On April 23, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued General License (GL) 14 in its Ukraine/Russia sanctions program.

According to a Treasury press release, GL 14 “authorizes U.S. persons to engage in specified transactions related to winding down or maintaining business with United Company RUSAL PLC (RUSAL) and its subsidiaries until October 23, 2018. In accordance with preexisting OFAC guidance, OFAC will not impose secondary sanctions on non-U.S. persons for engaging in the same activity involving RUSAL or its subsidiaries that General License 14 authorizes U.S. persons to engage in.”

Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said, “RUSAL has felt the impact of U.S. sanctions because of its entanglement with Oleg Deripaska, but the U.S. government is not targeting the hardworking people who depend on RUSAL and its subsidiaries.  He added, “RUSAL has approached us to petition for delisting. Given the impact on our partners and allies, we are issuing a general license extending the maintenance and wind-down period while we consider RUSAL’s petition.”

In addition to extending the time period until October 23, 2018, GL 14 also expands the existing authorization in GL 12 by authorizing (a) the disbursement of previously blocked funds for specific maintenance and winddown activities, (b) new payments to RUSAL not to be made into blocked accounts, and (c) exports from the United States to RUSAL. GL14 is still, however, subject to many of the same conditions as apply to GL 12, including (a) the transactions must relate to “operations, contracts, or other agreements” in place prior to April 6, 2018 and (b) U.S. persons utilizing the authority must file a report with OFAC within 10 days of GL 14’s conclusion.

In addition to General License 14, today OFAC also published several FAQs regarding to the general license’s authorizations and limitations, and issued an amended General License 12A (Authorizing Certain Activities Necessary to Maintenance or Wind Down of Operations) that reflects the expanded RUSAL-related authority in GL 14.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a Federal Register Notice on April 20 regarding the renewal of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), a preferential trade program that allows the eligible products of designated beneficiary developing countries to enter the United States free of duty.

The renewal takes effect on April 22. The new expiration date for GSP is December 31, 2020.

The notice states, “As of April 22, 2018, the filing of GSP-eligible entry summaries may be resumed without the payment of estimated duties, and CBP will initiate the automatic liquidation or reliquidation of formal and informal entries of GSP-eligible merchandise that was entered on or after January 1, 2018, through April 21, 2018, and filed via ABI with SPI Code “A” notated on the entry.

Requests for refunds of GSP duties paid on eligible non-ABI entries, or eligible ABI entries filed without SPI Code “A,” must be filed with CBP no later than September 19, 2018.”

 

The last week of March has brought new measures against Maduro’s regime from the U.S., Europe, and Latin-America. While Switzerland has aligned with European Union (EU) sanctions, Panama has included Venezuelan government officials and several companies in their Politically Exposed Persons’ (PEPs) list. The State of Florida has also enacted divestment laws targeting Venezuela.

Florida Actions: On March 29, Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed into law HB 359, stating that the State Board of Administration shall divest any funds and is prohibited from investing in any institution or company (U.S. company or its subsidiary), doing business in or with the Government of Venezuela (GoV), or with any agency or instrumentality thereof, in violation of federal law. It is unclear how Florida will assess whether a company has undertaken an activity “in violation of Federal law” and, specifically, whether it will wait for Federal indictments, or whether it will be making an independent state-level assessment.

Panama Actions: On March 27, Panama published a list of PEPs with ties to the GoV. Although the press has described this measure as “sanctions” against the Maduro regime, on its face, the measure only requires financial institutions to conduct enhanced due diligence (EDD) in certain persons considered as high risk due to its political exposure. This new resolution from the Panamanian National Anti-Money Laundering Commission (AML Commission) imposes for the first time in Panama the need to conduct EDD on specific Venezuelan government officials and related companies. Among the due diligence measures the AML Commission requires financial institutions and other regulated persons to investigate is whether any PEPs from Venezuela are directly or indirectly participating in a given transaction.

In a separate resolution, the AML Commission decided it will make the U.S., Canadian, and U.K. denied party lists available on the AML Commission’s webpage. This way financial institutions and other regulated persons can use them as a reference for enhanced due diligence when dealing with individuals on one or more of the lists.

