“PROTECTIONISM BECOMES DESTRUCTIONISM; IT COSTS JOBS”
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN, JUNE 28, 1986
US CHINA TRADE WAR NEWSLETTER OCTOBER 16, 2014
There have been major developments in the trade, trade adjustment assistance, Trade Agreements, Customs, 337/IP, US/Chinese antitrust, and securities areas.
TRADE PROTECTIONISM INCLUDING UNFAIR TRADE CASES DO NOT WORK
The problem with trade protectionism, including “unfair” antidumping and countervailing duty cases, is they do not work. Antidumping and countervailing duty cases do not accomplish their objective of protecting the US industry from “unfair” imports.
Note the quotes around unfair, because in the context of China, since the United States refuses to use actual prices and costs in China to determine whether Chinese companies are dumping, the US government simply does not know whether the Chinese companies are dumping. Instead for the last 30 years Commerce has used Alice in Wonderland surrogate values from surrogate countries that have no relationship with economic reality in China to construct the “cost” of production in China.
With regard to accomplishing its objective of protecting the domestic industry, however, as stated in my January newsletter, on June 28, 1986 in his attached speech from his Santa Barbara ranch, BETTER COPY REAGAN IT SPEECH, President Ronald Reagan realized the simple point that trade restrictions, including unfair trade cases, do not work. As President Reagan stated:
“international trade is one of those issues that politicians find an unending source of temptation. Like a 5-cent cigar or a chicken in every pot, demanding high tariffs or import restrictions is a familiar bit of flimflammery in American politics. But cliches and demagoguery aside, the truth is these trade restrictions badly hurt economic growth.
You see, trade barriers and protectionism only put off the inevitable. Sooner or later, economic reality intrudes, and industries protected by the Government face a new and unexpected form of competition. It may be a better product, a more efficient manufacturing technique, or a new foreign or domestic competitor.
By this time, of course, the protected industry is so listless and its competitive instincts so atrophied that it can’t stand up to the competition. And that, my friends, is when the factories shut down and the unemployment lines start.
Sometimes foreign governments adopt unfair tariffs or quotas and subsidize their own industries or take other actions that give firms an unfair competitive edge over our own businesses. On those occasions, it’s been very important for the United States to respond effectively, and our administration hasn’t hesitated to act quickly and decisively.
And in September, with more GATT talks coining up once again, it’s going to be very important for the United States to make clear our commitment that unfair foreign competition cannot be allowed to put American workers in businesses at an unfair disadvantage. But I think you all know the inherent danger here. A foreign government raises an unfair barrier; the United States Government is forced to respond. Then the foreign government retaliates; then we respond, and so on. The pattern is exactly the one you see in those pie fights in the old Hollywood comedies: Everything and everybody just gets messier and messier. The difference here is that it’s not funny. It’s tragic. Protectionism becomes destructionism; it costs jobs.”
President Reagan understood the inherent dangers of trade protectionism. As Winston Churchill stated, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
A 21st TRADE ADJUSTMENT ASSITANCE PROGRAM—A MODEST PROPOSAL
While in Washington DC two weeks ago to discuss the Trade Adjustment Assistance for Firms program, I was told by senior aides in a position to know that Unions no longer favor trade adjustment assistance (“TAA”) and instead oppose the new trade agreements, including the Trans Pacific Partnership and Trans-Atlantic (TA)/ the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. As the senior aide also mentioned to me, in all likelihood, TPP and TTIP will go through eventually, but the Trade Adjustment Assistance Programs may die.
As readers of this newsletter know, I am on the Board of Directors of the Northwest Trade Adjustment Assistance (“NWTAAC”). We provide trade adjustment assistance to companies that have been injured by imports.
As mentioned in previous newsletters, the Trade Adjustment for Firms (“TAAF”) program is the only Trade Program that works. In my over thirty years of experience in the international trade area, first in the US Government and later defending US importers and end user companies in antidumping cases, there is one overarching lesson that I have learned–protectionism simply does not work. US industries that cannot compete in global markets cannot run from global competition by bringing trade cases.
These cases simply fail to protect the domestic industry from import competition. In response to antidumping orders, Chinese furniture and tissue paper companies have moved to Vietnam, where labor rates are LOWER than China. While in private practice and later at the International Trade Commission (“ITC”) and Commerce Department, I watched Bethlehem Steel bring more than a hundred antidumping and countervailing duty cases against steel imports from various countries, receiving protection, in effect, from imports for more than 30 years. Where is Bethlehem Steel today? Green fields. When faced with import competition, it is simply too difficult to bring antidumping cases against all the countries in the world, which have lower priced production than the US.
With regards to trade adjustment assistance, however, there are two programs. The major trade adjustment assistance is the $1 billion program for employees/workers that have been injured by imports and the smaller $16 million TAAF program. TAAF happened as an adjunct to TAA for Workers.
Congress started the TAA adjustment assistance programs in 1962 as part of the Trade Expansion Act and as a means of securing support for the Kennedy Round of multilateral trade negotiations. Trade Adjustment Assistance essentially was a tradeoff. If Unions and Workers would support trade liberalization, including free trade agreements, workers would be compensated because of the disruption caused by increased imports.
Many free market Republican types attack the TAA for workers as simply another entitlement that does not need to be paid and can be covered by other programs. In the early 1980s, President Reagan himself put in requirements to set up standards so that Trade Adjustment Assistance for Workers would not simply be an open ended entitlement.
But my belief is that President Reagan indirectly approved the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program for Firms/Companies. Why? Jim Munn.
As stated in the attached 2002 obituary, JIM MUNN, Jim Munn was a famous criminal lawyer in Seattle and an early supporter and personal friend of Ronald Reagan. When I started to get involved in the Northwest Trade Adjustment Assistance Center, I was told that the Center was in place because President Reagan himself asked Jim Munn to look into the program.
Both President Reagan and Jim Munn were firmly opposed to government interference in the marketplace. What did Jim Munn discover when he looked into the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program for Companies? It works. Jim Munn decided to head up NWTAAC for the next 22 years.
In the Workers program, TAA is provided at the state and local levels but overseen by the US Department of Labor. The reemployment services provided include counseling, resume-writing, job-search and referral assistance, travel costs for job searches, relocation allowance, training, income support while the worker is in training and a health coverage tax credit. Although the actual amount paid can be much less, the training itself is up to $22,500 per person, almost the amount given to each company. The rationale is that if an employee loses a job in trade impacted industry, the jobs in the industry are fewer and, therefore, the worker will need to be trained to do something else.
One question, however, is why the Unions do not want the TAA and simply want to oppose the trade agreements? One reason could be that TAA is after the workers have lost their jobs and the training may be for jobs that do not exist.
In contrast to TAA for workers, TAAF is provided by the Commerce Department to help companies adjust to import competition before there is a massive lay-off or closure. Yet the program does not interfere in the market or restrict imports in any way.
Total cost to the US Taxpayer for this nationwide program is $16 million dollars—truthfully peanuts in the Federal budget. Moreover, the Federal government saves money because if the company is saved, the jobs are saved and there are fewer workers to retrain and the saved company and workers end up paying taxes at all levels of government rather than being a drain on the Treasury.
The success of TAA for Firms is based on the fact that it focuses on the U.S. manufacturers, service companies and agricultural producing firms individually. The recovery strategy is custom-made for each firm. Once this strategy is approved by the Commerce Department, experts are hired to implement the strategy. The only interaction the program has with the imports is to verify that imports are “contributing importantly” to the sales and employment decline of the U.S. company.
Moreover, in contrast to other economic assistance programs, TAA for Firms is a long term assistance program, which monitors the companies and makes sure that the company succeeds in completing its trade adjustment assistance program that it has agreed to do. TAAF is focused on helping small and medium size enterprises as the support provided to the companies is only $75,000, which must be matched by the companies.
Although at first glance, free market advocates would not support this program, TAA for Firms works. We have published a cost/benefit analysis, which shows that nearly 80 percent of the firms it has assisted since 1984 are still in business. That is eight out of ten companies saved.
In the recent annual Commerce report on TAAF, which is posted on my blog, it is reported that all US companies that joined the program in 2011 were alive in 2013. If the company can be saved then most of the jobs at that company can be saved. In fact, the attached chart, shows that after entering the program, jobs have increased at the companies. TAAF Change in Employment 2009-13
One reason that TAAF may succeed so well is that small and medium enterprise often have a knowledge gap. Although the companies may hire consultants, many enterprises do not undertake the projects that change the essential economic circumstances of the business, such as lean manufacturing, quality system certification, new product development, or strategic marketing overhaul.
Most managers are not looking for solutions until there is a problem. For a small and medium enterprise, trade impact is one of those problems that require a solution. That solution will in nearly all cases entail outside expertise.
In a sense, TAAF is “retraining the company” so it never has to lose jobs, rather than waiting for the layoffs and retraining the individuals. This works because when companies lose out to trade, it’s like a tsunami hits them. Everything changes. Things the company thought they knew about their product, how to make it, and how to sell it, are no longer true. What they need is the knowledge and innovation to succeed in these new circumstances. That knowledge and innovation comes from the Center Staff and outside expertise – consultants and contractors. For each company, the Staff of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Center analyzes the needs of the firm, prepares a recovery strategy, facilitates the hiring of the outside consultant and then monitors the projects until completion. If the companies get to the right place in terms of product and market, they no longer have to lose out to imports. Instead they grow.
Trade Adjustment Assistance for Firms (TAAF) specifically targets these circumstances. TAAF is based on the recognition that trade impact leads to a knowledge gap in individual firms that is cured by innovation implemented through outside expertise.
TAAF offers qualified trade impacted firms a matching fund for outside expertise. It is a substantial fund, available over a long term, and highly flexible to meet the unique requirements of diverse firms. The cost of outside expertise would normally come as an exceptional operating expense, in other words, it would come from profit. But for a trade impacted small and medium enterprise that may be losing sales under severe price competition, profit is often in short supply.
TAAF offers access to the critical resource, outside expertise, at a time when the firm needs it the most and would be least prepared to acquire it. The exceptional results of the TAAF program all derive from this connection: trade disruption equals knowledge gap; knowledge gap overcome by innovation; innovation implemented through outside expertise, outside expertise enabled by TAAF. To learn more about the TAAF program, please see the website of NWTAAC, http://www.nwtaac.org.
TAA for workers/employees looks for the businesses that are laying off people and gets those people into a service stream. The idea is that imports increased, some people lost jobs, so retrain those people or get them into some other job situation.
In the alternative, TAAF looks for those businesses that are beginning to lose out in a trade impacted market and then works with those businesses to make them stronger so that they do not have to lay off people anymore, and, as happens in most cases, actually add jobs in time.
