In response to Congressional concerns, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) has agreed to review the process by which the U.S. Department of Commerce (“Commerce”) has been processing steel and aluminum tariff exclusion requests.  On March 8, 2018, President Trump imposed a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum

On May 23, 2018, Commerce Secretary Ross initiated an investigation into whether imports into the United States of automobiles and auto parts threaten to impair the national security.  A link to the press release announcing the initiation of the investigation is available here.

As it did during its recent 232 investigations concerning U.S. imports

Last week, South Korea requested consultations with the United States at the WTO, launching a significant dispute that challenges both individual investigations and administrative reviews conducted by the Commerce Department, as well as broader aspects of U.S. antidumping and countervailing duty law.  Korea’s broader “as such” challenge targets provisions of U.S. law, including the 2015

On February 14, Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Richard Burr (R-NC) jointly introduced the S. 2427, the Self-Initiations Trade Enforcement Act.  If enacted, the legislation would give the Department of Commerce greater leniency to self-initiate investigations of unfair trade practices that harm U.S.  producers by creating a permanent taskforce at the International Trade

On Friday, February 16, 2018, Secretary Ross released public versions of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s reports concerning the agency’s section 232 investigations into the impact on national security of steel and aluminum imports. As a result of its investigations, the Department of Commerce has determined that imports of steel and aluminum “threaten to impair the national security.”

The Secretary’s press release presents the agency’s key findings and lists the agency’s various recommended remedies.  With respect to steel imports, the Department of Commerce recommends three alternative options to the President:

  1. A global tariff of at least 24% on all steel imports from all countries, or
  2. A tariff of at least 53% on all steel imports from 12 countries (Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam) with a quota by product on steel imports from all other countries equal to 100% of their 2017 exports to the United States, or
  3. A quota on all steel products from all countries equal to 63% of each country’s 2017 exports to the United States.

With respect to aluminum imports, the Department of Commerce recommends three alternative options to the President:
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Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“Federal Circuit”) denied an appeal by Capella Sales & Services Ltd., an importer of aluminum extrusions from China, in which the company challenged the countervailing duty margin applied to its entries at liquidation, arguing that a lower rate should have been applied by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Capella did not participate in U.S. Department of Commerce’s (“Commerce”) 2011-2012 administrative review of aluminum extrusions from China.  As a result, its entries were subject to the 374.15% “all others” rate under the countervailing duty order.  In connection with other litigation, the 374.15% “all others” rate was reduced to 7.37% in October 2015 based on challenges brought by several other importers of aluminum extrusions. 
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Yesterday, President Trump announced his decisions on two high-profile trade cases brought under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974, which authorizes import restraints to protect domestic industries that are seriously injured by imports. These cases, which involve solar panels and washing machines from a variety of countries, are the first affirmative actions under this statutory provision since 2002.

In the solar panel case, the President announced increased tariffs for four years, starting at 30 percent and declining five percent per year over the relief period. These tariffs are lower than those sought by the two domestic petitioners in the case, Solar World and Suniva. The sting of the tariffs is softened further by the exemption from additional duties for the first 2.5 gigawatts of solar panels that are imported each year.
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Yesterday evening the Commerce Department sent to the White House its findings in the Section 232 national security investigation on steel imports.  The much anticipated report was originally due to be issued last year, but faced several delays.  The President now has the authority to decide whether to accept or reject the Commerce Department’s findings

Last week, the United States filed its first legal analysis of the China non-market economy issue in a dispute at the World Trade Organization brought by China against the European Union.

As we have reported here and here, the question of whether the United States would continue to treat China as an non-market economy (“NME”) for purposes of the Department of Commerce’s antidumping duty analysis was recently decided by the Administration.  In a 200-page memorandum issued at the end of October, Commerce announced that it would continue to apply alternative dumping methodologies with respect to China given the substantial evidence that China continues to be an NME.

That has not stopped China from initiating dispute settlement proceedings at the World Trade Organization (“WTO”) against the European Union (DS516) and the United States (DS515).  In each dispute, China is challenging the WTO member’s applied antidumping duty methodology with respect to imports from China, which China believes are prohibited under a provision of its 2001 Protocol of Accession to the WTO and inconsistent with provisions of the WTO Antidumping Duty Agreement and the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (“GATT 1994”). 
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The U.S. Department of Commerce self-initiated antidumping and countervailing investigations of common alloy aluminum sheet from China on November 28.  An accompanying fact sheet estimates dumping margins on the subject merchandise to be between 56.54 and 59.72 percent, and estimates a subsidy rate above de minimis.  Trade cases are typically initiated in response to petitions filed by a domestic industry alleging that dumped or unfairly subsidized goods are being exported to the U.S. market.  Self-initiation authority, however, can be exercised whenever the Secretary determines that a formal trade remedy investigation is warranted based on available information.

The Department’s use of self-initiation authority has been judicious and rare.  In an agency-issued press release Secretary Wilbur Ross stated, “{w}e are self-initiating the first trade case in over a quarter century, showing once again that we stand in constant vigilance in support of free, fair, and reciprocal trade.”  The Department further noted that it last self-initiated a countervailing duty investigation in 1991 on softwood lumber from Canada, and last self-initiated an antidumping duty investigation in 1985 on semiconductors from Japan. 
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