Switzerland Actions: On March 28, Switzerland adopted restrictive measures which align with the measures adopted by the EU on November 13, 2017, and January 22, 2018, as a result of the human rights violations and the undermining of democracy in Venezuela. Swiss sanctions, which usually follow the respective EU sanctions regime, now do so in the case of Venezuela. Switzerland has also imposed an embargo on military equipment that could be used for internal repression, as well as equipment used for surveillance purposes. Swiss measures also include a travel ban, an asset freeze, and a prohibition to make funds available to certain individuals. Institutions or persons having or managing assets that are subject to the asset-freeze must report it to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) without delay. The list of individuals subject to the asset-freeze and the travel ban can be found here. These measures entered into force on March 28.

These new Swiss sanctions may have an outsized impact because, while less broad than U.S. sanctions, Venezuelan officials are thought to have assets in Switzerland.

Venezuelan Response: The GoV condemned both the Swiss and Panamanian measures, identifying them as illegal coercive measures against Maduro’s regime.

Further, the GoV announced the suspension of its commercial relations with several Panamanian officials and companies, including Copa Airlines. The retaliatory measure forced Copa to suspend its flights into Venezuela, despite being one of the few airlines still operating in the country after most airlines canceled or reduced their services due to currency exchange restrictions combined with security concerns in the country. By virtue of these controls, Venezuela reportedly owes foreign airlines around $ 4 billion. Depending on how their investments are structured into the country, airlines – and other companies in the same situation – may have the ability to make claims against the GoV for their stranded funds under free transfer provisions found in numerous Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) with Venezuela.

For more information on how BITs may aid in the recovery of monies owed by Venezuela, please click here for a short paper in English and Spanish.

Although details were released earlier this week, on April 6 the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) published the official Federal Register Notice concerning China’s Acts, Policies, and Practices Related to Technology Transfer, Intellectual Property, and Innovation (otherwise known as the Section 301 investigation).

On March 22, President Trump issued a Memorandum stating USTR determined that the acts, policies, and practices of the Government of China related to technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation covered in the investigation are unreasonable or discriminatory and burden or restrict U.S. commerce.

USTR is proposing an additional duty of 25 percent on a list of products from China. The list of products, defined by 8-digit subheadings of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS), is set out in the Annex to the Federal Register Notice.

USTR is now seeking public comment and will hold a public hearing regarding a proposed determination on appropriate action in response to these acts, policies, and practices.

To be assured of consideration, you must submit comments and responses in accordance with the following schedule:

  • April 23, 2018: Due date for filing requests to appear and a summary of expected testimony at the public hearing and for filing pre-hearing submissions.
  • May 11, 2018: Due date for submission of written comments.
  • May 15, 2018: The Section 301 Committee will convene a public hearing in the main hearing room of the U.S. International Trade Commission, 500 E Street SW Washington DC 20436 beginning at 10:00 a.m.
  • May 22, 2018: Due date for submission of post-hearing rebuttal comments.

USTR strongly prefers electronic submissions made through the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments in sections F and G of this Notice. The docket number is USTR-2018-0005. For alternatives to on-line submissions, please contact Sandy McKinzy at (202) 395-9483.

For questions about the ongoing investigation or proposed action, contact Arthur Tsao, Assistant General Counsel, at (202) 395-5725. For questions on customs classification of products identified in the Annex to this Notice, contact Evan Conceicao at Evan.M.Conceicao@cbp.dhs.gov.

Per a press release, on April 6, “the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), in consultation with the Department of State, [ ] designated seven Russian oligarchs and 12 companies they own or control, 17 senior Russian government officials, and a state-owned Russian weapons trading company and its subsidiary, a Russian bank.”

In addition to new Ukraine/Russia-related designations, two persons were also designated pursuant to the Government of Syria authorities.

OFAC also issued the following two Ukraine-/Russia-related general licenses in connection with these designations:  General License 12 “Authorizing Certain Activities Necessary to Maintenance or Wind down of Operations or Existing Contracts”; and General License 13 “Authorizing Certain Transactions Necessary to Divest or Transfer Debt, Equity, or other Holdings in Certain Blocked Persons”.

Finally, OFAC published eight new FAQs related to its April 6 action and published one updated FAQ related to the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

 

On March 26, 2018, the U.S. Court of International Trade (CIT) dismissed U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) attempt to collect $4.5 million in penalties against a Canadian textile company, Tricots Liesse 1983, Inc. (Tricots).  U.S. v. Aegis Security Insurance Co. and Tricots Liesse 1983 Inc., Slip. Op. 18-29.

