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.

FTC Staff Provides Annual Letter to CFPB On Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Activities

The staff of the Federal Trade Commission has provided the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) with an annual summary of the FTC’s activities enforcing the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

The FTC shares enforcement responsibility for the FDCPA with the CFPB, which provides an annual report to Congress about debt collection enforcement activities. The annual report, which was released today, highlights both agencies’ efforts to stop unlawful debt collection practices, including law enforcement, education and public outreach, and policy initiatives. Among the actions taken to combat unfair, deceptive, and otherwise unlawful debt collection practices in 2019, the FTC:

  • filed or resolved law enforcement actions against 25 defendants, and obtained more than $24.7 million in judgments;
  • banned 23 companies and individuals who engaged in serious and repeated violations of law from ever working in debt collection again;
  • announced the return of $516,000 to 3,977 consumers who lost money to an unlawful debt collection operation previously stopped by the FTC;
  • deployed educational materials to inform consumers about their rights, and educate debt collectors about their responsibilities, under the FDCPA and FTC Act;
  • supplied more than 27,500 copies of a fotonovela (graphic novel) on debt collection, developed for Spanish speakers, to raise awareness about scams targeting the Latino community;
  • organized and cosponsored Common Ground conferences, bringing together law enforcement personnel, consumer advocates, and community members to discuss consumer protection issues, including debt collection; and
  • hosted public forums on small business financing and credit reporting, which raised debt collection policy issues.

The letter also highlights FTC staff’s submission of a public comment on the CFPB’s proposed rules implementing the FDCPA. The comment provided an overview of the Commission’s law enforcement, policy, and education efforts to protect consumers from unlawful debt collection practices, and provided FTC staff feedback on several components of the proposed rules.