Trade & Tariff Insights

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    This Week's Trade & Tariff Perspective

    January 12, 2021 | Kevin Koch Product Manager, U.S. Corporate Customs

    hands on a laptop keyboard 

    This week we’re bringing back the t-word: tariffs. We have some insights to share with you regarding tariffs on French products that were scheduled to start last week but didn’t. Plus, new tariffs against the E.U. are taking effect today, and another contentious issue regarding Vietnamese trade may lead to tariffs or some other type of trade remedy measure in the future. There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s begin.

    The tariffs that didn’t come. This issue centers around the digital service tax (DST) dispute between the U.S. and France. The United States Trade Representative (USTR) announced that it is pumping the brakes on the 25% rate against French goods valued at $1.3 billion dollars originally scheduled to take effect January 6th. The day after the announcement was made, the office of the USTR sent out a press release stating that it had “decided to suspend the tariffs in light of the ongoing investigation of similar DSTs adopted or under consideration in ten other jurisdictions. Those investigations have significantly progressed but have not yet reached a final determination on possible trade actions. A suspension of the tariff action in the France DST investigation will promote a coordinated response in all of the ongoing DST investigations.” You can find the suspension notice in the Federal Register here.

    There’s other DST investigations news to share from last week too! The USTR also issued findings in the Section 301 investigations of DSTs adopted by India, Italy, and Turkey, concluding that each of the DSTs discriminates against U.S. companies, is inconsistent with prevailing principles of international taxation, and burdens or restricts U.S. commerce. “USTR is not taking any specific actions in connection with the findings at this time but will continue to evaluate all available options. The Section 301 investigations of the DSTs adopted by India, Italy, and Turkey were initiated in June 2020, along with investigations of DSTs adopted or under consideration by Austria, Brazil, the Czech Republic, the European Union, Indonesia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. USTR expects to announce the progress or completion of additional DST investigations in the near future.” Our C.H. Robinson trade team will continue to monitor this situation and be sure to keep you informed through our client advisories if anything changes. Meanwhile, you can learn more about these investigations of DSTs here.

    New tariffs coming today. This is about the long-running civil aircraft dispute between the U.S. and the European Union. The U.S was authorized in October 2019, to impose additional duties on approximately $7.5B of EU product, as a result of WTO litigation. The U.S. subsequently imposed tariffs on a variety of products from E.U. member nations. In September of 2020, the E.U. was authorized to impose tariffs of $4B of U.S. exports as a result of related WTO litigation. The USTR argued that the EU unfairly applied its tariff measures, using distorted trade numbers, as well as factoring UK trade volume into their calculation for the amount of retaliation. Long story short, the U.S. is responding by adding additional tariffs to aircraft manufacturing parts and certain non-sparkling wines, cognacs, and brandies from France and Germany. These tariffs will begin to be collected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) today, January 12, 2021. You can read the details of the commodity codes involved here.

    The Vietnam Section 301 Investigations. On October 20, 2020, the USTR announced that it had initiated two separate investigations with respect to Vietnam’s trade with the U.S. The USTR would be reviewing importation of timber that may have been illegally harvested or traded as well as any practices that may have contributed to the alleged undervaluation of Vietnam’s currency, thus impairing the competitiveness of U.S. products. The USTR requested consultations with the Vietnamese government, sought public comments on the investigations, and held virtual public hearings the last week of 2020. As we have become well aware with the aforementioned China, DST, and civil aircraft dispute tariffs, Section 301 grants the USTR a range of responsibilities and authorities to impose trade sanctions on foreign countries that violate U.S. trade agreements or engage in acts that are “unjustifiable,” “unreasonable,” or “discriminatory” and burden U.S. commerce. It is too soon to tell what may happen just yet, as the USTR still needs to complete its investigation, send an outline of proposed actions to the president, and then allow for a public comment period on those actions. This is definitely one to closely watch!

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    Trade & Tariff Resources

    Get the latest news regarding tariffs and trade that can impact your business. We break down the variables of recent changes into simple, effective summaries you can use to better understand the ever-changing and often complicated trade policy and enforcement environment.

    Section 301 - Unfair trade practices

    What is it?

    Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 — Allows the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to suspend trade agreement concessions or impose import restrictions if it determines a U.S. trading partner is violating trade agreement commitments or engaging in discriminatory or unreasonable practices that burden or restrict U.S. commerce.

