On Monday, March 4th, President Trump announced that India and Turkey will no longer benefit from the United States’ Generalized System of Preferences (“GSP”) program.  The GSP program, established by the Trade Act of 1974, is designed to promote economic development by eliminating duties on certain eligible products when imported from a beneficiary

Introduction

On 11 January 2019 and 18 January 2019, the United States Trade Representative (“USTR”) and the European Commission (“Commission”) released their respective negotiating objectives for a U.S.-EU trade agreement, potentially marking a new phase in the transatlantic trade relationship.  The release follows from the joint agenda agreed to in July 2018 by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and U.S. President Donald Trump to work together toward “zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods,” increased cooperation on regulatory issues and standards, and protecting European and U.S. companies from unfair global trade practices.  The release could also signify an important expansion of market opportunities for EU and U.S. companies.

The road ahead is fraught with obstacles, however, as the EU and U.S. negotiating positions differentiate substantially.  The USTR’s summary of specific negotiating objectives seeks a broad free trade agreement with the EU, including on sticky issues such as agriculture, while the Commission aims to limit trade negotiations to reciprocal commitments on conformity assessment and industrial goods. This makes any future transatlantic trade negotiations challenging at best and raises the question of whether the two sides will be able to arrive at an agreement at all. The situation is further complicated by the Trump administration’s ongoing 232 investigations on imports of certain automobiles and parts, as the EU stands ready to suspend any trade talks and retaliate with duties on U.S. exports should the investigation lead to the imposition of tariffs on certain EU automotive products.

EU Perspective

EU Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström, has clearly stated that the EU is “not proposing to restart a broad free trade agreement negotiation with the US,” referring to the breakdown of negotiations, five years ago, of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).  On 30 January 2019, the Commission published a progress report concerning the joint agenda agreed to in July 2018.  The report indicates that talks between the parties have so far focused on potential regulatory cooperation initiatives.  The EU has also taken some measures to avoid the escalation of trade tensions with the United States.  
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On Friday, January 4, 2019, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced that the United States has requested consultations with Peru under the auspices of the U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (PTPA) to address an alleged violation by Peru of the environmental chapter of the agreement.  According to USTR, Peru’s recent decision to move

On October 1, 2018, the United States, Canada, and Mexico announced that they had reached an agreement to “modernize” the 24-year old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). When NAFTA came into effect, it created the largest free trade region in the world. Since then, developments in virtually every sector and the advent of cross-border

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has opened a public comment period in connection with the proposed U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement negotiations.  On October 16, 2018, USTR notified Congress of its intent to enter into trade talks with Japan.  Those discussions cannot begin until mid-January 2019 at the earliest under the requirements of the Trade Promotion Authority law.

Any member of the public – including individual companies, industry coalitions, and trade associations – may submit written comments to USTR by November 26, 2018.  That is also the deadline to submit written notice of intent to testify, along with a summary of intended testimony, at a public hearing to be held on December 10, 2018 at 9:30 am.  The hearing will be held by the Trade Policy Staff Committee, an interagency committee chaired by USTR and comprised of 20 executive branch agencies that provide input into the Administration’s trade-related decision-making through review of policy papers and negotiating documents, and eliciting public feedback.  Procedures are available for commenters to submit business confidential information. 
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On October 15, 2018, chief Mexican trade negotiator Jesus Seade indicated that the United States is seeking to replace Section 232 tariffs on Mexican steel with an export quota program.  Seade stated that a deal regarding any potential export quotas on Mexican steel must be reached in the coming weeks, prior to the December, 1, 2018 inauguration of new Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

This announcement was issued just days after the trilateral trade agreement, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (“USMCA”) was reached among the United States, Canada, and Mexico.  Notably, the Section 232 tariffs, imposed in June on the basis of national security pursuant to the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, remain in place for both Mexico and Canada despite the USMCA agreement being finalized.

As of June 1, 2018, imports of Mexican steel became subject to a 25 percent duty, while aluminum shipments are subject to a 10 percent duty.  Certain countries, including Argentina, Brazil and South Korea, have already negotiated export quotas to nullify the Section 232 duties.  For example, South Korean officials agreed in March to cut steel exports by 30 percent of the 2015-2017 average.
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This week the Government of Canada announced its intent to impose restrictions on imports of seven classes of steel products to mitigate harm caused by “the diversion of foreign steel products into Canada.”  See the News Release dated Oct. 11, 2018,  and Notice of Commencement of Safeguard Inquiry.

The seven classes include wire rod; stainless steel wire; hot-rolled sheet; heavy plate; energy tubular; pre-painted steel; and concrete reinforcing bar.

These “safeguard measures” were reportedly prompted by complaints from Canada’s steel industry that U.S. Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum have resulted in shipments of cheap steel to be diverted to Canada from the U.S., and follows the country’s countermeasures imposed on July 1st applying tariffs on over $12 billion worth of U.S. goods in response to those tariffs.

Notably, the safeguards do not apply to goods originating in and imported from the U.S., Chile and Israel.  However imports of energy tubular and wire rod from Mexico “are within the scope of the Tribunal’s inquiry.”
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Last Friday, the U.S. International Trade Commission (“ITC”) formally launched an investigation into the economic benefits of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (“USMCA”) that is to replace NAFTA.

Under the Trade Promotion Authority (“TPA”) law, known as the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015, the ITC must prepare a report that assesses the likely impact of the Agreement on the U.S. economy as a whole and on specific industry sectors, as well as the interests of U.S. consumers.  This report, which will be made public, is due to the President and Congress no more than 105 days after the President signs the agreement. The TPA requires the President to wait 90 days from the date of the notification before signing the USMCA.  President Trump notified Congress of his intent to enter into the new trade agreement on August 31, 2018.  Therefore, the earliest the President may sign the agreement is November 30, 2018.

Congress is expected to wait until the ITC report is issued before voting on the new agreement.  In fact, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell recently told Bloomberg in an interview that the vote on USMCA will be a “next-year issue.”

If Congress does not pass the TPA, the President has threatened to withdraw from NAFTA. 
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