Remarks by Wilbur L. Ross at the Manufacturer & Business Association Roundtable in Erie, Pennsylvania

Thank you, Mark, for that kind introduction, and for hosting us here at the MBA Conference Center. And congratulations on 115 years of your company providing goods and services to the many generations of industrial firms that have benefited from your longevity. It says a lot about your company culture for it to have weathered countless downturns, big changes in technology, and the rise of global competitors. That’s quite an achievement.

Thank you also, John, for hosting us, and a special thanks to your members. Your organization is essential in helping companies connect with each other and to national networks to solve mutual problems. I know this is especially important in these challenging times.

We need more organizations like yours promoting the benefits of manufacturing and industry to the U.S. economy. Since fostering economic growth is job number-one for all of us, today is significant for American producers.

July 1 is the first day that the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement enters into force – and this ground-breaking trade agreement couldn’t come at a better time. It fortifies the world’s largest trading block, and it provides American companies with a level playing field on our own continent for the first time since 1994. USMCA is the result of President Trump’s unwavering commitment to rebalance U.S. trade in favor of American producers and American workers. The agreement should be of particular help to Pennsylvania, the country’s tenth largest exporting state, and the backbone of our manufacturing economy.

Last year, Pennsylvania’s exports to Canada and Mexico topped $15 billion, representing 36 percent of the state’s total global exports. USMCA’s new rules of origin will help rebuild U.S. production that was outsourced to Asia, and it will go a long way to re-establishing domestic supply chains in many industrial sectors. USCMA increases North American content of vehicles to 75 percent, and it requires that up to 45 percent of the value of passenger cars be made by workers earning an average base-wage of at least $16 an hour.

Now, we finally have an agreement that levels the playing field for American workers. With the economic lockdowns required by the coronavirus pandemic, the last three-and-a-half months have not been easy for anyone.

More than 15,000 workers have been furloughed in Erie, 10 percent of whom were employed in manufacturing. Thankfully, most manufacturers have been proactive ─ and creative ─ in re-engineering production lines to protect their employees. Many have switched to producing life-saving PPE, and we are grateful for your doing so. As a result, there have been far fewer layoffs in manufacturing than in many service sectors.

We also hope the worst of the downturn is behind us. May’s job numbers were encouraging, as nearly 200,000 Pennsylvanians returned to work, with more than 25,000 of them headed back into manufacturing plants. Moreover, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate remained below the national average.

One hopeful sign for a speedy recovery is reflected in the U.S. savings rate that has increased to 23.1 percent. Total bank deposits have jumped by $2.1 trillion during the past four months. It means that our financial institutions are sound, as compared to 2008. And as the economy opens with pent-up demand, these consumer savings will be spent in local businesses with more workers being rehired. Already, we are seeing healthy and record increases in retail sales.

Your region’s commitment to manufacturing should bode well for a strong recovery. As the one-time “Boiler and Engine Capital of the World,” Erie now supports more than 18,000 manufacturing jobs. At 17 percent of the local labor force, this is double the national average of 8.5 percent.

In the global competition for jobs and industries, Erie has many advantages, including:

• Your central location between major metropolitan areas;

• Your eight Opportunity Zones that will generate new investment in the downtown area.

• Your skilled workforce and excellent education and training institutions such as Penn State Erie, the Erie Business Center, and many others;

• The fact that you have such a diverse group of industries within your midst;

• An attractive cost of living and the availability of affordable housing;

• And an incredible setting overlooking one the world’s largest and most pristine fresh-water lakes.

• We hear there is a healthy stock of more than 100 million two-year-old walleye in Lake Erie right now ready to be caught by anglers.

You also have some great employers. Wabtec generated $2.7 billion in economic activity in Erie County alone, and the plastics industry has emerged as an economic force, with 10 percent of the nation’s plastics either manufactured or finished in Erie. I look forward to touring one of your area’s outstanding manufacturers later this morning, when we visit 91-year-old Howard Industries.

Now, I am eager to hear your ideas on how we can work together to accelerate our economic recovery, re-shore our industries, and generate thousands of great jobs for the workers of Erie and Northwestern Pennsylvania.

Thank you.

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR ISSUES INTERIM FINAL RULE TO IMPLEMENT PROVISIONS OF THE UNITED STATES-MEXICO-CANADA AGREEMENT

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Department of Labor today announced an interim final rule providing regulations necessary to implement and administer the high-wage components of the Labor Value Content (LVC) requirements set forth in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the treaty’s implementing statute. The rule provides needed guidance to producers of motor vehicles covered by the USMCA, describing criteria they must meet to qualify for preferential tariff claims under the treaty.