In talking with Republicans, although thinking that TAA for workers is simply another entitlement, when the TAAF program is described, they are much more interested.
But that brings us to the present problem. We have two TAA programs that are completely separate. One is the $1 billion program to retrain workers with applications made to the Department of Labor, and the other program is the TAAF program with applications made to Commerce Department. There is little interaction between the two programs and little is done by Commerce and Labor to facilitate such communication.
In the TAA for Workers program, because the companies have the data needed to approve the application, the Labor Department tells the companies that they need to provide data in a relatively short time to the Labor Department under threat of subpoena. Similar data is provided to the Commerce Department in the TAAF program, but the company is given weeks to submit the data.
To move the Trade Agreements forward, TAA for workers and TAA for firms need to be reworked and readjusted to make sure that the programs accomplish the objective of saving the jobs and the companies that are hurt by trade liberalization. There needs to be more coordination between the two programs.
One way to adjust the programs is put the TAA for Companies program first and give it more funding so it can help larger companies, such as Steel Companies, where more jobs are located. TAA for Companies could be used to create a program where the best of technologies and advisory services could be brought to bear to help US companies challenged by globalization and trade liberalization. The Worker program then comes afterwards, after the jobs have been lost. Data that is needed for the Worker program can be supplied as part of the Company program.
One interesting point is that when the Korean government examined the US Trade Adjustment Assistance programs, that government decided not to have a workers program, only a company program, to save the jobs before they are lost.
Legislators may ask where should the money to fund these programs come from? Every year the US government collects more than $1 billion in antidumping and countervailing duties. Although the WTO has determined that the antidumping and countervailing duties cannot be given to Petitioning companies that have filed for antidumping and countervailing duties, those duties could be used to help all companies and workers hurt by imports. The WTO allows countries to provide money to companies to adjust to import competition.
Congress needs to create a 21st Trade Adjustment Assistance Program so that support for the new trade agreements can be generated in the broad population. As indicated below, the TPP alone is predicted to increase economic activity by $1 trillion. With such a huge benefit, trade agreements will eventually go through and the question now is how can the US government help workers and companies adjust to the new competitive marketplace?
WHY MARKET ECONOMY IN ANTIDUMPING CASES AGAINST CHINA IS SO IMPORTANT FOR US IMPORTERS, US END USER PRODUCERS AND CHINESE COMPANIES
As stated in numerous past newsletters, market economy for China is important in antidumping cases because the Commerce Department has substantial discretion to pick surrogate values. As mentioned many times before, in contrast to Japan, Korea, Indonesia, India, Iran and almost every other country in the World, because China is not considered a market economy country in antidumping cases Commerce refuses to look at actual prices and costs in China to determine dumping. Instead Commerce takes consumption factors from the Chinese producer for all inputs used to produce the product in question, including raw materials, energy, and labor, and then goes to a Third Country to get values often from Import Statistics in third surrogate countries to value those consumption factors. Commerce then constructs a “cost” for the Chinese company, which often has no relationship to the actual reality in China.
In the past Commerce looked for surrogate values in only one country, India, but now Commerce looks at numerous countries, including Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Bulgaria, Columbia, and Ukraine to name a few and uses import values in those countries to consctruct the cost. Those import values and the surrogate country itself can change from annual review investigation to annual review investigation.
Thus, it is impossible for the Chinese company to know whether it is dumping because it cannot know which surrogate country and which surrogate value that Commerce will pick to value the consumption factors. Since it is impossible for the Chinese company to know whether it is dumping, the US importer cannot know whether the Chinese company is dumping.
This is very important because as of February 2014, there were 121 Antidumping and Countervailing Duty orders. 75 of those orders are for raw material products, such as metals, chemicals and steel, which go into downstream US production.
This point was recently reinforced by a Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“CAFC”) decision in the Garlic from China antidumping case. On September 10, 2014, in the attached Qingdao Sea-Line Trade Co., Ltd. v. United States, in affirming the Commerce Department’s determination in the Garlic case, CAFC OPINION GARLIC WHY MARKET ECONOMY SO IMPORTANT FROM CHINA, the CAFC stated:
“In an administrative review of a non-market economy, Commerce is required to calculate surrogate values for the subject merchandise using the “best available information.” 19 U.S.C. § 1677b(c)(1). Commerce has broad discretion to determine what constitutes the best available information, as this term is not defined by statute. Commerce generally selects, to the extent practicable, surrogate values that are publicly available, are product specific, reflect a broad market average, and are contemporaneous . . .
We also hold that Commerce may change its conclusions from one review to the next based on new information and arguments, as long as it does not act arbitrarily and it articulates a reasonable basis for the change. Indeed, the Trade Court has recognized that each administrative review is a separate exercise of Commerce’s authority that allows for different conclusions based on different facts in the record.”
Thus, the Commerce Department has broad discretion to determine surrogate countries and values and their choices can change from annual review investigation to annual review investigation, exposing US importers to millions of dollars in retroactive liability based on a process, which is inherently arbitrary, because Commerce does not look at actual prices and costs in China. Not only is there a problem with retroactive liability for US importers, US end user companies are often blocked from using the competitive Chinese raw material input, which, in turn, exposes the US downstream producers, such as foundries, automobile and chemical producers, to competition from Chinese companies and foreign companies that do have access to the lower cost raw materials.
Just like a toothpaste tube, when you squeeze to help one producer, you often hurt the downstream US producer. In other words, the US antidumping and countervailing duty laws, rob Peter to pay Paul.
IMPORT ALLIANCE FOR AMERICA
This is why the Import Alliance for America is so important to US importers, US end user companies and also Chinese companies. As mentioned in prior newsletters, we are working with APCO, a well-known lobbying/government relations firm in Washington DC, on establishing a US importers/end users lobbying coalition to lobby against the expansion of US China Trade War and the antidumping and countervailing duty laws against China for the benefit of US companies.
On September 18, 2013, ten US Importers agreed to form the Import Alliance for America. The objective of the Coalition will be to educate the US Congress and Administration on the damaging effects of the US China trade war, especially US antidumping and countervailing duty laws, on US importers and US downstream industries.
We will be targeting two major issues—Working for market economy treatment for China in 2016 as provided in the US China WTO Agreement and working against retroactive liability for US importers. The United States is the only country that has retroactive liability for its importers in antidumping and countervailing duty cases.
The key point of our arguments is that these changes in the US antidumping and countervailing duty laws are to help US companies, especially US importers and downstream industries. We will also be advocating for a public interest test in antidumping and countervailing duty cases and standing for US end user companies.
Congressmen have agreed to meet importers to listen to their grievances regarding the US antidumping and countervailing duty laws. In addition to contacting US importers, we are now contacting many Chinese companies to ask them to contact their US import companies to see if they are interested in participating in the Alliance.
At the present time, Commerce takes the position that it will not make China a market economy country in 2016 as required by the WTO Accession Agreement because the 15 years is in a treaty and not in the US antidumping and countervailing duty law. Changes to the US antidumping and countervailing duty law against China can only happen because of a push by US importers and end user companies. In US politics, only squeaky wheels get the grease.
On August 7, 2014, we held an organizational meeting in Beijing, China at the headquarters of China Ocean Shipping Company (“COSCO”) with interested Chambers of Commerce and Chinese companies to explain the project in more detail and to seek help in contacting US importers about the Alliance.
We spoke to about 40 attendees, including attendees from the legal departments of the top 10 chambers of commerce, including Chemicals, Machinery and Electronics, Light Industrial Products, and Food, and the Steel, Wood Products and Hydraulics and Pneumatics & Seals Association.
In addition to describing the Import Alliance and the issues regarding 2016 in the US China Accession Agreement, we also discussed the US China Trade War in general. Introductory videos for the Organizational Meeting from Cal Scott of Polder Inc., the President of the Import Alliance, can be found at the following link https://vimeo.com/103556227 and for former Congressmen Don Bonker and Cliff Stearns of APCO can be found at the following link https://vimeo.com/103556226. The PowerPoint we used to describe the Import Alliance, the specific provisions in the US China WTO Agreement and the Trade War is attached.FINAL BEIJING IMPORT ALLIANCE POWERPOINT
SOLAR CASES—POSSIBLE SETTLEMENT??—CORRECTION
POSSIBLE SCOPE EXPANSION TO INCLUDE PANELS PRODUCED IN CHINA AND TAIWAN FROM THIRD COUNTRY SOLAR CELLS
On June 3, 2014, Commerce issued its preliminary countervailing duty determination against China in the Solar Products case. The fact sheet and preliminary Federal Register notice have been posted on my blog. The Countervailing Duty Rates range from 18.56% for Trina to 35.21% for Wuxi Suntech and all other Chinese companies getting 26.89%.
On July 25th, the Commerce Department announced its preliminary antidumping determination in the Chinese solar products case establishing 47.27% combined rates (20.38% Antidumping, 26.89% Countervailing Duty) wiping out billions of dollars in imports of Chinese solar products into the United States.
Posted on my blog are the Commerce Department’s Factsheet, Federal Register notice, Issues and Decision memo from the Antidumping Preliminary Determination along with Commerce instructions to Customs in the Solar Products Antidumping and Countervailing Duty cases, which will help importers understand what products are covered by this case. Also attached is the ITC scheduling notice for its final injury investigation in the Solar Products case. The ITC hearing is scheduled for December 8, 2014.
On August 15th, after an extension, the Chinese government filed a letter at Commerce, which is posted on my blog, expressing an interest in a suspension agreement, but no proposed formal agreement has been filed with the Department.
On the possibility of a suspension agreement in the New Solar Products case or a comprehensive agreement settling all the cases, however, there are indications of ongoing negotiations between the US and Chinese governments. After being corrected, I checked the law again and the Commerce Department does not need consent from Solar World to go forward with a Suspension Agreement. But they do need to consult with Solar World. There is no indication that Solar World has been consulted. Commerce is also required to issue a Federal Register notice requesting comments on an Agreement, but nothing so far.
Very recently, however, there have been indications that negotiations are ongoing between the US and Chinese governments in the Solar cases. The talks are confidential and Commerce has refused to even say whether it received a proposal from China for a suspension agreement.
But sources have reported that the two sides have had several meetings since August, when China said it was interested in negotiating a settlement in a public filing. This source said the frequency of these meetings provides at least some indication that there may be movement to finally resolve the solar trade cases.
But there is little time left to conclude an Agreement so the Solar Products case in all probability will go to final determination. Antidumping and countervailing duty orders will probably be issued and could be in place for 5 to 30 years. Chinese companies and US importers will simply then try and get around the situation by setting up production in third countries.
