheese, olive oil, wine, leather handbags, textiles, wool

Both the EU and the UK are eager to achieve a Brexit deal.  However, with time running short and red lines continuing to be drawn on both sides, a no-deal Brexit scenario remains a possibility.  For this reason, both the EU27 and the UK are expediting preparations for a hard Brexit.  Absent any temporary arrangements, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 29 March 2018, it will become a “third country” EU trading partner overnight.  Trade in agri-food between EU-UK would then be governed by World Trade Organization (WTO), EU and UK rules, and food products would no longer move freely throughout the EU.

Agri-food business operators should roll out their contingency measures.  Contingency planning for a “hard” Brexit includes making possible revisions to supply chains, buying-ahead, stockpiling, warehousing, relocating food production, transferring import function, re-labelling, obtaining relevant authorizations and certifications, and taking other practical measures to avoid business disruptions. Companies need to ensure proper controls are in place with regard to import and export regulations. 
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One of the potential consequences of the U.S.-China trade dispute is that more companies may consider supply chain sourcing from third countries such as Mexico.   This may include direct sourcing in the third country or the processing of Chinese components into finished products in third countries prior to entry into the United States.  There are a number of issues to consider where the processing of Chinese products subject to section 301 duties occurs in third countries prior to importation in the United States.

For example, the imported Chinese components processed in a third country may nonetheless be subject to section 301 duties when imported into the United States unless they are “substantially transformed” into a new and different article of commerce in the third country.  This is a product-specific analysis and involves a review of components and production steps. Recently, the Court of International Trade ruled that mere assembly of foreign component parts does not constitute substantial transformation. (Energizer Battery Inc. v. United States, 190 F. Supp. 3d 1308 (Ct. Intl. Trade 2016). The decision noted that, “whether there has been a substantial transformation depends on whether there has been a change in the name or use of the components.”  The court focused not on whether “the components as imported have the form and function of the final product” but rather “whether the components have a pre-determined end-use at the time of importation.”  The court suggested that the imported parts would need to undergo “further work” beyond mere assembly to be considered substantially transformed.


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The Trump Administration is using an infrequently used provision of the trade laws, Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 to impose an additional 25% tariff on $50 billion worth of Chinese products imported into the U.S.  The proposed list covers 1300 tariff lines and includes medicaments, pumps and valves, machinery for the oil and gas, agriculture, food, beverage, and apparel industries, motors, generators, trucks, bulldozers, railway cars, automobiles, helicopters, airplanes, and boats, and consumer products such as dishwashers, microwaves, TV’s, and VCR’s. (see full list here)

The proposed list covers the following sectors (See blog post from March 21):

  • New advanced information technology
  • Automated machine tools and robotics
  • Aerospace and aeronautical equipment
  • Maritime equipment and high tech shipping
  • Modern rail transport equipment
  • New energy vehicles and equipment
  • Power equipment
  • Agricultural equipment
  • New materials
  • Biopharma and advanced medical products


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