Last Friday the United States Trade Representative (USTR) ramped up its tariffs on European aircraft, increasing the duty from 10% to 15%, effective March 18.

It also announced it would make minor modifications to 25% tariffs imposed on cheese, wine, Irish and Scotch whisky, and other non-aircraft products from the EU, namely adding a 25% tax on French and German butcher and kitchen knives and dropping prune juice from the list of taxed items. While the move is hard-hitting, particularly for European aircraft, EU officials had feared more drastic measures in an increasingly fraught trade relationship with the U.S.

Background

The tariffs are part of a 15-year-old complaint over European aircraft subsidies to plane maker Airbus, putting Boeing, its U.S. competitor, at a disadvantage. Last October, the World Trade Organization authorized the U.S. to impose tariffs of up to 100% on 7.5 billion dollars’ worth of EU exports annually to recoup its losses. The imposed duties are lower than those permitted under WTO’s ruling, however, USTR decided against additional escalation after a mid-December public consultation recorded protestations from more than 26,000 U.S. consumers and industries. While USTR’s latest action on tariffs thus could have been significantly more painful, businesses hoping for a relief remain disappointed with the levies, which are expected to continue until the U.S. and EU come to a negotiated resolution. As the two sides cannot agree on terms for starting talks, this remains an uncertainty at least in the short-term.

Potential for Escalation

Further escalation by Washington also is anticipated if Brussels hits U.S. imports with tariffs over unfair subsidies to Boeing. The WTO is expected to rule this spring on damages caused by U.S. plane maker’s state tax breaks, which would authorize the EU to target U.S. goods with retaliatory tariffs. A preliminary list of U.S. goods proposed as targets for EU retaliatory tariffs was drawn up last year, focusing primarily on U.S. farm products. Although Brussels no doubt is mulling over a right response to the most recent U.S. tariff hikes on aircraft, the broader picture for the EU remains to reset its trade relations with the U.S.

Impact on EU-US Trade Agreement

At the beginning of the year, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that she is seeking a mini trade deal with the U.S. in the next few weeks covering trade, technology and energy. However, the U.S. insists any deal must include EU agricultural concessions – a sticky and politically explosive topic for the EU. EU officials have conceded agricultural concessions could come in the shape of separate commitments lowering EU non-tariff barriers for certain U.S. farm goods. It has been suggested this could include the approval of more genetically modified crops for sale in the bloc, which is of obvious interest to the U.S.
Continue Reading U.S. increases tariffs on European aircraft: EU response a litmus test for transatlantic trade relations

On October 2, 2019, the World Trade Organization (“WTO”) awarded the U.S. the largest arbitration award in the WTO’s history, $7.5 billion annually, in retaliation for the unlawful EU subsidization of Airbus.  The award comes after nearly 15 years of litigation at the WTO where the U.S. successfully argued that the EU and four of its member states conferred more than $18 billion to Airbus in subsidized financing.

As retaliation, the U.S. will impose an additional 10 percent duty on airplanes from France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom, as well as an additional 25 percent duty on certain goods including single malt Irish and Scotch whiskies, coffee from Germany, cheeses from several countries, and certain garments from the United Kingdom.   The retaliatory tariffs will likely take effect on October 18, 2019 and will be “continually re-evaluate{d}. . . based on {U.S.} discussions with the EU.”  In selecting the goods that will be affected by the retaliatory tariffs, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative explained that the tariffs are intended to most heavily impact imports from France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom, the Member States that provided Airbus with the disputed subsidies.

Meanwhile, tariff threats also loom over the U.S. in a parallel WTO case regarding the illegal subsidization of Boeing in the U.S.  The global trade regulator is expected within six-to-eight months to authorize the EU to impose its own retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods. In April, the EU published a preliminary list of U.S. products to be considered for countermeasures. Ahead of the WTO’s ruling on its case regarding the subsidization of Boeing, the EU might choose to revoke prior settlements with the U.S. in other WTO cases, which would effectively create tariffs on approximately $4 billion worth of U.S. imports into the EU.
Continue Reading A Tale of Two Aircraft: U.S. Wins Historic Award in Airbus Case While EU Awaits Ruling on Boeing

The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) dispute settlement process risks collapse by the end of this year as the United States continues to block appointments to the WTO Appellate Body. Once the terms of two of the three remaining WTO Appellate Body Members expire on 10 December 2019, the WTO’s appeals court no longer will possess

