European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström was in Washington, D.C. last week for exploratory trade talks with U.S. officials.  Although Malmström does not yet have a mandate to move ahead on EU-U.S. trade negotiations, which requires authorization by the European Council, both sides surely had plenty to discuss at this stage.

Two months ago, both the EU and the United States released their respective negotiating directives that highlight a disagreement over whether to include agriculture within the scope of any trade talks. While the European Commission intends to limit negotiations to industrial goods and conformity assessment, the United States is pushing for a more far-reaching trade deal that also covers agricultural goods.  The EU also wants to include discussions regarding automotive products within the scope of any trade negotiations on industrial goods, which it argues is required under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules on preferential trade agreements (i.e., these must cover “substantially all trade” between members).  Malmström is likely to also seek clarification on whether the Trump Administration intends to impose tariffs on certain EU automotive products.  If it does, the EU has indicated the possibility that it will suspend any trade talks and retaliate.  If the two sides can find common ground on these issues, however, the European Commission has stated that it hopes to conclude trade talks with the U.S. by November 2019.
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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

Following President Trump’s announcement of his decision to delay the March 1, 2019 deadline to increase tariffs from 10% to 25% on $200 billion of Chinese goods (i.e., List 3 items), Ambassador Lighthizer testified before the House Ways and Means Committee about the progress that has been made on concluding a binding executive agreement with

On January 31, President Donald J. Trump signed Executive Order 13858 entitled Strengthening Buy American Preferences for Infrastructure Projects. The Order is designed to strengthen the “Buy American principle” for Federal infrastructure spending by encouraging Federal funding recipients to use more American-made products in their infrastructure projects. “By signing this order today, we renew our commitment to an essential truth: It matters where something is made, and it matters very greatly,” said President Trump.

Specifically, the order directs the head of each executive department and agency administering a covered infrastructure program to “encourage recipients of new Federal financial assistance awards to use, to the greatest extent practicable, iron and aluminum as well as, steel, cement, and other manufactured products produced in the United States in every contract, subcontract, purchase order, or sub award that is chargeable against such Federal financial assistance award.” Covered programs include Federal financial assistance for a wide variety of U.S. infrastructure projects, from surface transportation and water infrastructure to broadband and cyber-security.

In addition to encouraging funding recipients to use domestic products in their projects, the new order also requires the head of each agency administering a covered program to identify in a report to the President opportunities to maximize the use of Buy American principles. The reports are due no later than May 31, 2019.

Thursday’s action is an attempt to close potential coverage gaps by extending Buy American principles to more taxpayer-financed federal infrastructure assistance programs. The executive order similarly seeks to expand the application of the Buy America procurement preferences to items not typically subject to existing Buy America laws, which are often limited to iron and steel products and materials. The “manufactured products” specifically identified in the executive order include non-ferrous metals, plastic and polymer materials like pipe, aggregates, glass and lumber.

The White House indicated this strengthened focus could result in billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars being redirected to American manufacturers.
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On January 29, USTR Ambassador Lighthizer delivered to Congress a list describing changes to U.S. laws that would be required to fulfill obligations agreed to under the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA).  This action, taken in accordance with procedures set forth in the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (also known as Trade Promotion Authority or TPA), brings the agreement one step closer to Congressional consideration by identifying the legal changes that must be included in an implementing bill to be voted on by legislators to approve the underlying agreement.

The changes in existing law are largely customs related, the bulk of which involve implementing market access commitments, including lowering tariffs and creating new tariff rate quotas, as well as updating provisions related to duty drawback, merchandise processing fees and customs enforcement.  For example, while USMCA preserves duty free treatment for industrial goods and textiles under NAFTA, the United States and Canada negotiated additional access on certain agricultural products.  Accordingly, modifications must be made to eliminate U.S. tariffs on such products from Canada, including dairy, sugar, sugar-containing products, peanuts and peanut products and cotton.

Changes are also required to implement rules of origin, origin procedures and customs measures to provide preferential tariff treatment for eligible goods.  The most significant and notable changes involve automotive goods.  Necessary legal revisions will end NAFTA’s tracing and “deemed originating” requirements and increase the required regional value content for vehicles and vehicle parts.  Changes are also needed to implement a new “Labor Value Content” rule, which for the first time requires that a minimum amount of car content
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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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Yesterday, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) listed Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (“PdVSA”) as a Specially Designated National (“SDN”) pursuant to its authority under Executive Order 13850. As a result of the designation, all property and interests in PdVSA property subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with the entity and its 50-percent owned subsidiaries.

Concurrent with the designation, OFAC amended one existing and issued eight new General Licenses (“GLs”).  These GLs authorize activities that would otherwise be prohibited by Executive Order 13850 or other Venezuela-related sanctions, and fall into one of several categories: 1) authorizations regarding maintenance and wind down activities related to contracts with PdVSA or certain of its subsidiaries existing prior to January 28, 2019 (GL 11, GL12).  The most significant authorization allows parties to wind down pre-existing contracts with PdVSA until February 27, 2019; 2) authorizations regarding certain PdVSA subsidiaries, including PDV Holding, Inc. (“PDVH”), CITGO Holding, Inc. (“CITGO”), and Nynas AB (GL 7, GL 13). These GLs include an authorization for the export of certain U.S. items and services until July 27, 2019; 3) the purchase in Venezuela of gas from PdVSA and its subsidiaries for certain uses (GL 10); 4) authorization for certain Venezuela-based operations involving PdVSA (GL 8); and 5) transactions related to certain bonds and debts (GL 3A, GL 9), among others.

The GLs generally have difference scopes, apply to different entities, and have different validity periods. The key aspects of each of the GLs are described below.


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Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will visit Washington on January 30-31, in connection with further discussions to resolve the ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China.

Vice Premier Liu is expected to meet with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Liu is a key economic advisor to President Xi