The LVC requirements promote more high-wage jobs for the U.S. automobile and auto parts industry by requiring that, to qualify for preferential tariff claims under the treaty, manufacturers must produce a significant portion of certain motor vehicles using high-wage labor. Among other requirements, the treaty requires that for a passenger vehicle, light truck or heavy truck to be eligible for preferential tariff treatment, a minimum percentage of the cost of the vehicle must be made at a facility that pays an average hourly base rate of at least $16 per hour.

“Through the USMCA, the United States is establishing more balanced, reciprocal trade that supports high-paying jobs for Americans and grows the North American economy,” said Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia. “The USMCA recognizes that international trade, investment and economic growth are promoted through the protection and enforcement of labor rights and the improvement of working conditions. This is a significant win for the workforce in the American auto industry, and helps level the playing field for U.S. manufacturers.”

To qualify for preferential tariff treatment, a producer must file a certification with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) demonstrating that its production of covered vehicles meets the high-wage components of the LVC requirements. WHD, in conjunction with CBP, will review those certifications.

“The Wage and Hour Division is proud to support this new law through our role in the certification and verification process,” said Wage and Hour Division Administrator Cheryl Stanton. “The interim final rule we published today ensures that manufacturers and other stakeholders understand the specific requirements and procedures for claiming preferential tariff treatment, and it provides transparency into the process.”

The interim final rule is effective July 1, 2020 and is available for review and public comment for 60 days. The Department encourages interested parties to submit comments. The interim final rule, along with the procedures for submitting comments, can be found at the Wage and Hour Division’s interim final rule website.

WHD’s mission is to promote and achieve compliance with labor standards to protect and enhance the welfare of America’s workforce. WHD enforces federal minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping and child-labor requirements of the FLSA. WHD also enforces the paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, wage garnishment provisions of the Consumer Credit Protection Act, and a number of employment standards and worker protections as provided in several immigration-related statutes. Additionally, WHD administers and enforces the prevailing wage requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act and the Service Contract Act and other statutes applicable to federal contracts for construction and for the provision of goods and services.

The mission of the Department of Labor is to foster, promote and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.

United States Announces Nominee for Presidency of the Inter-American Development Bank Group

WASHINGTON – Today the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that the United States intends to nominate Mauricio J. Claver-Carone for the presidency of the Inter-American Development Bank Group (IDB).

“The IDB is at a critical juncture as the region faces growing challenges to economic growth and sustainable development, particularly in light of the global pandemic,” said Secretary Mnuchin.  “The nomination of Mr. Claver-Carone demonstrates President Trump’s strong commitment to U.S. leadership in important regional institutions, and to advancing prosperity and security in the Western Hemisphere.  We are confident that his leadership of the IDB will strengthen its ability to deliver development impact to the region.” 

Mr. Claver-Carone currently serves as the Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council.  During his time at the White House, he spearheaded the whole-of-government Growth in the Americas (‘America Crece’) initiative to support economic development by catalyzing private sector investment in energy and infrastructure projects across Latin America and the Caribbean.  

Mr. Claver-Carone also played an important role in developing the bipartisan Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development Act of 2018, which created the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, and has facilitated its robust engagement in Latin America. 

In addition to roles in the private sector, Mr. Claver-Carone has previously served as U.S. Representative to the International Monetary Fund, as Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary for International Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and as an attorney-advisor with the Treasury Department’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. 

He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Rollins College, Juris Doctor from the Catholic University of America, and Master of Laws in International and Comparative Law from Georgetown University Law Center.

President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (PAC-AAPI) Convenes Inaugural Open Meeting and Virtual Listening Session

WASHINGTON – On May 20th, the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders convened its Inaugural Open Meeting with all fourteen (14) Commissioners in attendance. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao, Co-Chairs of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, provided welcoming remarks at the meeting, which commenced with the official swearing-in ceremony of Commissioner Helen Van Etten of Kansas.

The Commission is tasked by President Trump’s Executive Order to provide advice to the President, through the Secretary of Commerce and the Secretary of Transportation, on how to broaden access by Asian Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPI) employers and communities to economic resources and opportunities.

“We appreciate your advocacy for the more than 1.9 million AAPI-owned businesses, and for the 22 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, many of whom have been so adversely impacted by the pandemic,” said Secretary Wilbur Ross in his welcome remarks. “Your work on their behalf is more important than ever before. Secretary Chao and I look forward to your advising us and President Trump on how best the U.S. government can serve this vibrant and growing American community.”

Secretary Elaine L. Chao highlighted the four areas that both the Commission and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are focused on: Passing the Torch, Breaking the Glass Ceiling, Bridging the Income Gap, and AAPI Women in Leadership. In highlighting the ways the AAPI community can better take advantage of federal resources and opportunities, she shared: “Secretary Ross and I recently signed a letter to re-establish the White House Initiative Interagency Working Group. This group consists of representatives from throughout the federal government who will advise the Initiative on the implementation and coordination of Federal programs as they relate to Asian Pacific American access to economic resources and opportunities.”