Tricots produces quality knit fabrics and sells its fabrics to high-end U.S. swim and active wear producers. Fabric imports made from NAFTA yarn are duty free under the rules of origin (ROO) and fabric imports made from non-NATA yarn are duty free if the Canadian government issues Tariff Preference Level (TPL) certifications under the TPL quota program.  Tricots attempted to correct certain past NAFTA ROO claims by filing a disclosure with CBP and submitting TPL certificates issued by Canada.  However, CBP rejected Tricots’ disclosure and corrections saying the TPL certifications were untimely.  CBP issued Tricots an administrative penalty and duty demand, but did not provide Tricots an opportunity for an oral hearing during the administrative proceedings as required by statute.  After CBP filed suit against Tricots in the CIT to collect the $4.5 penalty and duties, Tricots filed a motion to dismiss the penalty claims because CBP failed to exhaust administrative remedies.

The CIT held that “[t]he facts demonstrate that, despite Tricots’ efforts, Customs did not follow the statutory injunction to provide the company with a ‘reasonable opportunity’ to make oral representations ‘seeking remission or mitigation of the monetary penalty’ following issuance of the notice of penalty, and thus did not provide Tricots with the statutorily required opportunity to be heard.”   The court added, “Accordingly, Customs failed to perfect its penalty claim and thus is barred from bringing it.”  The CIT found that the hearing was necessary before the government could bring its penalty claims in the CIT. The court rejected CBP’s arguments that Tricots failed to show it suffered “substantial prejudice” because of the government’s failure to hold a meeting where Tricots could make its arguments in person.  Now the court must decide if it should also dismiss CBP’s claims for duties.

This decision should help importers by ensuring that they receive a full and fair administrative hearing before CBP imposes a penalty.

Tricots is represented by Crowell & Moring attorneys John Brew, Frances Hadfield and Ade Johnson.

On April 3, 2018, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) released the proposed list of Chinese products that could be subject to an additional 25 percent tariff as part of the Section 301 probe into Chinese IP practices.

USTR recommended that a 25 percent tariff be applied to $50 billion worth of Chinese goods, covering nearly 1,300 HTS codes. Products within the scope of the proposed duty include engines, agricultural and textile machinery, semiconductors, batteries, tires, medical products, and instruments used in aeronautical and space navigation.

In addition, China unveiled another retaliation list of U.S. goods worth $50 billion that could be subject to an additional 25 percent tariff. China’s list of 106 products includes soybeans, airplanes, automobiles, beef, and chemicals.

The Section 301 Committee will convene a public hearing on May 15, 2018 to discuss the proposed action in response to China’s IP acts, policies, and practices. Requests to appear at the hearing must be submitted by April 23, 2018. The request must also include a summary of testimony, along with the pre-hearing submission. Interested parties may submit written comments by May 11, 2018, and post-rebuttal comments by May 22, 2018.

USTR requests that public comments include the following:

  • The specific products to be subject to increased duties, including whether products listed in the Annex should be retained or removed, or whether products not currently on the list should be added.
  • The level of increase in the rate of duty, if any.
  • The appropriate aggregate level of trade to be covered by additional duties.USTR also requests that commenters specify whether maintaining or imposing additional tariffs on the product would cause economic harm to U.S. interests.
  • If a party is commenting on the inclusion or removal of a product already listed as a proposed item to be subject to additional tariffs, USTR requests that commenters address whether imposing increased tariffs on the product would be practicable or effective in eliminating China’s IP acts, policies, and practices.

On April 1, 2018, the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China announced the country’s intention to impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods. The Ministry suggested that China’s response was not designed to escalate tensions between the two countries. Instead, China hopes that the U.S. will quickly rescind the Section 232 tariffs that “violate World Trade Organization rules,” according to the Ministry’s statement on Sunday.

China informed the WTO on March 29 that it would suspend concessions on 128 U.S. products in retaliation to the Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. According to the filing, China will apply an additional duty of 15 percent on 120 items including fruits, nuts, wine, and steel and iron tubes and pipes; and an additional duty of 25 percent on 8 items including pork and aluminum scrap. China acted pursuant to Article 8 of the Agreement on Safeguards by notifying the WTO of its intention to impose retaliatory tariffs against the United States.

The Trump administration responded to China’s retaliatory tariffs by telling China to focus on fixing its own “unfair trading practices” instead of targeting “fairly traded” U.S. exports by imposing additional tariffs.