    Background ReportCongressional Research Service – Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 – August 2020

    Section 232 - National security concerns

    What is it?

    Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962—Allows the president to adjust imports if the Department of Commerce finds certain products are imported in such quantities or under such circumstances as to threaten to impair U.S. national security.

    Background ReportCongressional Research Service – Section 232 Investigations: Overview and Issues for Congress – August 2020

    Section 201 – Cause/threat to domestic industry

    What is it?

    Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974—Allows the president to impose temporary duties and other trade measures if the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) determines a surge in imports is a substantial cause or threat of serious injury to a U.S. industry.

    Background ReportCongressional Research Service – Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974 – August 2018

    More trade topics & resources

    Compliance checklists, on-demand webinars, and more from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

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    Trade & Tariff FAQs

    Q: What is a tariff?

    Tariffs or duties are taxes assessed on imports of foreign goods, paid by the importer to the U.S. government, and collected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Current U.S. tariff rates may be found in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) maintained by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC). The U.S. Constitution grants Congress the sole authority to regulate foreign commerce and therefore impose tariffs, but, through various trade laws, Congress has delegated authority to the president to modify tariffs and other trade restrictions under certain circumstances.1

    Q: What are various types of import restrictions that can be imposed by the government?

    Tariffs – A tax on imports of foreign goods paid by the importer. Ad valorem tariffs are assessed as a percentage of the value of the import (e.g., a tax of 25% on the value of an imported truck). Specific tariffs are assessed at a fixed rate based on the quantity of the import (e.g. 7.7% per kilogram of imported almonds), and are most common on agricultural imports.

    Quotas – A restriction on the total allowable amount of imports based either on the quantity or value of goods imported. Quotas are in place on a limited number of U.S. imports, mostly agricultural commodities, in part due to past trade agreements to remove and prohibit them.

    Tariff-Rate Quota (TRQ) –TRQs involve a two-tiered tariff scheme in which the tariff rate changes depending on the level of imports. Below a specific value or quantity of imports, a lower tariff rate applies. Once this threshold is reached, all additional imports face a higher, sometimes prohibitive, tariff rate.

    Q: Have U.S. trading partners taken or proposed retaliatory trade actions?

    Yes. Some U.S. trading partners subject to the additional U.S. import restrictions have taken or announced proposed retaliations against each of the three U.S. actions. Since April 2018, a number of retaliatory tariffs have been imposed on U.S. goods accounting for $126 billion of U.S. annual exports, using 2017 export values.

    Q: How much has the U.S. government collected from the various trade remedy measures?

    U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) assesses and collects duties on U.S. imports, including the additional duties imposed as a result of the president’s tariff actions. As of September 9, 2020, U.S. CBP has reported the following duty assessments.

    Q: Are products of Hong Kong subject to the additional Section 301 duties against China?

    No. Additional duties imposed by the Section 301 remedy only apply to articles that are products of the People’s Republic of China (ISO Country Code CN). Imported goods that are legitimately the product of Hong Kong (HK) or Macau (MO) are not subject to the additional Section 301 duties. Please note that Section 301 duties are based on country of origin, not country of export.2

    Q: Are Section 301 duties eligible for drawback?

    As noted in CSMS Message 18-000419, Section 301 duties are eligible for duty drawback. Drawback is the refund of certain duties, internal revenue taxes, and certain fees collected upon the importation of goods. Such refunds are only allowed upon the exportation or destruction of goods under U.S. Customs and Border Protection supervision.

    Q: What is the timing of duty calculations on immediate transportation in bond entries subject to Section 301?

    Duties are due on goods that are entered for consumption, or withdrawn from warehouse for consumption, on or after the effective date of the provisional tariffs. For entries covered by an entry for immediate transportation, and with a country of origin of China, and a Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) classification covered by Annex A to the FRN, such entries shall be subject to the duty rates in effect when the immediate transportation entry was accepted at the port of original importation, pursuant to 19 CFR 141.69 (b), which states:
    Merchandise which is not subject to a quantitative or tariff-rate quota and which is covered by an entry for immediate transportation made at the port of original importation, if entered for consumption at the port designated by the consignee or his agent in such transportation entry without having been taken into custody by the port director for general order under section 490, Tariff Act of 1930, as amended (19 U.S.C. 1490), shall be subject to the rates in effect when the immediate transportation entry was accepted at the port of original importation.