Dr. Paul Hsu, Chair of the Commission, provided opening remarks and convened the meeting by addressing the task at hand: “President Trump has clearly outlined in his Executive Order that our mission is to improve the lives of all AAPIs and their communities, which will always be our guiding principle and our roadmap. That is exactly why we are here today.”

The President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders also convened its first virtual AAPI Business Town Hall with business owners, chambers of commerce and business associations on Tuesday, May 19th, a day prior to the open meeting. Chair of the Commission Dr. Paul Hsu and Commissioner Herman Martir facilitated this listening session hosted by the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. About 200 AAPI business and community leaders participated with many of the Commissioners also in attendance.

As the Commission prepares its advisory reports, these town halls and listening sessions reflect the mission and importance of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community to our country. Many of the speakers provided insight on how the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak has affected AAPI-owned businesses across different states and U.S. territories, including Guam and American Samoa. Town hall speakers represented 9 different states and U.S. territories, while audience participants hailed from 31 different states and territories. In response to concerns about harassment of AAPIs due to the virus, the Initiative and interagency working group are coordinating with the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure active engagement with local communities on addressing these issues.  

These public forums also provided a platform for federal officials and trade groups to highlight resources and opportunities. At the AAPI Business Town Hall, the U.S. Census Bureau provided a presentation on the Small Business Pulse Survey, which asks small businesses to share the impact of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak on their business. There was also an update on the ongoing 2020 Census, including the latest response rate, information about the extended window for response to the Census, highlights of the partnership and outreach campaign, and ideas about virtual ways that partners can support the Census in the upcoming months. The U.S. Census Bureau’s partnership program is working with more than 6,000 organizations across the country that serve Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

Following the U.S. Census Bureau, the Small Business Roundtable, a coalition of leading small business and entrepreneurship organizations, presented a read out of their State of Small Business Report. This report will be the first of an ongoing series that tracks the activities of small businesses across the country.

Commerce Department to Add Two Dozen Chinese Companies with Ties to WMD and Military Activities to the Entity List

WASHINGTON (May 22, 2020) – The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) announced it will add 24 governmental and commercial organizations to the Entity List for engaging in activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States. The entities, based in China, Hong Kong, and the Cayman Islands, represent a significant risk of supporting procurement of items for military end-use in China.

USDA and USTR Announce Continued Progress on Implementation of U.S.-China Phase One Agreement

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) today announced additional progress in the implementation of the agriculture-related provisions of the U.S.-China Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement (The Agreement), which entered into force on February 14, 2020. Recent actions described below build upon the actions announced by USDA and USTR on February 25, March 10, and March 24.  These are difficult times for both our countries.  It is important that we each continue to work to make our agreement a success.  Because of this continued progress due to the Agreement:

  • U.S. blueberries and California Hass avocados can now be exported to China.  This new market access will provide California avocado growers and blueberry growers from around the United States with new opportunities to market their products to Chinese consumers in the coming years.  In 2019, China imported a record volume of fresh fruits and vegetables exceeding $8.6 billion.   
  • U.S. barley for processing, along with the forage products Timothy hay, alfalfa hay pellets and cubes, and almond meal pellets and cubes can now be exported to China.  In 2019, China imported $1.5 billion of barley used as feed and for malt beverage production, and a record $500 million of forage products.  
  • In recent weeks, China updated its lists of U.S. facilities eligible to export beef, pork, poultry, seafood, dairy, and infant formula products to China. China’s lists now include 499 beef, 457 pork, 470 poultry, 397 seafood, and 253 dairy and 9 infant formula facilities. As a result of these actions, more U.S. facilities are eligible to export U.S. food and agricultural products to China than ever before.  USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service continues to update its export library, which provides additional guidance for U.S. meat and poultry meat exporters, including information related to the scope of products that may be exported to China, China’s labeling requirements, and other guidance.
  • China published on May 15 a new domestic standard for dairy permeate powder for human consumption that will allow imports of this product from the United States in the future.  In 2019, China imported nearly $12 billion of dairy products from around the world.

China continues to implement its tariff exclusion process in an attempt to facilitate imports of U.S. commodities.  USDA continues to publish guidance for U.S. exporters seeking to participate in this process (USDA Global Agricultural Information Network).  USTR is continuing to process and where appropriate grant exclusions of products from China. USDA also is implementing its obligations under the agreement.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said, “China is a market of tremendous potential for U.S. agriculture and these actions will help U.S. exporters expand their sales there.  We look forward to continued cooperative work with China on implementation of Phase One commitments, and immediate increases in U.S. exports of all manner of agricultural products.”

United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said, “China has worked with the United States to implement measures that will provide greater access for U.S. producers and exporters to China’s growing food and agricultural markets. Under President Trump’s leadership, we fully expect this agreement to be a success.”