The tariffs on the 128 U.S. goods took effect on April 2, 2018.

On March 26, 2018, the European Commission launched a safeguard proceeding against imports into the EU of a wide range of steel products in 26 different categories. Per the Notice of Initiation, the proceeding is intended to counter the threat of trade diversion by exporting producers from various countries now subject to the Section 232 national security tariff of 25 percent on imports of steel into the U.S.

Since March 2016, the EU has maintained a surveillance system for steel imports. The system has provided recent evidence imports of certain steel products are increasing. This development may be further exacerbated as third-country producers are now likely to redirect to other markets, and especially the EU, an amount of their exports originally destined for the U.S.

In accordance with the rules of the WTO Agreement on Safeguards, the EU proceeding covers the products concerned from all origins. If upon conclusion of the proceeding in 9 months it is deemed necessary to protect EU steel producers from a surge in imports, the EU may impose import tariffs or quotas. In the meantime, the EU also has the option to impose provisional measures if EU steel producers are deemed to merit immediate protection from a surge in imports.

According to the Notice, in order to obtain the information needed for its investigation, the Commission will “send questionnaires to the known producers of the like or directly competing products and to any known associations of producers, in the Union. The completed questionnaires must reach the Commission within 21 days from the date on which they are sent.”

Also, “All interested parties including exporting producers, importers and users of the products concerned and their associations are invited to make known their views in writing, submit information and to provide supporting evidence. Representations in a free format should be submitted within 21 days of the date of publication of this Notice in the Official Journal of the European Union [April 16, 2018]. Interested parties may make themselves known by contacting the Commission, preferably by email, immediately but no later than 15 days after the publication of this Notice in the Official Journal of the European Union, and request a questionnaire [April 10, 2018]. The completed questionnaire should be submitted within 21 days from the date on which they are sent.”

On April 2, the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) published a final rule in the Federal Register amending the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) to implement the recommendations presented at the February 2017 Australia Group (AG) Intersessional Implementation Meeting, and later adopted pursuant to the AG silent approval procedure, and the recommendations made at the June 2017 AG Plenary Implementation Meeting and adopted by the AG Plenary.

The Australia Group (AG) is “an informal forum of countries which, through the harmonization of export controls, seeks to ensure that exports do not contribute to the development of chemical or biological weapons. Coordination of national export control measures assists Australia Group participants to fulfil their obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention to the fullest extent possible.”

The following Export Control Classification Numbers (ECCNs) on the Commerce Control List (CCL) have been updated to reflect the February 2017 Intersessional Implementation Meeting recommendations that were adopted by the AG:

  • ECCN 2B350 (by adding certain prefabricated repair assemblies, and specially designed components therefor, that are designed for attachment to glass-lined reaction vessels, reactors, storage tanks, containers or receivers controlled by this entry);
  • ECCN 2B351 (by clarifying that toxic gas monitoring equipment includes toxic gas monitors and monitoring systems, as well as their dedicated detecting components); and
  • ECCN 2B352 (by adding certain nucleic acid assemblers and synthesizers to this entry and clarifying how the capacity of certain fermenters should be measured for purposes of determining whether they are controlled under this entry).

Consistent with the June 2017 AG Plenary Implementation Meeting recommendations that were adopted by the AG, this rule amends the following ECCNs on the CCL:

  • ECCN 1C350 (by addingN,N-Diisopropylamino­ethanethiol hydrochloride).
  • ECCN 1C353 (to clarify that genetically modified organisms include organisms in which the nucleic acid sequences have been created or altered by deliberate molecular manipulation and that inactivated organisms containing recoverable nucleic acids are considered to be genetic elements).
  • This rule also corrects several typographical errors in a note to ECCN 1C351 and updates the advance notification requirements in the EAR that apply to certain exports of saxitoxin.

Finally, the EAR has been amended to reflect the addition of India as a participating country in the AG.

Because of this, this rule makes “conforming amendments to the EAR to reflect the addition of India to the AG, as of January 19, 2018. Specifically, this rule amends the entry for India in the Commerce Country Chart (Supplement No. 1 to part 738 of the EAR) by removing the ‘‘X’’ from this entry under the column CB 2. In addition, this rule amends the Country Groups chart (Supplement No. 1 to part 740 of the EAR) by adding an ‘‘X’’ to the entry for India under column A:3, Australia Group.”