As a result of the Solar cases and the corresponding Polysilicon antidumping and countervailing duty case brought by the Chinese government against the United States, Washington State officials have told me that REC Silicon, which has the largest polysilicon production facility here in Moses Lake, Washington, is about to set up a joint venture in China to produce polysilicon in that country.
Meanwhile, the case moves on and expands.
In the attached October 3, 2014 memo, DOC MEMO, on its own motion Commerce has proposed to expand the scope of the Solar Products case to cover all panels produced in Taiwan and China from third country solar cells. As Commerce states in the October 3, 2014 memo, which will be posted on my blog:
“Interested parties have submitted comments on the scopes of the above-referenced antidumping duty (AD) and countervailing duty (CVD) investigations, including certain concerns about the scope’s administrability and enforcement. In response, the Department is considering the possibility of the scope clarification described below and is providing interested parties with an opportunity to submit comments. Currently, the scopes of the AD and CVD investigations of certain crystalline silicon photovoltaic products from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the scope of the AD investigation of certain crystalline silicon photovoltaic products from Taiwan contain the following language:
“For purposes of this investigation, subject merchandise includes modules, laminates and/or panels assembled in the subject country consisting of crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells that are completed or partially manufactured within a customs territory other than that subject country, using ingots that are manufactured in the subject country, wafers that are manufactured in the subject country, or cells where the manufacturing process begins in the subject country and is completed in a non-subject country.”
Specifically, we are considering a scope clarification that would make the following points:
For the PRC investigations, subject merchandise includes all modules, laminates and/or panels assembled in the PRC that contain crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells produced in a customs territory other than the PRC.
For the Taiwan investigation, subject merchandise includes all modules, laminates and/or panels assembled in Taiwan consisting of crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells produced in Taiwan or a customs territory other than Taiwan. In addition, subject merchandise will include modules, laminates, and panels assembled in a third- country, other than the PRC, consisting of crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells produced in Taiwan.”
Today October 16, 2014, on behalf of two importers that import solar panels with third country solar cells in it, we filed a brief to argue that a change this late in the Solar Products investigation expanding the products subject to investigation violates due process because of the lack of notice to US importers and Chinese exporter and producers. The problem with changing the scope this late in the antidumping and countervailing investigation is that Commerce Department’s record is now closed and those Chinese companies that export solar panels with third country solar cells in them along with the US companies that import those products have no opportunity to prove that the Chinese companies are separate and independent from the Chinese goverment. The Chinese companies, therefore, will automatically get an antidumping rate of 167%.
Moveover, the entire antidumping and countervailing duty proceeding at Commerce as well as the injury investigation at the US International Trade Commission (“ITC”) are based on the presmise that the products covered by this investigation are solely those solar panels that have solar cells wholly or partially produced in the subject countries, Taiwan or China. If Commerce accepts the proposal, that will no longer the case. The Solar Products cases will cover solar panels with third country solar cells in them when there is no specific determination at the Commerce Department that those solar panels with third country solar cells, in fact, were dumped or that the Chinese companies producing those panels received subsidies and no determination at the ITC that the solar panels with third country solar cells in them caused injury to the US industy.
One reason that Commerce may have decided to expand the scope is because the AD and CVD orders will be difficult to administer and enforce. It will be difficult for Customs officials at the border to determine where the components of a solar cell in a particular panel from China or Taiwan originated. But that is a problem with the scope in Solar World’s initial petition that it filed in this case. Substantially changing the game at this stage in the proceedings raises enormous due process questions in this proceeding.
TRADE NEGOTIATIONS—TPA, TPP, TTIP/TA AND BALI/DOHA ROUND
As mentioned in past newsletters, in the trade world, the most important developments may be the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), Trans-Atlantic (TA)/ the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP negotiations and the WTO. These trade negotiations could have a major impact on China trade, as trade issues become a focal point in Congress and many Senators and Congressmen become more and more protectionist.
This is particularly a problem because the protectionism is coming from the Democratic side of the aisle. Democratic Senators and Congressmen are supported by labor unions. Although Democratic Congressmen have expressed interest in the TPP, to date, President Obama cannot get one Democratic Congressman in the House of Representatives to support Trade Promotion Authority (“TPA”) in Congress. Without bipartisan/Democratic support for these Trade Agreements, Republicans will not go out on a limb to support President Obama and risk being shot at by the Democrats during the mid-term elections as soft on trade.
As mentioned in prior newsletters, on January 29th, the day after President Obama pushed the TPA in his State of the Union speech in Congress, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid stated that the TPA bill would not be introduced on the Senate Floor.
To summarize, on January 9, 2014, the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014, which is posted on this blog in the February post was introduced into Congress. The TPA bill gives the Administration, USTR and the President, Trade Promotion Authority or Fast Track Authority so that if and when USTR negotiates a trade deal in the TPP or the Trans-Atlantic negotiations, the Agreement will get an up or down vote in the US Congress with no amendments.
Under the US Constitution, Congress, not the President has the power to regulate trade with foreign countries. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3, of the Constitution empowers Congress “to regulate Commerce with foreign nations” Thus to negotiate a trade agreement, the Congress gives the Executive Branch, the Administration/The President and United States Trade Representative (“USTR”), the Power to negotiate trade deals.
Because trade deals are negotiated with the foreign countries, the only way to make the system work is that under the TPA law when the Trade Agreement is negotiated, the Congress will agree to have an up or down vote on the entire Agreement and no amendments to the Agreement that has already been negotiated will be allowed.
On April 9, 2014, the new Senate Finance Committee Chairman Senator Ron Wyden announced at a speech to the American Apparel & Footwear Association Conference that he was introducing a new TPA bill, what Senator Wyden calls Smart Track. But to date no details have been given about exactly what Smart Track will mean, other than more oversight by Congress and input by the Public in the trade negotiations.
On July 17th, all Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee sent a letter to USTR Froman, which is posted on my blog, urging the Administration to build support for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and directing the Administration not to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) before TPA is enacted into law.
Recently, former USTR Ron Kirk in an opinion piece urged the negotiators to conclude an agreement without approval of the TPA. In discussing the situation with senior Republican aides in the US Congress, it was made clear that without TPA no TPP can be concluded. When asked about the Kirk statement, the response of one Republican aide recently was “I hope we are over that point.”
Now the story continues . . . .
On September 5th, it was reported that a coalition of unions and advocacy groups called on U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to make sure that public health programs are immune to challenges from powerful pharmaceutical firms under U.S. trade deals. The AFL-CIO, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, AARP and other groups in a letter to Froman, said that if an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism — or ISDS — is included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, it must contain a shield for Medicare, Medicaid and other government health initiatives. The groups fear that pharmaceutical companies could use the ISDS system to challenge regulations that state legislatures, Congress or administrative agencies use to manage drug costs in public programs.
On September 8th, it was reported that pork producers in seven countries put pressure on negotiators meeting in Vietnam for a session of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations to resist a Japanese government proposal that would exempt certain sensitive food products from tariff cuts in the deal. Organizations representing hog farmers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Mexico and Chile circulated an open letter to negotiators reiterating that full tariff elimination is a core principle of the TPP and that Japan’s “unacceptable” proposal to carve out pork and other food products from tariff cuts would undermine the credibility of the deal now and in the future stating:
“A broad exemption for Japan will encourage other TPP countries to withhold market access concessions, backtrack on current offers, lower the ambition on rules language and possibly unravel the entire agreement. Additionally, it would set a dangerous precedent for the expansion of the TPP when other nations are likely to demand a Japan-type deal.
“We call on each of our governments to redouble their efforts to move Japan away from this untenable position. If Japan is unwilling to open its markets fully to our products, it should exit the negotiations so that the other nations can expeditiously conclude the negotiations.”
On September 10th, it was reported that the latest session of the TPP talks in Hanoi had wrapped up with officials reporting progress on the agreement’s chapters covering intellectual property, state-owned enterprises and labor as the TPP negotiators work to deliver a substantial outcome in time for a closely watched November 10-11 APEC summit in Beijing. Assistant USTR Barbara Weisel stated:
“We have committed to a focused work plan, which will allow us to boost momentum and make continued progress. All countries involved want to reach a conclusion to unlock the enormous opportunity TPP represents.”
Canadian and Vietnamese government officials issued similar statements.
Scheduling is significant as the 12 TPP nations are quickly approaching the November 10-11 summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Beijing, which President Barack Obama and others have indicated as a deadline for the partners to conclude the talks or at the very least announce a significant breakthrough on the major differences.
On September 29th, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) stated that he did not expect Congress to hold debate in the upcoming post-election lame-duck session on whether to give the White House the authority to expedite international trade pacts. At an appearance at the National Press Club, Hoyer stated that he did not see enough support to bring trade promotion authority, or TPA, to the House floor.
Although some House Republicans had expressed interest in trying to move TPA during the lame duck session, when the political fallout from opponents would be less, Hoyer stated:
“I don’t think right now there is the consensus, in either party, to bring that forward. I doubt seriously, as I said, that we’re going consider trade legislation.”
On September 25, 2014, it was reported that top Japanese and US trade officials had closed a two day meeting in Washington DC without resolving any key differences regarding agriculture or automobiles in the TPP Talks. A meeting between U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Japanese TPP czar Akira Amari resulted only in a brief statement from the U.S. side saying that the nations’ key differences still remain.
The USTR stated, that “While there were constructive working level discussions over the weekend, we were unable to make further progress on the key outstanding issues.” The failure of Froman and Amari to bridge the considerable gaps on food and automotive trade remains a significant barrier to the likelihood of a significant outcome in the broader 12-nation TPP talks in time for an Asia-Pacific summit in November 10-11 in Beijing, China.
On October 1, 2104, the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee circulated the attached e-mail, WAYS AND MEANS WASH POST, with an editorial from the Washington Post on the Trans Pacific Partnership and the need to reinvigorate the process. The House Ways and Means e-mail states:
“Momentum for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Needs to be Revived
By The Editorial Board
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a proposed free-trade agreement that will knit the United States and 11 nations of South America, North America and Asia more closely together, while providing a geopolitical counterweight to a rising China. The pact would be especially valuable because Japan is willing to join, which would require a long-overdue opening and restructuring of its protected but lackluster economy. Indeed, without Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, the TPP loses much of its strategic significance.
So it was disappointing to learn that a Sept. 24 meeting between American and Japanese trade negotiators in Washington broke up after only an hour over the same old issue, Japanese resistance to U.S. farm exports that has plagued the two nations’ dealings for decades. The Japanese departed without touching a sandwich buffet that had been laid out in anticipation of an extended working session, according to the Wall Street Journal.