DOL ISSUES FINAL RULE TO SIMPLIFY RETAIL OR SERVICE ESTABLISHMENT EXEMPTION

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Department of Labor today announced a final rule to provide greater simplicity and flexibility to retail industry employers.

Provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) allow employers in retail and service industries to exempt certain employees paid primarily on a commission basis from overtime.

Today’s rule withdraws two provisions from the Department’s Wage and Hour Division regulations. The first listed industries that the Department previously viewed as having “no retail concept,” which made them ineligible to claim the exemption. The second listed industries that, in the Department’s view, “may be recognized as retail,” and were potentially eligible for the exemption. As the rule explains, some courts have questioned whether these lists lack any rational basis.

By withdrawing these two lists, establishments in industries that had been on the non-retail list may now assert that they have a retail concept and—if they meet the existing definition of retail and other criteria—may now qualify for the exemption. Insofar as these establishments were deterred from availing themselves of the exemption and its flexibilities, they may now do so if they qualify—including by having more flexibility to work with workers on commission-based pay arrangements. For these employers and workers, they could consider whether, for instance, more commission-based pay is sensible.

Establishments in industries that were on the “may be” retail list may continue to assert they have a retail concept.

Moving forward, the Department will apply the same analysis to all establishments to determine whether they have a retail concept and qualify as retail or service establishments, promoting greater simplicity and flexibility for employers and workers alike.

“This final rule unshackles job creators in the retail space who had previously been categorically excluded from the exemption without notice and comment,” said Wage and Hour Division Administrator Cheryl Stanton. “Permitting all retail employers to potentially qualify for this exemption can increase flexibility for businesses and workers. Eliminating confusion empowers job creators to grow their businesses, comply with the law and provide even more good jobs for American workers.”

The Department is issuing this rule without notice and comment, and it will take immediate effect. Neither notice and comment nor a delayed effective date are needed because both lists being withdrawn were interpretive regulations originally issued in 1961 without notice and comment or a delay.

DOC Issues Expected Final 90-Day Extension of Temporary General License Authorizations

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced today it is extending the terms of the existing Temporary General License (TGL) authorizations for Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and its non-U.S. affiliates (Huawei) on the Entity List for 90 days. The terms and duration of any future general licenses will be announced prior to the expiration of this 90-day time period.

This announcement follows public comments received from numerous companies, associations, and individuals about the TGL. The Department continues to assess the national security and foreign policy implications of companies and individuals that have not yet transitioned from Huawei equipment.

The 90-day extension provides an opportunity for users of Huawei devices and telecommunication providers—particularly those in rural U.S. communities—to continue to temporarily operate such devices and existing networks while hastening the transition to alternative suppliers.

In announcing this extension, the Department is also notifying the public that activities authorized in the TGL may be revised and possibly eliminated after August 13, 2020. Companies and persons relying on TGL authorizations should begin preparations to determine the specific, quantifiable impact of elimination if they have not done so already. Those companies and persons should be prepared to submit license applications to the Department to determine which, if any, activities will be authorized in the event that their TGL authorization is eliminated. The Department will provide prior notice via the Federal Register of a need to submit such applications.

The Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) in the Department of Commerce is responsible for overseeing these export control activities. BIS’s mission is to advance U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives by ensuring an effective export control and treaty compliance system and promoting continued U.S. strategic technology leadership. BIS is committed to restricting U.S.-origin commodities and technology from use in support of Weapons of Mass Destruction projects, terrorism, or destabilizing military modernization programs.

Treasury, IRS Deliver Economic Impact Payments to 130 Million Americans in Record Time

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of the Treasury and IRS today announced that nearly 130 million Americans have received Economic Impact Payments, worth more than $218 billion, in less than five weeks. These totals do not include the more than $2.5 billion delivered to U.S. territories for payment to territory residents.

“This Administration has delivered Economic Impact Payments to Americans in record time,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “More payments are on their way as we continue to deliver this much-needed relief to the American people.”

Treasury expects to deliver more than 150 million Economic Impact Payments in total.

USTR and Treasury Statement on Call With China

Vice Premier Liu He, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, and Ambassador Robert Lighthizer participated in a conference call today.  They discussed economic and trade issues, including the recently concluded Phase One agreement.  The parties shared updates on COVID-19 and their assessments of its effects on economic growth as well as the measures their countries are taking to provide support to their economies. 

The parties discussed the ongoing process of implementing the Phase One agreement between the two countries that went into effect February 14.  Both sides agreed that good progress is being made on creating the governmental infrastructures necessary to make the agreement a success.  They also agreed that in spite of the current global health emergency, both countries fully expect to meet their obligations under the agreement in a timely manner.  Meetings required by the agreement have been conducted via conference call and will continue on a regular basis.