U.S. Signs MOU Establishing U.S. Trade Zone in Kingdom of Bahrain

Jan 12th, U.S. Department of Commerce and the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism of the Kingdom of Bahrain signed of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to Enhance U.S.-Bahrain Trade through the Establishment of a U.S. Trade Zone (USTZ) in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The MoU was signed by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and the Minister of Industry, Commerce, and Tourism in the Kingdom of Bahrain H.E. Zayed R. Alzayani.

“The Kingdom of Bahrain has been, and continues to be, an important strategic and trade partner of the United States, maintaining stability and ensuring the free flow of commerce in the Gulf. The Department of Commerce remains committed to our deep partnership with the Kingdom,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “This MoU is but one such example of our mutual commitment and close relationship, and the International Trade Administration is committed to working with the Kingdom of Bahrain toward the realization of this unique free trade zone.”

The Establishment of a USTZ in the Kingdom of Bahrain will foster enhanced economic connectivity, trade, and industrial cooperation and will help boost bilateral trade between the two countries. The United States and the Kingdom of Bahrain will promote the USTZ as a regional trade, manufacturing, logistics, and distribution hub for U.S. companies in Bahrain, markets in the Gulf Cooperation Council, and beyond.

The USTZ will allow U.S. businesses multimodal access to an area ideal for crossdocking activities, end-to-end specialized customs solutions, and fast track operation for the purpose of exporting via Khalifa bin Salman Port, Bahrain International Airport, King Fahad Causeway or any future customs posts created by the Kingdom of Bahrain.

The United States and the Kingdom of Bahrain are longstanding partners with a strong record of economic and security cooperation. The United States established diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Bahrain in 1971 and designated Bahrain a Major Non-NATO Ally in 2002. The U.S-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement (FTA) entered into force in 2006, generating additional commercial opportunities for both countries. In 2019, bilateral merchandise trade reached $2.45 billion, with an additional $1.5 billion of trade in services (2019 figures).

U.S. and Singapore Sign MOU on Trade Financing and Investment Cooperation

The United States of America (U.S.) and Singapore have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to deepen economic cooperation and extend trade financing and investment support to companies in Singapore and the U.S. The MOU was signed by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Singapore Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing.

“The U.S. and Singapore have enjoyed more than fifty years of official partnership since we established diplomatic ties in 1966,” said Secretary Ross. “This MOU will help Singapore importers finance the purchase of U.S. exports and support Singapore investors looking at opportunities in the U.S.”

Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said, “As like-minded partners, Singapore and the U.S. are committed to supporting our businesses as they respond to the global economic disruptions caused by COVID-19. Through this MOU, we will facilitate company investments into Singapore and the U.S., and help businesses access more trade financing facilities. We also look forward to catalysing greater trade and investment flows between the U.S., Singapore, and Southeast Asia, and enabling our companies to continue trading and accessing opportunities in these challenging times.”

The U.S. and Singapore are like-minded and longstanding partners with a strong record of economic cooperation. Recognising the significant global tightening of credit following the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the MOU aims to enhance the availability of and access to trade financing options for U.S. and Singapore companies. The MOU will also facilitate bilateral trade in goods and services to enhance our respective regions’ growth opportunities. In addition, the MOU seeks to strengthen cooperation on investment promotion and provide opportunities for both countries to explore the use of technology (e.g. FinTech) to address new trade financing and investment challenges.

The renewable, two-year MOU will be overseen by the U.S. Department of Commerce and Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry. The MOU will also be supported by implementing agencies, including the Export-Import Bank of the U.S., the U.S. Commercial Service in Singapore, and Enterprise Singapore.

The MOU is the latest tangible result of the robust economic and investment partnership between the U.S. and Singapore. The U.S. is Singapore’s largest foreign investor, while Singapore was the fourth-largest Asian investor in the U.S. in 2019. Both countries are committed to working together towards a stronger post-COVID-19 economic recovery. Our continued partnership will help to facilitate bilateral trade and investments and ensure that our companies are well positioned to tap into growth opportunities in our respective markets and regions.

U.S. Department of Commerce Releases Enhanced Steel Import Monitoring and Analysis System

Today, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced the adoption of a final rule modernizing the Steel Import Monitoring and Analysis (SIMA) system. Commerce also announced plans to unveil a new online platform for SIMA on Commerce’s website in October.

“These significant improvements to SIMA will enable Commerce and the public to more readily identify transshipment and circumvention involving steel imports,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “This is one more way the Trump Administration is standing up for our workers and families across the country who depend on a strong American steel industry.”

The regulatory changes adopted by today’s final rule will: (1) require steel import license applicants to identify not only the country of origin, but also the country where steel used in the manufacture of the imported product was melted and poured, as defined in the final rule; (2) expand the scope of steel products subject to the import licensing requirement to include all products subject to Section 232 tariffs; (3) extend the SIMA system indefinitely; and (4) codify the existing low-value license requirement for certain steel entries up to $5,000. Commerce received public comments on these regulatory changes, as published in a March 2020 proposed rule.

