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Weekly Trade Briefing: Dec. 14-18, 2020

Posted December 18, 2020

A weekly roundup of news reports, government announcements, and other information about current and emerging developments in international trade and customs compliance. 


Lawmakers Urge USTR to Extend Sec. 301 Duty Exclusions

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is urging U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to extend Section 301 tariff exclusions on Chinese imports due to expire at the end of the year. Invoking economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 75 House members argued in their letter to the USTR that extending the tariff exclusions would “save jobs, businesses, and livelihoods.” Industry groups have likewise been calling on the Trump administration to extend the exclusions, saying it would provide certainty for businesses already struggling with the economic fallout from the pandemic while avoiding further harm to the U.S. economy.

Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Martha Bárcena

Mexican Ambassador Outlines 2021 Trade Goals

In a recent webinar hosted by the Baker Institute, Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Martha Bárcena, outlined a number of key trade and investment challenges she expects the two countries to tackle next year. In addition to overseeing the outstanding provisions of USMCA’s implementation, Bárcena said that in 2021, the two countries must focus on working with the private sector “to take advantage of having the certainty of USMCA” and aligning their “essential sectors.” To that end, more effort should be made to target supply chains that could be reshored to the North American region, said the ambassador, who is set to retire in the coming months.

Euro on Digital Background

EU Digital Services/Markets Proposals ‘Protectionist’ Say U.S. Tech Industry

The European Union this week announced two new controversial legislative proposals on digital services and markets, prompting warnings from U.S. trade associations representing the technology industry, including prominent social media and e-commerce giants like Facebook, Google/Alphabet, Apple, and Amazon that called the proposed overhaul of the rules governing the bloc’s digital economy protectionist and unfairly discriminatory. The groups said the legislation would stifle innovation and “threatens to undermine prospects for transatlantic cooperation on trade and technology.” The Trump administration had previously threatened to retaliate against such a move on digital taxes with tariffs under Section 301.

USTR Robert Lighthizer

Lighthizer Says Limited Trade Deal with India Not ‘Far Away’

Speaking in an interview with the Confederation of Indian Industry this week, USTR Robert Lighthizer said the U.S. and India are not “far away” from concluding a limited market-access deal, even though it likely won’t be finalized before the end of the Trump administration. Lighthizer said he expected that the transition now finally taking place in Washington would “slow things up.” Looking ahead, the outgoing USTR said a more comprehensive trade agreement between the two countries was needed, contending that it would be a positive development for both economic and security reasons.

Developed (North) and Developing (South) Worlds

GSP and GSP ‘Conditionality’ Under the Trump Administration

Cato Institute Associate Director Simon Lester has published a new paper from the Cornell Law School dealing with the “conditionality” in GSP and other preference programs; that is to say, imposing politically motivated, policy-based conditions in order for developing countries to access them — an increasingly common practice only carried out, so far at least, by the United States and the European Union. The paper analyzes the impact of the Trump administration’s “skeptical” approach to steering the GSP program in recent years and some of the considerations about it now facing the incoming Biden team going forward.

Steel Pipe

Commerce Issues Affirmative Preliminary AD Determination for Certain Steel Pipe from the Czech Republic

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced an affirmative preliminary determination in the antidumping duty investigation of seamless carbon and alloy standard, line, and pipe from the Czech Republic. Commerce preliminarily determined that Czech exporters have dumped the subject goods in the U.S. at rates of 51.07% to 51.70%, figures that CBP will now be collecting cash deposits on. In 2019, imports of steel pipe from the Czech Republic were valued at an estimated $37.1 million.

Electronics Factory Workers

U.S. Tech Group Warns of Suffering Further Harm if Vietnam Hit with Tariffs

The U.S. tech industry would be “extremely affected and disappointed” by any Trump administration rush to impose Section 301 tariffs on Vietnamese imports before leaving office, warned the Consumer Technology Association this week. The group says it has been adversely affected by decisions of the outgoing administration and additional tariffs on Vietnam would simply compound their problems. In the past, CTA has advocated transitioning manufacturing supply chains to Vietnam as a “strategic solution” to the U.S./China trade war.  

Canadian Parliament

Trudeau Government Tables Ottawa Group Trade Proposals

On Thursday, International Trade Minister Mary Ng announced that the Canada-led Ottawa Group Trade and Health Initiative was presented to the WTO General Council for discussion, in Canada’s continued response to the global health impact and unprecedented economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative outlines the group’s recommendations for a better multilateral response to the COVID-19 crisis and future pandemics. Actions proposed include implementing trade-facilitating measures in customs/services areas, limiting export restrictions, temporarily removing or reducing tariffs on essential medical goods, and improving transparency overall.

Trucks Lined Up at Channel Port Highways

Pre-Brexit Holiday Business Rush Floods Major UK Gateways

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that mounting congestion at the United Kingdom’s gateways has triggered cargo pileups at docks and lengthy truck traffic jams, resulting in delays that have been buffeting supply chains for some major shippers. The slowdowns are triggered in part by preparations for Britain’s exit from the European Union at the end of the year, but also by the unusually strong seasonal rush of consumer goods. 

USDA-FSIS Meat Inspector Looking at Carcasses

USDA Announces Inspection Fee Increases for 2021

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has announced the rates it will charge importers and exporters, meat and poultry establishments, and egg products plants in 2021 for providing voluntary, overtime, and holiday inspection and identification, certification, and laboratory services. These slightly increased rates, reflecting the FSIS’s costs plus inflation, will be applied starting January 3, 2021.



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