Why it matters?
As America’s federal agencies scramble to make operational changes in response to urgent personnel and public safety concerns over the COVID‑19 pandemic, the following information is intended to help keep you updated on the current status of trade-related government agencies and courts affecting your business.
“Mission Critical” Services
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has indicated that federal offices nationwide “continue to perform mission critical functions and operations as determined by agency heads” but that “maximum telework flexibilities” are being provided to all eligible employees.
Trade Agencies & Courts
U.S. Customs and Border Protection(CBP)
According to bulletins from the Department of Homeland Security, “CBP continues to process cargo at its normal rate as there has been no identified threat as it relates to cargo shipments” and that “vessels or embarked crew members or passengers that have recently been in China will have their arrivals fully vetted to safeguard the American public yet facilitate trade. This safety protocol is not anticipated to slow down the movement of cargo.”
U.S. Department of Commerce
Although Commerce has yet to publish any formal notice of its operating status, meetings with visitors from outside of the agency have been cancelled in the past week. Additionally, the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has cancelled its Export Control Forum scheduled for April 2020.
Update: As of this week, all telework-eligible Department employees are required to telework until further notice. Commerce states that it “is open for business and continues to serve the public and execute upon its important missions during this period of mandatory telework.”
U.S. Department of State
The Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) has indicated that its core activities across its Licensing, Compliance, Policy and Management offices continue to function. However, the notice states, “staffing and other adjustments across the Department and interagency are being made” as the agency follows OPM guidance.
- Licensing Activities: All electronic application systems are currently in normal operational mode, and new licenses continue to be accepted for processing; however, a longer than normal processing time should be expected.
- Registration, Commodity Jurisdiction Requests and General Correspondence: These filings via the Defense Export Control and Compliance System (DECCS) continue and are being processed as they are submitted; responses may be delayed by the current operational environment.
- DDTC has also established a new option for industry to submit disclosures and related information (e.g., exhibits, extension requests and responses to DTCC inquiries) by allowing submissions via email, in addition to the continued use of the postal service.
U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC)
The ITC has stated that it remains open while its employees are teleworking full-time, but will accept only electronic filings during this time. Filings must be made through the ITC’s Electronic Document Information System (EDIS). The Secretary’s Office states that no in-person, paper-based filings or paper copies of any electronic filings will be accepted until further notice. Visitor access to the ITC’s building is now closed and will remain so through April 3, 2020.
- Section 337 Hearings: Administrative law judges have been ordered to postpone any hearings scheduled in the next 60 days. All discovery will continue and any essential outside participation by staff will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
- Title VII Matters: All antidumping and countervailing duty preliminary phase staff conferences have been cancelled for the next 60 days. All ITC Title VII votes will be conducted by notation; there will be no in-person votes for the next 60 days. Regarding hearings for final phase Title VII investigations, five-year (sunset) reviews, and those held under Section 332 and Section 131, the ITC has decided not to hold in-person hearings and interested parties will be invited instead to answer written questions issued by the ITC with certified written responses.
- Agency Meetings, Seminars and Briefings: All scheduled in-person meetings with outside persons have been cancelled or postponed for the next 60 days.
U.S. Court of International Trade (CIT)
According to a recently issued statement, there appear to have been no adjustments in CIT operations, except for new procedures pertaining to travellers returning from various pandemic afflicted countries (e.g., China, Iran, South Korea, EU, etc) and certain U.S. residents.
Attorneys affected with COVID-19 who are scheduled to appear before the CIT must notify the court so that appropriate safeguard measures can be taken. Attorneys may appear via teleconference or videoconference with the approval of the presiding judge. These restrictions will remain in place until further notice.
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Treasury has not yet published formal notice of its operating status; however, the “public engagement” schedule for the next several weeks is currently empty, suggesting that all outside meetings have been cancelled. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has not indicated yet whether its operations have been affected.
U.S. Trade Representative (USTR)
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has so far provided no update regarding its current operating status.
U.S. Census Bureau
Many U.S. Census Bureau employees are operating remotely via telework. During this time, call centres and email inboxes will remain open, but staff will have limited access to physical mail. For companies submitting a Voluntary Self-Disclosure (VSD) or data request, submissions should be made electronically to the Trade Regulations Branch (TRB) in a password-protected file (for VSDs) or Data User & Trade Outreach Branch (DUTOB) to (for data requests). Additionally, such submissions may be sent to the bureau’s secure fax at 301-763-8835.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
The Federal Circuit began restricting public access to the National Courts Building complex on March 16, 2020. On March 19, the Court issued a public advisory stating that all cases scheduled for argument during the April 2020 sitting will now be conducted by telephone conference and no in-person hearings will be held.
- All existing deadlines in cases currently remain in effect.
- The court has suspended the requirement to file paper copies of all electronic filings but will continue to accept “documents that can only be filed by paper and filings from parties who are not permitted to file electronically.” Such filings should be submitted either by mail or by deposit in the court’s night box.
- Mail and third-party commercial deliveries will be limited to the lobby. Any other deliveries must be coordinated ahead of time with relevant court staff.
Need More Information?
If you require assistance getting in touch with various government agencies during the current lockdown period or have any concerns about other operational issues related to COVID-19, don’t hesitate to contact one of our trade experts today.