This is only the latest troubling development for the centerpiece of what was once meant to be President Obama’s foreign policy “pivot” to Asia. As 2014 began, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was promising to join the U.S.-led free-trade agreement as a spur to his own structural economic reforms. A bipartisan, bicameral group of senior U.S. lawmakers had agreed on a plan for “fast track” legislative authority to expedite a congressional vote on the TPP, once the 12 would-be members hammered out a final deal. Bucking resistance from trade skeptics in his own party, Mr. Obama had offered a friendly reference to that proposal in his State of the Union address on Jan. 28.
But Mr. Obama’s call was received coolly by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and by key Democratic constituencies such as organized labor. Foreign crises in the Middle East and Ukraine occupied the White House and Congress. Two champions of the bipartisan trade promotion measure, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), retired or planned to retire from Congress.
For all of Mr. Abe’s talk of bold steps and confronting special interests in Japan, his negotiators have not yet backed up the prime minister’s talk with concrete proposals, even though the prime minister has said repeatedly that opening agricultural markets is in Japan’s interest. The upshot is that momentum behind the TPP seems to be flagging and the administration’s goal of a tentative agreement by the end of 2014 is looking less feasible.
Vice President Biden tried to patch things up with Mr. Abe in a meeting on Friday, which produced a boilerplate pledge to seek an agreement. It will take more than that to revive the momentum for the TPP and close a deal. Back home, Mr. Abe needs to keep the pressure on special interests. Congress could reciprocate by moving ahead promptly with fast-track authority during the post-election lame-duck period — which will take political courage on its part, too.”
On October 2, 2014, it was reported that the Australian Government has agreed to host a meeting of the TPP trade ministers at the end of October to deal with the outstanding issues regarding intellectual property, agricultural market access, state-owned enterprises and other areas as negotiators race to close major parts of the pact by year’s end. The three day meeting will start in Sydney being Oct. 25, with the hope that the 12 TPP partners can seal the “basic elements of the agreement” before the end of the year.
But the differences with Japan and the lack of Trade Promotion Authority are two big issues that need to be addressed by the US Government. Without these two issues being resolved the chance of any big breakthroughs is small. These two problems would appear to prevent a final deal at the November APEC meeting, which has been an objective of the Obama Administration.
TTIP—FREE TRADE AGREEEMENT WITH EU
Meanwhile, trade negotiators for the US and the European Union announced on Friday, October 3rd that the seventh round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership had wrapped up with reports of steady progress on chapters covering trade in services as well as regulations covering automobiles, chemicals and food safety. Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Dan Mullaney, the lead U.S. TTIP negotiator, stated:
“As this painstaking work of building a foundation for an agreement is completed, we will need to make a high-level push to achieve the comprehensive and ambitious results that we are now working to support. That will require a shared commitment at the highest levels on both sides of the Atlantic to move forward quickly.”
INDIA STILL KILLS WTO TRADE FACILITATION AGREEMENT NEGOTIATED IN BALI
On July 31st, the WTO announced that the Trade Facilitation Agreement negotiated in Bali would not be implemented on schedule because of the substantial opposition from developing nations led by India as a result of food security initiatives.
On September 22, 2014, Director General Roberto Azevedo of the WTO warned that a deadlock on the multilateral body’s implementation of a modest trade-facilitation agreement could impose a “freezing effect” on the WTO’s work in other areas. The Director General stated:
“Many areas of our work may suffer a freezing effect, including the areas of greatest interest to developing countries, such as agriculture. All negotiations mandated in Bali, such as the one to find a permanent solution for the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes, may never even happen if members fail to implement each and every part of the Bali Package, including the trade facilitation agreement.”
Azevedo restated what he has said in the past that India and the developing countries’ concerns on food security have been addressed in the Bali package, which extended a “safe harbor” period prohibiting challenges against the controversial programs while committing to hold talks to find a permanent fix.
“Failing to agree on new rules for twenty years is a very disturbing record. Considerably graver than that is not being able to implement what has been finally agreed only a few months earlier. The question that WTO members are trying to answer is not whether members can ensure their food security but rather under which commonly agreed disciplines they can implement policies to achieve this goal without further distorting trade or aggravating the food insecurity of third countries.”
On September 30th, however, in his first meeting with President Obama, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday reaffirmed his government’s position in the ongoing fight to implement a World Trade Organization trade facilitation pact, linking his support for the deal to action on food security issues. Modi made clear that India is not backing down from the push to shield its food security programs from legal challenges, which led the WTO to miss the July 31 deadline to implement the Trade Facilitation Agreement.
After the meeting with President Obama, Modi tweeted that “We had an open discussion on WTO issue. We support trade facilitation, but a solution that takes care of our food security must be found.” Speaking to reporters through a translator alongside Obama, Modi also said he believed it would be possible to resolve the impasse “soon.”
On September 29th, the WTO cited little progress following a Sept (PCTF) meeting, nearly two months after the advance the trade facilitation plan over concerns related to India’s food safety demands.
On October 1st, at the WTO’s 2014 public forum, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the World Trade Organization to overcome its internal fights and reach a deal on new global trade rules, including the Trade Facilitation Agreement, warning that the rise of regional trade pacts could undermine the WTO and leave developing nations way behind. Secretary General Ban said that the WTO’s mission to eliminate trade barriers is a key driver of the UN’s own initiatives to promote global development. He called for a renewed commitment to the long-stalled Doha round of trade negotiations. Ban said:
“Trade can — and should — benefit everyone. That is why the international community needs to avoid protectionism. We need an open, fair, rules-based and development-oriented international trading regime in the spirit of the Doha Development Round.”
WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo also spoke at the forum:
“Trade has become a matter of headlines and high politics once again. Now, more than ever, our work here has the potential to touch the lives of almost everyone on this planet.”
TIRES FROM CHINA ANTIDUMPING AND COUNTERVAILING DUTY CASE
Led by Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina, 31 Democratic US Senators wrote the attached letter, 31 DEMOCRATIC SENATORS BACK TIRES CASE, to Secretary Penny Pritzker of the Commerce Department in support of the Tires case from China. The 31 Senators stated:
“We are writing in strong support of the Department’s decision to initiate antidumping and countervailing duty investigations of passenger vehicle and light truck tires from China.
As you well know, China has targeted the passenger vehicle and light truck tire sector for development and there are several hundred tire manufacturing facilities now operating in that country. In 2009, the United Steelworkers (USW) filed a Section 421 petition seeking relief from a flood of similar tires from China that were injuring our producers and their workers. That petition was successful and the relief that was provided helped to restore market conditions. Employment stabilized and companies producing here invested billions of dollars in new plant and equipment.
Unfortunately, shortly after relief expired, imports of these tires from China once again skyrocketed. Since the Section 421 relief ended in 2012, imports from China have roughly doubled. In response, on June 3, 2014, the United Steelworkers (USW) filed petitions with the Department alleging dumping and subsidies. The Steelworkers’ petitions identified dumping margins as high as 87.99 percent and provided sufficient information for the Department to initiate an investigation on 39 separate subsidies available to tire producers in China.
Our laws need to be fairly and faithfully enforced to ensure that workers – our constituents – can be confident that, when they work hard and play by the rules, their government will stand by their side to fight foreign predatory trade practices. Thousands of workers across the country are employed in this sector, making the best tires available.
America’s laws against unfair trade are a critical underpinning of our economic policies and economic prosperity. Given the chance, American workers can out-compete anyone. But, in the face of China’s continual targeting of our manufacturing base, we need to make sure that we act quickly and enforce our laws. That is what we are asking and urge you and your Department carefully analyze the facts and act to restore fair conditions for trade.”
Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina is in a tough reelection fight, which led to her effort to support her constituent, the Union and the Goodyear plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
TOUGHER TRADE LAWS??
On Wednesday October 1, 2014, in the attached press release, BROWN, Democratic U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio announced at Byer Steel Group, a US rebar producer, in Cincinnati new legislation that would help level the playing field for American manufacturers by strengthening the ability of the U.S. to crack down on unfair foreign competition resulting from violations of trade law. Senator Brown stated:
“As American manufacturing continues its steady comeback, it is critical that we fully enforce our trade laws to ensure that American companies – like Byer Steel – can compete on a level playing field. That’s why the Leveling the Playing Field Act is so important. We must fight back against foreign companies’ efforts to weaken our trade laws and exploit loopholes. And that’s exactly what the Leveling the Playing Field Act does. I look forward to working with my colleagues in a bipartisan fashion to get this bill passed.”
CIRCUMVENTION OF ALUMINUM EXTRUSIONS ORDER??
As a follow up to the May 8th letter by Senator Mitch McConnell reported in my last newsletter, on August 14th, Senator Orrin Hatch sent the attached letter, HATCH LETTER ALUMINUM, to Paul Piquado, Assistant Secretary for Enforcement & Compliance, at the Commerce Department, expressing his concerns of circumvention of the antidumping and countervailing duty orders on Aluminum Extrusions. In the letter, Senator Hatch stated:
“Futura Industries and its 327 employees based in Clearfield, Utah is among the U.S. companies affected by the Chinese products found to be dumped and subsidized. I understand that the Department is currently conducting two scope inquiries related to imports of 5000-series alloy aluminum extrusions in place of the 6000-series alloy aluminum extrusions to which the orders apply. I urge you to apply all applicable laws and regulations in making the Department’s scope rulings.”
On August 19th, Congressman Sessions sent a similar attached letter, SESSIONS LTR, to Assistant Secretary Paul Piquado on behalf of his constituent Texas Western Extrusions Corporation and its 700 employees expressing deep concern by recent reports of unfair trade practices from China in exporting the 5000-series alloy aluminum extrusions that once again are “threatening Texas jobs.
On September 8, 2014, it was reported that numerous members of Congress have urged the U.S. Department of Commerce to rule that the so-called “5000 series” of extrusions currently being shipped into the U.S. should be covered by the aluminum extrusions antidumping and countervailing orders.
On September 4, 2014, Assistant Secretary for Enforcement and Compliance Paul Piquado in the attached letter, ALUMINUN COMMERCE RESPONSE, to the lawmakers assured them that the agency is “committed to the robust enforcement of the trade remedy laws” to help provide U.S. firms and workers the opportunity to “compete on a level playing field.” The Assistant Secretary also stated that his office is aiming to reach a decision in its probes by Oct. 8.
STEEL WIRE ROD FROM CHINA PRELIMINARY ANTIDUMPING DETERMINATION
On September 2, 2014, in the attached factual statement, factsheet-prc-carbon-alloy-steel-wire-rod-ad-prelim-090214, the Department of Commerce (Commerce) announced its affirmative preliminary determination in the antidumping duty (AD) investigation of imports of carbon and certain alloy steel wire rod from the People’s Republic of China (China). Since the Chinese companies failed to respond to the Commerce Department’s questionnaire, they received a preliminary dumping margin of 110.25 percent with the separate rate steel companies receiving a preliminary dumping rate of 106.19 percent.