What happens next in British politics could mean a significant shift in the United Kingdom’s trade ties with the United States – but the hurdles are many and the process to reach results could be lengthy. Voting in the Conservative Party leadership contest closes today, with the winner and successor to UK Prime Minister Theresa May to take up position on 24 July. The two Tory leadership rivals, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson and the incumbent foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, both have been calling to strengthen the U.S.-UK “special relationship” as they vied for the support of 160,000 Conservative Party members. Frontrunner Boris Johnson has pledged to seek an ambitious UK-U.S. trade deal as one of his first acts in office. This would be good news for the more than 40,000 U.S. companies exporting to and operating in the UK, many of which are negatively impacted by uncertainty over Brexit and the possibility of an economic rupture between the UK and the European Union. If – as expected – UK Prime Minister Theresa May hands over the reins to Boris Johnson in two days, a highly topical question will be how his premiership might fare in securing a U.S.-UK trade deal.

On the U.S. side, there is strong political support by the Trump Administration and some Members of Congress for a U.S.-UK trading alliance. Several steps already have been taken to strengthen the Anglo-American trading relationship and mitigate negative impacts of Brexit. In February this year, a U.S.-UK Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) was concluded, which rolls over relevant aspects of the existing U.S.-EU MRA, covering electromagnetic compatibility, telecommunication equipment and good manufacturing practice of pharmaceuticals. U.S.-UK agreements on derivatives and insurance also have been agreed. These would take effect immediately after the UK exits the EU in an EU-UK “no deal” Brexit scenario or at the end of a transition period in a “deal” scenario. UK-U.S. preliminary talks on a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) spanning the last two years, however, have failed to show any meaningful progress and are considered to be deadlocked. Should the UK leave the EU without a deal at the end of October, World Trade Organization (WTO) terms would govern U.S.-UK trade until such time as a trade deal is agreed.

Much hinges on the UK’s post-Brexit trading relationship with the EU, which still remains a priority for the UK. As Boris Johnson pursues hardline rhetoric on Brexit, insisting both that the current EU-UK deal needs to be renegotiated – which EU leaders reject – and that the UK will leave the EU on the scheduled date of 31 October 2019, with or without a deal, it is difficult to predict how the UK-EU trading relationship will unfold in the coming months.
Continue Reading Tough Negotiations Ahead on a UK-U.S. Trade Deal

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.


Continue Reading Bespoke UK-EU Customs Union: Still a Viable Option?

On 10 April 2019, the European Union granted the United Kingdom a flexible extension, coined a “flextension”, until 31 October.  This additional period of time is intended, to allow the UK to ratify the Brexit Deal, an agreement devised between the EU and the UK for the orderly exit of the UK from the bloc. The Deal includes a transition period, a controversial solution to manage the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and provides for such things as citizens’ rights and the legal status of goods in transit at the moment of Brexit. The flextension will end as soon as the Deal is ratified, if it happens before the end of October.  Should the UK Parliament not find a majority to support the Deal, the UK could be forced to seek another extension or risk crashing out of the EU on Halloween.

The so-called “cliff edge” Brexit remains a real possibility considering that the Deal has been rejected by Members of the UK Parliament three times already, and successful cross-party negotiations is not by any means a foregone conclusion.  The UK certainly will continue its no deal preparations, including efforts to strike post-Brexit trade agreements with third countries; to date, the agreements it has secured cover only about 11 per cent of UK trade by value. The UK also could use this time to reconsider its Brexit strategy, which ranges from holding a second referendum to attempting to amend the Political Declaration attached to the Deal which delineates mutual commitments concerning the future UK-EU relationship to abandoning Brexit altogether.
Continue Reading What does the Brexit Flextension Mean for Business?

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. 
Continue Reading Impact of a No-Deal Brexit on Agri-Food Business

Brexiteers claim that leaving the EU single market and customs union creates a golden opportunity for the UK to regain power over its international trade.  The potential future post-Brexit free-trade agreement that has received the most attention is that between the U.S. and the UK.  A U.S.-UK Trade and Investment Working Group was set up in July 2017 to lay the groundwork for a potential future U.S.-UK free-trade agreement after Brexit.  Political interest on both sides of the Atlantic was also boosted last week in New York as U.S. President Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Theresa May reiterated their “mutual desire to form a wide-ranging trade deal.”  The U.S. is, however, the more important market with the stronger bargaining power. The UK takes only 3 percent of U.S. exports, while the U.S. accounts for 15 percent of UK exports, as well as roughly 19 percent of the UK’s total imports of services and nearly 22 percent of the UK’s total exports of services.
Continue Reading What are the prospects of a U.S.-UK trade agreement after Brexit?