The new online platform for SIMA to be released on Tuesday, October 13, 2020, represents the first major overhaul of the system since it was last updated in 2005. The updated SIMA will offer free, modern data analytic tools to the public for performing detailed, customized data analysis. These tools will aid in the identification of changing trade patterns and surges in U.S. imports of steel products, as well as potential circumvention and evasion.

Commerce will hold a series of webinars for users to become familiar with the updated SIMA system. The webinars will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis. For specific dates and times of the demonstrations, and for information about participating, please visit https://www.trade.gov/updates-steel-import-licensing.

The updates to SIMA are consistent with the May 17, 2019 joint understandings between the United States and Canada, and the United States and Mexico, which provided that in monitoring for steel import surges, the United States may treat products made with steel that is melted and poured in North America separately from products that are not.

SIMA is administered by Commerce’s Enforcement and Compliance unit within the International Trade Administration, which is responsible for vigorously enforcing U.S. trade laws.

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.

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.”

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.

DOC to Initiate Section 232 Investigation into Mobile Crane Imports

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced today that the Department will initiate an investigation into whether the quantities or circumstances of mobile crane imports into the United States threaten to impair the national security. This decision follows a petition filed by domestic producer, The Manitowoc Company, Inc. (Manitowoc), on December 19, 2019, requesting that the Department of Commerce launch an investigation into mobile crane imports under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as amended.  The investigation, to be conducted by the Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security, will provide the opportunity for public comment once the rule is posted in the Federal Register.

“We will conduct this review thoroughly and expeditiously,” said Secretary Ross. “This investigation will help determine whether mobile cranes are being imported in such quantities or under such circumstances as to threaten to impair U.S. national security.”

Manitowoc alleges that increased imports of low-priced mobile cranes, particularly from Germany, Austria, and Japan, and intellectual property (IP) infringement by foreign competition,have harmed the domestic mobile crane manufacturing industry.The Department of Homeland Security has identified mobile cranes as a critical industry because of their extensive use in national defense applications, as well as in critical infrastructure sectors.

The petitioner claims the low-priced imports and IP infringement resulted in the closure of one of its two production facilities in the United States and eliminated hundreds of skilled manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin.  Manitowoc cites the U.S. International Trade Commission’s (USITC) Dataweb to note that imports of mobile cranes increased 152% between 2014 and 2019, and a 2015 finding that a Chinese manufacturer misappropriated six trade secrets and infringed on a patent, resulting in the USITC banning the sale of a Chinese crane in the United States.

Commerce Tightens Restrictions on Technology Exports to Combat Chinese, Russian and Venezuelan Military Circumvention Efforts

The Department of Commerce announced today new export control actions to prevent efforts by entities in China, Russia, and Venezuela to acquire U.S. technology that could be used in development of weapons, military aircraft, or surveillance technology through civilian supply chains, or under civilian-use pretenses, for military end uses and military end-users.

“It is important to consider the ramifications of doing business with countries that have histories of diverting goods purchased from U.S. companies for military applications,” said Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “Certain entities in China, Russia, and Venezuela have sought to circumvent America’s export controls, and undermine American interests in general, and so we will remain vigilant to ensure U.S. technology does not get into the wrong hands.”

Specifically, the rule changes include:

  • Expansion of Military End Use/User Controls (MEU)
    Expands MEU license requirements controls on China, Russia, and Venezuela to cover military end-users in all three countries, as well as items such as semiconductor equipment, sensors, and other technologies sought for military end use or by military end-users in these countries.
  • Removal of License Exception Civil End Users (CIV)
    Removes a license exception for exports, reexports, or transfers (in-country) to civilian
    end-users in countries of national security concern for National Security- (NS) controlled items.
  • Elimination of License Exception Additional Permissive Reexports (APR) Provisions
    Proposes to eliminate certain provisions of a license exception for partner countries involving the reexport of NS-controlled items to countries of national security concern to ensure consistent reviews of exports and reexports of U.S. items.

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 restrict U.S.-origin commodities and technology from use in support of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) projects, terrorism, or destabilizing military modernization programs. For more information, please visit www.bis.doc.gov.

USPTO announces extension of certain patent and trademark-related timing deadlines

USPTO announces extension of certain patent and trademark-related timing deadlines under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) today announced extensions to the time allowed to file certain patent and trademark-related documents and to pay certain required fees. These actions are an exercise of temporary authority provided to the USPTO by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) signed by President Trump on March 27. 

“Inventors and entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of our economy, and we recognize that many of them are having difficulty as a result of COVID-19,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office Andrei Iancu. “As a result, we are working to provide as much relief as possible to our stakeholders, consistent with our ability to maintain the USPTO’s fee-funded operations. We are especially mindful of the outsized impact on small businesses and independent inventors, and we have provided additional relief for these groups. Ultimately, our goal is to ensure not only that inventors and entrepreneurs can weather the storm, but that they can also hit the ground running once it passes.” 

The USPTO has made operational adjustments to keep its employees and the public safe as it remains open for business. In-person meetings, such as hearings and examiner interviews, are being conducted virtually by phone and video until further notice.