CAFC AFFIRMS THE IMPORTANCE OF SEPARATE RATES FOR CHINESE EXPORTERS AS OPPOSED TO PRODUCERS
On September 10, 2014, in the attached Michaels Stores, Inc. v. United States case, CAFC MICHAELS CHINESE EXPORTERS NEED TO GET THEIR OWN RATE, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“CAFC”) restated the importance of Chinese exporters, including trading companies, getting their own antidumping rates and that the importer, in fact, confirm that the Chinese exporter has a separate rate. In the case, Michaels, a US importer, assumed that the since the Chinese producer had an antidumping rate, that rate applied to the Chinese exporter. Not true. As the CAFC stated:
“Indeed, it has been Commerce’s policy since 1991 to apply a country-wide rate to all exporters doing business in the PRC unless the exporter (not the manufacturer) establishes de jure and de facto independence from state control in an administrative review proceeding. . . . This court has endorsed this presumption on multiple occasions. . . .
Michaels has not demonstrated that Commerce’s interpretations of the regulation in practice are plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation. Because a noncombination rate for the exporter was established as the PRC-wide rate of 114.90%, Michaels could not rely on its producer rates as a substitute. Were we to conclude otherwise, Michaels could circumvent its antidumping obligations by buying pencils from a state-controlled exporter at a discounted price and then use the antidumping rate associated with its non-state controlled manufacturer.”
OCTOBER ANTIDUMPING ADMINISTRATIVE REVIEWS
On October 1, 2014, Commerce published in the Federal Register the attached notice, OCT REVIEWS, regarding antidumping and countervailing duty cases for which reviews can be requested in the month of October. The specific antidumping cases against China are: Barium Carbonate, Barium Chloride, Electrolytic Manganese Dioxide, Helical Spring Lock Washers, Polyvinyl Alcohol, and Steel Wire Garment Hangers. No countervailing duty cases were listed
For those US import companies that imported Electrolytic Manganese Dioxide, Helical Spring Lock Washers, Polyvinyl Alcohol, and Steel Wire Garment Hangers and the other products listed above from China during the antidumping period October 1, 2013-September 30, 2014 or if this is the First Review Investigation, for imports imported after the Commerce Department preliminary determinations in the initial investigation, the end of this month is a very important deadline. Requests have to be filed at the Commerce Department by the Chinese suppliers, the US importers and US industry by the end of this month to participate in the administrative review.
This is a very important month for US importers because administrative reviews determine how much US importers actually owe in Antidumping and Countervailing Duty cases. Generally, the US industry will request a review of all Chinese companies. If a Chinese company does not respond in the Commerce Department’s Administrative Review, its antidumping and countervailing duty rate could well go to the highest level and for certain imports the US importer will be retroactively liable for the difference plus interest.
In my experience, many US importers do not realize the significance of the administrative review investigations. They think the antidumping and countervailing duty case is over because the initial investigation is over. Many importers are blindsided because their Chinese supplier did not respond in the administrative review, and the US importers find themselves liable for millions of dollars in retroactive liability. Recently in the Shrimp from China antidumping case, for example, almost 100 Chinese exporters were denied a separate antidumping rate.
DUELING US AND CHINA WTO APPEALS
As mentioned in the prior post, on July 14, 2014, in a decision and summary, which is posted on my blog, the WTO upheld China’s claims that certain US countervailing duty cases against China were inconsistent with the WTO Agreement. On August 22nd, China filed a notice of appeal at the WTO with regards to the remaining cases, followed by the US notice of appeal on August 27th.
Both appeals are taking issue with the initial WTO panel’s finding on the uses of all facts available (“AFA”) in countervailing duty cases against China. Commerce based its AFA determinations on the failure of the Chinese government to provide adequate information to Commerce to make a determination on certain programs of the Chinese government.
In the initial panel ruling, while the US won on China’s challenge to AFA findings, the US lost on several other issues, including the Commerce Department’s use of out of China benchmarks to measure the subsidies and the Commerce Department determination that every state-owned company, in fact, is part of the Chinese government, even if it does not function as a governmental entity. In the initial panel decision, the WTO panel determined that Commerce’s decision to automatically find that state owned enterprises (SOEs) to be part of the government and “public” bodies, which therefore constituted “government involvement” in the market, was a violation of the Countervailing Duty Agreement. The US did not appeal this decision by the WTO initial panel and, therefore, is final and a loss for the US government.
The US alleges that Chinese government made procedural errors in appealing the cases to the WTO, including the failure to specify which AFA determinations were being appealed. The initial panel ruling rejected the US argument stating, “While we have some sympathy for the United States’ position, namely that more detail could have been provided in the panel request regarding what in particular about the manner in which the United States resorted to and used facts available is allegedly inconsistent with Article 12.7 of the SCM Agreement, we are not convinced that Article 6.2 of the DSU requires this,”
During the panel proceedings, China had argued that because Commerce cannot automatically assume that State Owned Enterprises/Companies are public bodies for the purposes of Article 1.1(a)(1), it should also not automatically assume that market conditions are distorted just because a State-Owned Company is involved in the marketplace. The initial panel decision, however, did not directly address this issue raised by the Chinese government and is now being appealed by China. The initial panel stated:
“In our view, some determinations are based on the market share of government-owned/controlled firms in domestic production alone, others on adverse facts available, others on the market share of the government plus the existence of low level of imports and/or export restraints.”
China is also asking on appeal that the WTO overturn the panel’s finding affirming the Commerce Department’s methodology for determining whether a subsidy is specific to an enterprise or group of enterprises within a certain region.
NEW ANTIDUMPING AND COUNTERVAILING DUTY CASE AGAINST BOLTLESS STEEL SHELVING FROM CHINA
On August 26, 2014, Edsall Manufacturing filed a new AD and CVD case against Boltless Steel Shelving from China. The alleged Antidumping rates are 33 to 267%.
RUSSIA—US SANCTIONS AS A RESULT OF UKRAINE CRISIS
On September 3, 2014, I spoke in Vancouver Canada on the US Sanctions against Russia, which are substantial, at an event sponsored by Deloitte Tax Law and the Canadian, Eurasian and Russian Business Association (“CERBA”). Attached are copies of the powerpoint for the speech and a description of our Russian/Ukrainian/Latvian Trade Practice for US importers and exporters. US SANCTIONS RUSSIA RUSSIAN TRADE PRACTICE
There is a great deal of confusion and uncertainty surrounding business with Russian companies. As sanctions continue to expand against Russia, any company interested in doing business with Russia must constantly check the regulations and hire legal counsel. Every single transaction with Russian entities is a potential target of the sanctions, and, therefore, any US company interested in doing business with Russia must be extremely vigilant. The US regulations mirror regulations in Canada and the EU, but there are differences.
There are two groups of US regulations. The most powerful regulations are administered by Treasury—Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”). A second group of regulations have been issued by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) blocking exports of certain energy-sector technologies.
With regards to the sanctions administered by OFAC, US Presidential Executive Orders 13660, 13661, and 13662 define how U.S. Government will identify targets of sanctions (e.g., financial services, energy, metals and mining, engineering, and defense sectors and government agencies and officials).
The specific OFAC regulations regarding Ukraine are set forth in 31 CFR 589 –”Blocking”/“Asset Freezing” sanctions prohibiting transactions with specific persons and entities. Attached are the Ukraine regulations, UKRAINE RELATED SANCTIONS REGULATIONS, but they do change as the sanctions evolve.
Pursuant to the OFAC regulations, U.S. persons are prohibited from conducting transactions, dealings, or business with Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDNs). A US person must also block the property or interest in property of SDNs that they hold or that is located in the United States. The blocked persons list can be found at http://sdnsearch.ofac.treas.gov/. See also: www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/programs/pages/ukraine.aspx . The list includes the Russian company, United Shipbuilding, and a number of Russian Banks, including Bank Rossiya, SMP Bank, Bank of Moscow, Gazprombank OAO, Russian Agricultural Bank, VEB, and VTB Bank.
When such SDN property is blocked, it must be reported to OFAC within 10 days, and cannot be dealt in by U.S. persons without prior authorization from OFAC. Civil penalties are up to $250,000 or 2x transaction value, per violation (strict liability regime); criminal fine up to $1 million, and/or up to 20 years in prison.
On July 29, 2014, OFAC issued a new “Sectoral Sanctions Identification List” (the “SSI List”) that identifies specific Russian persons and entities covered by these sectoral sanctions. See www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/SDN-List/pages/ssi_list.aspx. U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in certain transactions with persons and entities on the SSI List, but are not required to “freeze” or “block” property or interests in property of such persons and entities as if they were SDNs.
Specifically U.S. persons are prohibited from:
“transacting in, providing financing for, or otherwise dealing in new debt of longer than 90 days maturity or new equity for these persons … their property, or their interests in property. All other transactions with these persons or involving any property in which one or more of these persons has an interest are permitted, provided such transactions do not otherwise involve property or interests in property of a person blocked pursuant to Executive Orders 13660, 13661, or 13662, or any other sanctions programs implemented by the Office of Foreign Assets Control [i.e., an SDN]”
General OFAC policy restrictive measures apply automatically to any entity owned 50% or more by SDN, even if the entity is not specifically named as SDN.
Even if company is not on SDN/SSI list, a US company wishing to do a transaction with a Russian company needs to determine in writing whether the company is 50% or more owned by any SDN or controlled by an SDN. As OFAC has stated in its announcement:
“U.S. persons are advised to act with caution when considering a transaction with a non-blocked entity in which one or more blocked persons has a significant ownership interest that is less than 50 percent or which one or more blocked persons may control by means other than a majority ownership interest”
Thus companies or persons on the SSI list may become named SDNs in the future. SSI and SDN Lists are not static but evolving. Lists will likely expand and have expanded based on Russian behavior in Ukraine. Everything could change overnight. Do not rely on a dated list. Keep checking.
The regulations are extremely complicated and nothing is straight forward. Thus, each transaction with a Russian company must be examined closely in detail and will be very fact specific. The devil in these regs is definitely in the details.
The US and EU sanctions also are affecting the Russian economy as indicated by the fact that VTB, Russia’s second-largest bank, sold 214 billion rubles ($5.4 billion) worth of preferred shares to Russia’s finance ministry because the sanctions have made it more difficult for the Bank to borrow overseas.
Meanwhile on August 6, 2014, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued new sanctions blocking exports of certain energy-sector technologies. Commerce will now require an export license for items used in deepwater, Arctic offshore, or shale projects to produce oil or gas in Russia. Items subject to a license denial under the rule include drilling rigs, horizontal drilling parts, drilling and completion equipment, and subsea processing equipment. Commerce issued no savings clause, which means if the items are on a freighter on the way to Russia, they have to be called back.