    Q: Are products entered under the Section 321 de minimis exemption (under $800) subject to Section 301 duties?

    No, not right now. Goods properly entered under Section 321 are not subject to Section 301 duties. Please note that a formal entry is required if a shipment contains merchandise subject to AD/CVD. Goods subject to AD/CVD do not qualify for Section 321. Something to keep an eye on: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) submitted a proposal in early September 2020 to the Office of Management and Budget that would eliminate the $800 de minimis exemption for goods subject to Section 301 tariffs. Remember, Section 321, 19 USC 1321 is the statute that describes de minimis. De minimis provides admission of articles free of duty and of any tax imposed on or by reason of importation, but the aggregate fair retail value in the country of shipment of articles imported by one person on one day and exempted from the payment of duty shall not exceed $800. The de minimis threshold was previously $200, but increased with the passage of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act (TFTEA).

    Q: Can I still apply for exclusions to the Section 301 (China) tariffs?

    The time window to submit new exclusion requests is now closed, but the USTR is considering extensions of exclusions granted from Lists 1, 2, 3, and 4. While the USTR approved, on average, 35% of requests under the first two actions, the approval rates under the third and fourth actions were 5% and 7%, respectively.3 Be sure to check in with your trusted trade advisors to see if new comment periods open.

    Q: Are products used to support the fight against COVID-19 subject to the additional Section 301 (China) tariffs?

    The USTR announced on March 20, 2020, that, prior to theCOVID-19 outbreak, the agency had been working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “to ensure that critical medicines and other essential medical products were not subject to additional Section 301 tariffs.” Consequently, the United States had not imposed tariffs on certain critical products, such as ventilators, oxygen masks, and nebulizers. Moreover, the USTR indicated that, in recent months, it has prioritized the review of requests for exclusions on medical care products, resulting in exclusions granted on basic medical supplies, including gloves, soaps, face masks, surgical drapes, and hospital gowns. Since March 2020, the USTR has exempted certain medical products from Section 301 tariffs in several rounds of exclusions.3

    Q: How do I find out if my product is subject to Section 301 tariff duties?

    Enter the product’s harmonized tariff schedule (HTS) classification on the USTR website. In addition, you can refer to our exclusive guide to quickly search both the Section 301 tariff lists but also identify if there are any exclusion opportunities. Talk to your Trusted Advisor® expert at C.H. Robinson to learn more.

    Q: Will the Section 301 (China) tariffs go away after the 2020 election?

    While we cannot be sure what either administration would do on a go-forward basis, it is unlikely that 301 duties will simply go away or go away immediately regardless of which administration is in place in January 2021.

    Q: Do Section 301 (China) duties still apply if I ship goods to another country, such as Canada or Mexico, and have them packaged there before entering the commerce of the United States?

    Yes. Basic changes/processes such as packaging, cleaning, and sorting would not change the country of origin to be declared in most cases. The origin would still be China and therefore the Section 301 duties would still apply.

    Q: If I previously paid Section 301 (China) duties, but an exclusion was later issued by the United States Trade Representative (USTR), can I get my money back?

    Yes. You have the opportunity to potentially recover duties paid on previous entry activity. Your customs broker, trade attorney, or trade consultant can submit a refund request via Post Summary Correction (PSC) or Protest as long as the entry has not exceeded the liquidation date plus 180-day time period (roughly 480 days from the original entry date). Remember, your company doesn’t have to be the one that requested the exclusion in the first place. You qualify as long as your product meets the specific description of the exclusion granted by the USTR.

    Q: Does U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) pay interest when refunding duties previously paid?

    Yes! CBP does pay interest from the date the original money was deposited. The current interest rates are published in the Federal Register on a quarterly basis. Review the most recent Federal Register Notice for the latest rates.


    1. Congressional Research Service – Trump Administration Tariff Actions (Sections 201, 232, and 301): FAQs

    2. Section 301 Trade Remedies Frequently Asked Questions

    3. Congressional Research Service - Section 301: Tariff Exclusions on U.S. Imports from China

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    All content and materials discussed herein are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. You should always independently check the related Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and, if needed, consult with the applicable Federal Agency (e.g. CBP, USTR) and/or external counsel where any question or doubt exists. Information on this site is the property of C.H. Robinson. Any transmission or use without C.H. Robinson’s permission and approval is not allowed or authorized.