On Wednesday, the European Parliament voted 571-to-53 to ban certain single use plastic items from the EU by 2021.  The legislation is aimed at reducing marine pollution and was drafted in May 2018 by the European Commission.  The Commission estimates that more than 80 percent of marine litter is plastics and that the items considered

Yesterday, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (“USTR”) officially notified Congress that it would be launching separate trade discussions with the European Union, Japan, and the United Kingdom.  The letters sent to Congress provide notice of the Administration’s intent to negotiate trade agreements with each partner as required by the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015, often referred to as Trade Promotion Authority (“TPA”).  USTR must wait at least 90 calendar days from yesterday’s notification to initiate negotiations, and must also publish specific negotiating objectives in the Federal Register at least 30 days before talks begin.

In addition to general negotiating objectives across numerous areas – including trade in goods, services, and agriculture; intellectual property; digital trade and cross-border data flows; labor and the environment; trade remedies; anti-corruption; and dispute settlement – TPA also establishes procedures for consultation with Congress and other stakeholders throughout trade agreement negotiations.  These procedures include required reports on certain aspects of the agreement prior to signing the agreement; Congressional notification 90 days before signature; release of the final agreement text 60 days before signature; and Congressional notification of expected changes to U.S. law 60-180 days before signature.  USTR also engages with public and private sector stakeholders through consultation with various policy- and sector-oriented trade advisory committees and through comment periods and hearings announced in the Federal Register.
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Today, the EC announced that it is moving forward with a package of measures to blunt the impact of renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran following the U.S. exit from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  Included in those measures is the planned activation of the EU blocking statute, which would bar EU companies from complying with the extraterritorial effects of U.S. sanctions requirements on Iran.  The statute is also intended to insulate EU companies from certain U.S. sanctions penalties.  Implementation of blocking statutes can create a situation in which companies must decide which country’s law they are going to violate – if they cannot find an approach that avoids the conflict.      
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The European Union is threatening to impose retaliatory measures on several key export products, including whiskey, orange juice, and dairy products, if President Trump follows through with plans to limit steel imports based on national security concerns.

At a G20 summit in Hamburg on July 7, 2017, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that the EU is prepared to “react with counter-measures” within “days” if President Trump imposes steel tariffs.  According to the Financial Times, because U.S. does not export much steel to Europe, EU officials are targeting U.S. agriculture products and other “politically sensitive” products with bourbon whiskey, orange juice and dairy at the top of the list.
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The basics are well-known:  having triggered Article 50 to terminate its membership in the European Union, the United Kingdom has a precious 18 months to get a deal done.  Unless every one of the 27 other Member States approve an extension of time, the UK will be a so-called “third country” vis-à-vis the EU on 30 March 2019.   The UK Government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Theresa May, has proposed a “hard Brexit” that enables the EU to conclude trade agreements with other countries in what has become known as the “Global Britain” approach.   Aspirations aside, the deal to be negotiated between the EU and the UK can range from virtually no change to the status quo for years to come to a quick and risky departure that greatly increases the pressure on the UK to negotiate favorable trade agreements with the EU and other trading partners.
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The European Union and Japan have been working this week to wrap up a bilateral trade agreement with the goal of having most of a deal ahead of next week’s G20 summit in Hamburg.  The deal, which has been over 10 years in the making, would be one of the largest trade agreements to date, covering one quarter of the world’s economy between the two partners.  Key aspects of the agreement will provide greater market access to each party’s auto and machinery sectors, remove structural barriers to trade, create new rules for investment disputes, and reaffirm the parties’ commitment to the Paris climate accord (from which the United States has announced it will withdraw).

One sticking point has been Japan’s high tariffs – up to 40 percent – on imported cheese.  The EU claims about half of the global cheese market, while Japanese dairy farms struggle to survive.  Japan had already agreed to limited tariff reductions on selected cheese products in the course of the TPP negotiations, and has signaled it has no interest in going beyond those concessions.  Still, negotiators for each side are working hard to overcome these hurdles and have a final agreement in place by the end of 2017.
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