On September 11, 2014, the US and the European Union announced new restrictions on Russian access to capital market. The new sanctions target Russian financial, energy and defense companies and make it more difficult to make loans to the five Russian state-owned banks, by tightening debt financing restrictions by reducing the maturity period of the new debt issued by those institutions from 90 days to 30 days. The companies targeted in the new round of OFAC sanctions include OAO Gazprom, Roseneft, Lukoil OAO, pipeline operator, Transneft, and Rostec, a Russian institution dealing in industrial technology products, along with the nation’s largest financial institution, Sberbank of Russia.
OFAC also added another set of Commerce export restrictions on certain oil development technologies by broadening the scope of the items that are banned and adding Gazprom, Lukoil and three other energy firms to the list of specifically banned export destinations.
“Today’s step … will impede Russia’s ability to develop so-called frontier or unconventional oil resources, areas in which Russian firms are heavily dependent on U.S. and western technology. While these sanctions do not target or interfere with the current supply of energy from Russia or prevent Russian companies from selling oil and gas to any country, they make it difficult for Russia to develop long-term, technically challenging future projects.”
These new sanctions come close to cutting off entire sectors of the Russian economy. In practice, U.S. financial institutions will likely treat any transaction with a listed bank as a rejection. The new measures materially restrict access to American and European debt markets for the targeted financial institutions and defense firms. The U.S. actions now bar affected Russian institutions from the American debt markets for loans over 30 days, meaning that while they will still be able to conduct day-in, day-out business with overnight loans, it will be significantly harder to finance medium- and long-term activity.
The sanctions have already had an impact on oil projects. On September 19, 2014 ExxonMobil announced that it is stopping work on an offshore oil well in the Arctic Ocean it is jointly developing with Russian oil giant OAO Rosneft in order to comply with the escalating sanctions.
In addition to the OFAC and Commerce sanctions against Russia, on July 18, 2014 a massive arbitration award was issued by arbitral tribunal in The Hague under Permanent Court of Arbitration. The Court unanimously held that the Russian Federation breached its international obligations under the Energy Charter Treaty by destroying Yukos Oil Company and Yukos shareholders and awarded the shareholders $50 billion.
There is now a legal search for Russian Federation assets to pay off the award. Yukos lawyers will be able to enforce the arbitration award in any of the 150 countries bound by the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.
TREK LEATHER—WHEN ARE OWNERS LIABLE FOR DUTIES OWED BY COMPANIES AS IMPORTERS OF RECORD
On September 16, 2014, in the attached United States v. Trek Leather, Inc. case, CAFC TREK LEATHER DECISION, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (“CAFC”) in an “en banc” decision made by all the judges in the CAFC held that the President of an importing company may be held personally liable for submitting false information to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
In the decision, the entire CAFC reversed the earlier panel’s determination that only the importer of record could be liable for penalties, not the owner of the company. Prior to the decision, importers assumed that the owner could be personally liable only if Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) pierced the corporate veil of the import company. In this case, however, the CAFC found the owner, Shadadpuri, himself liable for gross negligence for submitting documentation to CBP that understated the value of more than 70 imports of men’s suits in 2004, even though only the company, and not its president, was listed as the importer of record.
As the CAFC stated:
“Recognizing that a defendant is a “person,” of course, is only the first step in determining liability for a violation of either of the subparagraphs. What is critical is the defendant’s conduct. The two subparagraphs of section 1592(a)(1) proscribe certain acts and omissions. . . .
What Mr. Shadadpuri did comes within the commonsense, flexible understanding of the “introduce” language of section 1592(a)(1)(A). He “imported men’s suits through one or more of his companies.” . . . .While suits invoiced to one company were in transit, he “caused the shipments of the imported merchandise to be transferred” to Trek by “direct[ing]” the customs broker to make the transfer. . . . Himself and through his aides, he sent manufacturers’ invoices to the customs broker for the broker’s use in completing the entry filings to secure release of the merchandise from CBP custody into United States commerce. . . . By this activity, he did everything short of the final step of preparing the CBP Form 7501s and submitting them and other required papers to make formal entry. He thereby “introduced” the suits into United States commerce.
Applying the statute to Mr. Shadadpuri does not require any piercing of the corporate veil. Rather, we hold that Mr. Shadadpuri’s own acts come within the language of subparagraph (A). It is longstanding agency law that an agent who actually commits a tort is generally liable for the tort along with the principal, even though the agent was acting for the principal. . . . That rule applies, in particular, when a corporate officer is acting for the corporation. . . .
We see no basis for reading section 1592(a)(1)(A) to depart from the core principle, reflected in that background law, that a person who personally commits a wrongful act is not relieved of liability because the person was acting for another. . . . That is as far as we go or need to go in this case. We do not hold Mr. Shadadpuri liable because of his prominent officer or owner status in a corporation that committed a subparagraph (A) violation. We hold him liable because he personally committed a violation of subparagraph (A).”
ACTIVATED CARBON—THE IMPORTANCE OF DEADLINES WHEN APPEALING FROM CUSTOMS LIQUIDATIONS
On September 8, 2014, the Court of International Trade in the attached Carbon Activated Corp. v. United States case, CARBON ACTIVATED CORP PROTEST FAILS, dismissed the appeal finding that the Court did not have jurisdiction because of missed deadlines. As the Court stated:
“Here, subsection (a) would have been available to Plaintiff because the correct avenue for challenges to liquidations is first to lodge a protest with Customs within 180 days of the liquidation and then to challenge any denial of that protest in this court. . . . Plaintiff filed a protest but it did so three years after the alleged erroneous liquidation. It is established that “a remedy is not inadequate simply because [a party] failed to invoke it within the time frame it prescribes.” . . .Accordingly, Plaintiff had an adequate remedy for its alleged erroneous liquidation, but it lost that remedy because its protest was untimely, not because the remedy was inadequate.
It is a tenet of customs law that the importer has a duty to monitor liquidation of entries. . . . Plaintiff concedes this point. . . Therefore Plaintiff’s claim that it “was first made aware [in June 2012] that these three entries had been erroneously liquidated as entered in April and May of 2008” is insufficient to extend the statute of limitations. . . . Plaintiff has the duty to monitor the liquidation of its entries, and a statutory remedy is in place to challenge any erroneous liquidations for a diligent importer who complies with this duty. Plaintiff’s failure to pursue that remedy in a timely manner does not fall under the rubric of “manifestly inadequate” and therefore Plaintiff cannot invoke subsection (i) jurisdiction in this case.”
FALSE CLAIMS ACT
In the attached false claims act case, PIPES FCA CASE, on September 4, 2014, in United States of America: Civil Action ex rel. Customs Fraud Investigations v. Vitaulic Company, a Federal District Court dismissed a false claims act case ruling there wasn’t enough evidence supporting allegations the pipe fittings manufacturer knowingly filed false documents to evade U.S. customs duties.
IP/PATENT AND 337 CASES
There have been developments at the US International Trade Commission (“ITC”) in 337 cases and patent area.
SANCTIONS AGAINST UPI SEMICONDUCTOR
On September 25, 2014, the CAFC in the attached UPI Semiconductor Corp. v. United States, UPI SEMICONDUCTORS CAFC DECISION, affirmed a decision of the US International Trade Commission to impose penalties on UPI for violation of a consent order in a 337 patent case. The CAFC stated:
“Before the court are the appeal of respondent intervenor UPI Semiconductor Corp. (“UPI”) and the companion appeal of complainant-intervenors Richtek Technology Corp. and Richtek USA, Inc. (together “Richtek”) from rulings of the International Trade Commission in an action to enforce a Consent Order, Certain DC-DC Controllers and Products Containing Same, Inv. No. 337-TA-698 (75 Fed. Reg. 446). We affirm the Commission’s ruling that UPI violated the Consent Order as to the imports known as “formerly accused products,” and affirm the modified penalty for that violation. We reverse the ruling of no violation as to the “post-Consent Order” products. The case is remanded for further proceedings in accordance with our rulings herein.”
MADE IN THE USA—FTC AND FALSE ADVERTISING PROBLEM
On October 1, 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Made in US requirement has escalated because of stricter requirements by the State of California. FTC guidelines state that an unqualified “Made in USA” label can go on any goods that are “all or virtually all” made domestically in the United States, but the words “virtually all” are open to interpretation based on the specific facts of the case.
But California has stricter guidelines than the FTC requiring the entire product to be made in the US. If even one small part of a product is foreign, California state law says calling the product “Made in the USA” amounts to false advertising. This law has provoked a number of consumer/class action lawsuits filed in California against US manufacturers.
As one example, a maker of helium tanks designed to be used at children’s parties was sued because it started packing imported balloons with the equipment. In another case, a California company was sued because it produces Maglite flashlights that use imported small rubber rings and light bulbs from abroad.
The California law was passed in 1961 to shield domestic producers from competitors who might get a pricing edge by using large amounts of cheap imported parts to manufacture goods labeled “Made in USA.” The problem is that it has become increasingly difficult to avoid using at least some imported content in a US product.
SECTION 337 COMPLAINTS
NEW 337 COMPLAINT AGAINST FOOTWARE PRODUCTS FROM CHINA
Today, October 14th, Converse Inc. filed a new 337 IP case against footware products/sneakers from China for infringement of Converse’s registered and common law trademarks. Relevant parts of the petition are attached. LONG 337 FOOTWEAR PETITION The ITC notice of the petition is set forth below.
Docket No: 3034
Document Type: 337 Complaint
Filed By: V. James Adduci, II
Firm/Org: Adduci, Mastriani and Schaumberg
Behalf Of: Converse Inc.
Date Received: October 14, 2014
Commodity: Footwear Products
Description: Letter to Lisa R. Barton, Secretary, USITC; requesting that the Commission conduct an investigation under section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930, as amended, regarding Certain Footwear Products . The proposed respondents are: Skechers U.S.A., Inc., Manhattan Beach, CA; Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Bentonville, AR; A-List, Inc., d/b/a Kitson, Los Angeles, CA; Aldo Group, Canada; Brian Lichtenberg, LLC, Los Angeles, CA; Cmerit USA, Inc., d/b/a Gotta Flurt, Chino, CA; Dioniso SRL, Italy; Edamame Kids, Inc., Canada; Esquire Footwear, LLC, New York, NY; FILA U.S.A., Inc., Sparks, MD; Fortune Dynamic, Inc., City of Industry, CA; Gina Group, LLC, New York, NY; H & M Hennes & Mauritz LP, New York, NY; Highline United LLC d/b/a Ash Footwear USA, New York, NY; Hitch Enterprises Pty Ltd d/b/a Skeanie Unit 3, Australia; Iconix Brand Group, Inc., d/b/a Ed Hardy, New York, NY; Kmart Corporation, Hoffman Estates, IL; Mamiye Imports LLC d/b/a Lilly of New York, Brooklyn, NY; Nowhere Co., Ltd. d/b/a Bape, Japan; OPPO Original Corp., City of Industry, CA; Orange Clubwear, Inc., d/b/a Demonia Deviant, Westminster, CA; Ositos Shoes, Inc., d/b/a Collection’O, South El Monte,CA; PW Shoes Inc., Maspeth, NY; Ralph Lauren Corporation, New York, NY; Shenzhen Foreversun Industrial Co., Ltd (a/k/a Shenzhen Foreversun Shoes Co., Ltd), China; Shoe Shox., Seattle, Washington; Tory Burch LLC, New York, NY; Zulily, Inc., Seattle, Washington; Fujian Xinya I & E Trading Co., Ltd., China; Zhejiang Ouhai International Trade Co., Ltd., China; and Wenzhou Cereals Oils & Foodstuffs Foreign Trade Co., Ltd., China.
Status: Pending Institution
On the same day that Converse filed the section 337 case, it also filed the attached trademark complaint for damages in the Federal District Court in Brooklyn. CONVERSE FOOTWEAR FED CT COMPLAINT
PERSONAL TRANSPORTERS FROM CHINA
On September 9, 2014, Segway filed a major 337 patent case against imports of personal transporters from a number of Chinese companies in Beijing and Shenzhen. The ITC notice is below and the relevant parts of the Petition are attached, SHORT PERSONAL TRANSPORTERS 337 Complaint. Segway is requesting a general exclusion order to exclude all personal transporters from China and other countries and also cease and desist orders to stop importers from selling infringing personal transporters in their inventory.
The proposed respondents are: PowerUnion (Beijing) Tech Co. Ltd., Beijing; UPTECH Robotics Technology Co., Ltd., Beijing; Beijing Universal Pioneering Robotics Co., Ltd., Beijing; Beijing Universal Pioneering Technology Co., Ltd., Beijing; Ninebot Inc.,(in China) Beijing; Ninebot Inc., Newark, DE; Shenzhen INMOTION Technologies Co., Ltd., Guangdong; Robstep Robot Co., Ltd., Guangdong; FreeGo High-Tech Corporation Limited, Shenzhen; Freego USA, LLC, Sibley, IA; Tech in the City, Honolulu, HI; and Roboscooters.com, Laurel Hill, NC.
Chinese companies must respond to the complaint in about 60 days, 30 days for Institution and 30 days from service of complaint. If the Chinese companies fail to respond, they can be found in default and exclusion orders against their products can be issued.
If anyone has questions about this compliant, please feel free to contact me.
Dorsey & Whitney has substantial expertise in the patent and 337 areas. Recently, we were able to win a major 337 case for a Japanese company in the Point-to Point Network Communication Devices 337 case.
PATENT AND IP CASES IN GENERAL
NEW PATENT AND TRADEMARK CASES AGAINST CHINESE AND TAIWAN COMPANIES
On September 23, 2014, BASF Corp. filed a patent infringement case against SNF Holding Company, Flopam Inc., Chemtall Inc., SNF SAS, SNF (China) Flocculant Co., Ltd. BASF
On October 6, 2014, Hewlett-Packard Co. filed a patent case against Ninestar Image Tech Ltd., Ninestar Technology, Co., Ltd. and Apex Microelectronics Co., Ltd. for infringement of HP’s patents on printer cartridges. Ninestar is located in Shenzhen and has been the target of a section 337 patent case involving similar technology. NINESTAR NEW PATENT CASE
On September 2, 2014, Cephalon, Inc. filed a patent infringement case for drugs against Nang Kuang Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. in Taiwan and Canda NK-1, LLC. TAIWAN GENERIC DRUGS
Complaints are attached above.
CHINESE PATENT CASES
In the attached report in English and Chinese, ACTUAL ABA COMMENTS CHINESE AND ENGLISH, the American Bar Association (“ABA”) ABA antitrust, intellectual property and international law sections raised concerns on judicial interpretations from China’s highest court regarding certain patent infringement trial issues, concerns about some proposed claims rules and also other patent issues.
One concern is that under the drafted requirement, when there are two or more claims in a patent, a patent holder would be required to specify the infringed claim in the complaint, according to the comments. But if the owner doesn’t point out which claim is infringed, the court would presume all of the independent claims were alleged to be infringed. The ABA sections, however, said that such a requirement might “deter meritorious claims” particularly because the infringement details might be controlled by the alleged infringer.
Finally, the ABA sections are also concerned about the Chinese draft that appeared to impose compulsory licensing obligations when having an accused infringer stop practicing the relevant patents would either harm the public interest or cause a “serious interest imbalance between the parties.”
Recently US companies have argued that China has made it more difficult for US owners of pharmaceutical patents to provide supplemental information to fend of certain legal challenges. U.S. companies are now reporting an increasing number of cases where they are being barred from providing such additional information if their drug patents are challenged for a different reason.
During the December 2013 JCCT meeting, the U.S. government complained to the Chinese government it was holding up or invalidating pharmaceutical patents by charging that the application contained insufficient information to meet the requirements of Article 26.3 of Chinese patent law, without allowing brand-name companies to supplement information after the initial filing. According to Commerce, at the JCCT, the Chinese government pledged that patent applicants could supplement their initial data submissions, and it has made progress toward implementing that commitment. Recently, however, it appears that the Chinese government may be back sliding on that commitment.
CHINA RESTRICTIONS ON US FOOD PRODUCTS
On Aug. 22, 2014 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that California citrus farmers will be able to resume exports to China this season. A series of scientific exchanges between the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine (AQSIQ) resulted in an agreement for California citrus to again be exported to China. APHIS and USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service worked closely with the U.S. citrus industry to ensure the successful outcome.
In April 2013, California-origin citrus was suspended from entering the Chinese market due to interceptions of brown rot (Phytophthora syringae), a soil fungus that affects stored fruit. Over the next year, USDA worked with China to address China’s plant health concerns and reopen the market for California citrus exports.
In a statement following the USDA announcement, Western Growers Association Executive Vice President Matt McInerney said China was the third-largest market for California citrus exports before the ban. The USDA release said California citrus exports have a total annual value of $30 million.
On September 15th, it was announced that USDA and USTR officials were in Beijing to discuss the implementation of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and in particular a meeting of the sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) working group of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce Trade (JCCT), where the agenda will likely touch upon issues like China’s ban on U.S. beef and its regulatory process for approving biotechnology traits. China closed its beef market to U.S. exports due to a 2003 outbreak of bovine spongiform encelopathy (BSE) – or “mad cow” disease — and has since set a number of preconditions for opening it, including a U.S. livestock traceability system.
Early in September, nineteen 19 Senators urged USTR Michael Froman to act on the Chinese government’s rejection of U.S. shipments of dried distillers grains that contained traces of an unapproved biotech trait. In the attached letter, SENATE LETTER DISTILLER GRAINS, the 19 Senators stated:
“We write you to convey our strong concerns over recent action taken by the Chinese government to reject U.S. export shipments of dried distillers grains (DDGs) that contain traces of a U.S. approved trait, which has been under regulatory consideration by the Chinese government. We urge you to work with China to restore the flow of trade as quickly as possible and to develop a more consistent set of rules governing the trade of new crop technologies between the two countries.
As you know, China is the top destination for U.S. exports of DDGs, totaling four million tons valued at $1.6 billion in 2013. Every link in the DDGs supply chain-including ethanol producers, corn farmers, and shippers-have already incurred significant economic damages due to these actions by the Chinese government.
The trade disruption in DDGs is yet another example of the regulatory challenges industry has faced with China since it began blocking U.S. corn shipments in November 2013. We encourage you to work closely with China to promote a science-driven review process for agricultural biotechnology that issues determinations without undue delay, consistent with WTO member country obligations.
As biotech products are a key component of U.S. agricultural trade with China, including exports of DOGs, achieving greater cooperation between the two countries on trade issues involving new crop technologies is essential to maintaining our position as the leading agricultural exporter worldwide.
We look forward to continuing to work with you to strengthen our trade relationship with China in agriculture.”
CHINESE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES
US INVESTMENT IN CHINA
Dorsey recently published the attached short brochure, DORSEY CHINA INVESTMENT BROCHURE, on issues that foreign companies and individuals face when investing in China.
As stated in the brochure,
“Despite the global financial crisis, foreign direct investment into China continues to grow. With China recently overtaking Japan as the world’s 2nd largest economy, foreign investment into China looks set to continue its rise. Nonetheless, foreign investors need to be aware of a number of crucial factors.”
The brochure then goes into details about the following area: Restrictions on Foreign Ownership, Business Vehicles, Approval & Registration, Capital Requirements, Shareholder & Director Nationality, Management Structure, Directors’ Liability, Parent Company Liability, Work/Residency Permits, Thin Capitalization Rules, Competition, Restrictions in the Financial Services Sector, Governing Law of Documents.
ANTITRUST– VITAMIN C, MAGNESITE AND AU OPTRONICS
There have been major developments in the antitrust area both in the United States and more importantly in China.
TAIWAN LCDS CASE
On September 5, 2014, the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission filed the attached brief, AU OPTRONICS BRIEF, in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in the Motorola Mobility LLC v. AU Optronics case, the Taiwan LCDs case. In that case, the Seventh Circuit vacated its March 2014 decision that Motorola’s case did not show direct effect on US Commerce sufficient to satisfy the Foreign Trade Improvements Act (“FTAIA”).
In the case Motorola sought damages for antitrust overcharges based on allegedly price fixed LCD panels that were manufactured and purchased overseas, but later incorporated into goods sold in the United States. In their brief, the DOJ and the FTC argued that the 7th Circuit should hold that an overseas conspiracy to fix prices on the component of a finished product that is sold in the US can yield liability under the FTAIA. The DOJ and the FTC argue in their brief:
“The FTAIA makes clear that the Sherman Act does not apply to conduct that adversely affects only foreign markets, but it also ensures that purchasers in the United States remain fully protected by the federal antitrust laws. This Court should not erode this protection.
Conduct involving import commerce is excluded from FTAIA’s coverage, and the Sherman Act thus applies fully to such conduct. This import-commerce exclusion is not limited to circumstances in which the defendants are importers or specifically “target” U.S. import commerce. A price-fixing conspiracy can involve import commerce even if the price-fixed product is physically imported by a third party or if the defendants did not focus on U.S. imports. A narrower interpretation of the exclusion would undermine the FTAIA’s purpose to protect purchasers in the United States.
The LCD price-fixing conspiracy involved import commerce because defendants fixed the price of LCD panels sold for delivery to the United States. Yet, this does not, by itself, entitle Motorola to recover damages for overcharges on all its panel purchases. But it does allow the government to bring criminal and civil enforcement actions. Unlike civil damage claims, in which courts should differentiate among claims based on the underlying transactions, government enforcement actions seek to prosecute or enjoin violations of law, not to obtain damages compensating for particular injuries.
The price-fixing conspiracy also affected import and domestic commerce in cellphones by raising their price. This effect is not only substantial and reasonably foreseeable, but also direct. The natural and probable consequence of increasing the price of a significant component like LCD panels is to increase the price of cellphones that incorporate those panels. A contrary holding risks constraining the government’s ability to prosecute offshore component price fixing that threatens massive harm to U.S. commerce and consumers.
While the government may prosecute conduct that has the requisite effect under Section 6a(1), Section 6a(2) requires that the effect “give rise to [plaintiff’s] claim,” and thus limits what injuries are redressable by damages claims. The injury to Motorola’s foreign affiliates is not caused by the inflated prices of cellphones sold in import or domestic commerce, and therefore the affiliates’ claims do not arise from that effect on U.S. commerce. The first purchasers of cellphones in affected U.S. commerce, however, did suffer an injury arising out of the price fixing’s U.S. effect.
The Illinois Brick doctrine would ordinarily bar these purchasers from recovering damages under federal law because they did not purchase directly from the conspirators, but that doctrine should be construed to permit damages claims by the first purchaser in affected U.S. commerce when Section 6a(2) bars the direct purchasers’ claims. That construction would permit vigorous private enforcement of the antitrust laws—the reason full recovery is ordinarily concentrated in direct purchasers—without implicating the doctrine’s concerns about multiple recovery and apportionment. Absent that construction, it is possible that no private plaintiff could recover damages under the federal antitrust laws.
In any case, government enforcement is critical to combating foreign price-fixing cartels that threaten significant harm in the United States. Therefore, this Court should hold that a conspiracy to fix the price of a component can directly affect import commerce in finished products incorporating that component and that the conspiracy in this case did directly affect that commerce. That holding would ensure the government is able to enforce the federal antitrust laws regardless of any limitations on private damages claims resulting from Section 6a(2).”
Emphasis added, footnotes omitted.
BILL BAER DOJ SPEECHES
On September 10, 2014, Bill Baer, the Assistant Attorney General Antitrust Division U.S. Department of Justice, gave the attached speech, BAER SPEECH ON ANTITRUST PROSECUTION, at the Georgetown Antitrust Enforcement Symposium entitled “Prosecuting Antitrust Crimes” in which he addressed the importance of enforcement of the antitrust laws against cartels and the importance of the leniency system. With regards to the prosecution of antitrust cases, Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer stated:
“Those who conspire to subvert the free market system and injure U.S. consumers are prosecuted vigorously and penalized appropriately. Our record demonstrates that corporations that commit these crimes face serious consequences, including significant criminal fines and, in appropriate cases, tough probation terms. Individual wrongdoers risk lengthy sentences. Courts have imposed criminal fines on corporations totaling as much as $1.4 billion in a single year; the average jail term for individuals now stands at 25 months, double what it was in 2004. Those penalties tell only part of the story. Perpetrators also must confront private and state civil suits seeking treble damages and risk other collateral consequences for their crimes.
Often our prosecutions end with plea agreements. So long as price fixers are held accountable for their crimes, this is an efficient and appropriate way to resolve criminal price-fixing allegations. When the defendant exercises its right to put us to our proof, however, we have the obligation to proceed to trial to ensure justice is done. Our recent record demonstrates the division’s willingness and ability to prosecute successfully antitrust criminal violations. . . . And just this summer, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the corporate convictions of AU Optronics and its American subsidiary, and the individual convictions of two of its executives for fixing prices in the LCD industry. . . .
We also increasingly benefit from working closely with competition enforcers from many agencies around the world.
Our successful efforts to detect and prosecute cartels also reflect the broad consensus in the United States that schemes to deny consumers the benefits of competition have no place in the free market and merit significant punishment. This is not a partisan issue. This Administration and its predecessors have made cartel enforcement a top priority.”
On September 12, 2014 Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer spoke at Fordam Law School on “International Antitrust Enforcement: Progress Made; Work To Be Done”. In the attached speech, BAER SPEECH INTERNATIONAL CARTEL. the Assistant Secretary spoke of the importance of not letting industrial policy and protectionism trump competition concerns in the enforcement of antitrust laws and indirectly criticized China’s enforcement of its Anti-Monopoly Law:
“The U.S. and EU share the core belief that antitrust enforcement must protect and promote competition and consumer welfare. We base our respective enforcement decisions on the competitive effects and consumer benefits of the transaction or conduct being reviewed. We agree that non-competition factors, such as the pursuit of industrial or domestic policy goals, play no role in sound competition enforcement.
The U.S. and EU also agree that antitrust agencies are most effective when they follow decision-making processes that are fair, independent and transparent. Our shared commitment to process pays off. It increases the likelihood that our agencies will be positioned to obtain and consider all relevant facts and issues prior to making a decision. This, in turn, enhances the legitimacy and credibility of our enforcement decisions, and increases the parties’ and public’s confidence in the agency’s ultimate determination. . . .
Worldwide, the total criminal and regulatory fines, penalties and disgorgement obtained to date by law enforcement authorities is over $4 billion.
The international competition community increasingly embraces that view. Progress is being made towards convergence on due process and transparency. However, more work needs to be done. We must continue to seek broad international consensus on the principle that enforcement decisions be based solely on the competitive effects and consumer benefits of the transaction or conduct being reviewed. We must ensure that enforcement decisions are not used to promote domestic or industrial policy goals, protect state-owned or domestic companies from foreign competitors, or create leverage in international trade negotiations.
That is a straightforward and sensible proposition. We are living in a globalized economy where the number of companies operating in multiple jurisdictions continues to rise and there is a greater likelihood that anticompetitive transactions or conduct in one jurisdiction will harm competition and consumers in other parts of the world.
This is an easy proposition to state as a shared value. But it is challenging to implement, especially for enforcers in jurisdictions that are early in the process of moving from a planned economy to a free market system; are shifting their focus from promoting producer welfare to consumer welfare; or have state-owned and domestic corporations with considerable influence over enforcement authorities. Nonetheless, antitrust enforcers in such jurisdictions need to overcome these challenges and commit to making enforcement decisions based solely on competitive effects and consumer benefits. Otherwise, they risk losing the trust and confidence of businesses that are looking to enter or expand in their markets, but may be reluctant to do so out of fear that the playing field is not level. . . . .
Fourth, antitrust enforcement involving intellectual property rights should not be used to implement domestic or industrial policies. Such an approach undermines the integrity and credibility of an agency’s decisions. Enforcers need to be particularly careful about imposing price controls or prohibiting so-called excessive pricing. Pricing freedom in bilateral licensing negotiations is critical for intellectual property owners. I share the concern FTC Chairwoman Ramirez expressed earlier this week with antitrust regimes that appear to be advancing industrial policy goals by “imposing liability solely based on the royalty terms that a patent owner demands for a license . . . .” U.S. antitrust law does not bar “excessive pricing” in and of itself; generally speaking, lawful monopolists may set any price they choose.
This rule applies to holders of intellectual property rights as well. In addition, regardless of the underlying theory of antitrust liability, I am concerned about antitrust regimes that appear to force adoption of a specific royalty that is not necessary to remedy the actual harm to competition. Using antitrust enforcement to reduce the price firms pay to license technology owned and developed by others is short-sighted. Any short-term gains derived from imposing what are effectively price controls will diminish incentives of existing and potential licensors to compete and innovate over the long term, depriving jurisdictions of the benefits of an innovation-based economy.
Now, you may be asking why U.S. antitrust enforcers should care about what other enforcers do within their jurisdictions. There are many reasons. Here are a few.
First, U.S. enforcers can best cooperate with their foreign counterparts on investigations when there is agreement on core analytics and procedural principles. This, in turn, allows U.S. enforcers to more effectively and efficiently address anticompetitive transactions and conduct.
Second, we are continuing to move toward an interconnected global economy. This means that U.S. companies and consumers will increasingly be subject to or affected by the enforcement approach taken by antitrust agencies in other jurisdictions.
Third, convergence on substantive and procedural principles will help U.S. and non-U.S. companies comply with competition laws in a more cost-effective manner, as well as provide them the predictability that they need when trying to run their businesses in multiple jurisdictions.”
NEW ANTITRUST COMPLAINTS
On September 11, 2014, elQ Energy Inc., filed an antitrust case against a number of Japanese, and US for price fixing of antalum capacitors, aluminum electrolytic capacitors and film capacitors. JAPAN PRICE FIXING ALUMINUM CAPACITERS
On August 29, 30204, National Trucking Financial Reclamation filed a class action antitrust case against US and Taiwan companied, including Jui Li Enterprise Company, Ltd., TYG Products, L.P., Gordon Auto Body Parts Co., Ltd., Auto Parts Industrial, Ltd., and Cornerstone Auto Parts, LLC., for price fixing of aftermarket automotive sheet metal parts. TAIWAN SHEET METAL ANTITRUST COMPLAINT
CHINA ANTI-MONOPOLY CASES
The rise in Chinese anti-monopoly case has created intense concern from the US government and US and foreign companies. In September 2014, the US China Business Council published the major report/survey from US Companies, US CHINA BUSINESS COUNCIL REPORT CHINA AML, about the impact of the Chinese anti-monopoly law on US business in China. The Executive Summary of the report states as follows:
- China’s increased level of competition enforcement activity and the high-profile reporting of its competition investigations have prompted growing attention and concern from US companies. Eighty-six percent of companies responding to the US-China Business Council’s (USCBC’s) 2014 member company survey indicated they are at least somewhat concerned about China’s evolving competition regime—although more so about the potential impact than actual experience so far.
- China’s competition regime framework is relatively new. The Antimonopoly Law (AML) came into force in 2008 after Chinese authorities spent more than a decade drafting the law and consulting with foreign competition authorities from the United States, the European Union, and other jurisdictions. The AML draws from elements of both the US and EU competition laws, though it is more closely tied to the EU model and contains some elements unique to China.
- The rise in competition-related investigations has corresponded to the buildup in personnel at regulatory agencies following the AML’s implementation.
- USCBC monitoring of publicly announced cases indicates that both foreign and domestic companies have been targets of AML-related investigations, but that foreign companies appear to have faced increasing scrutiny in recent months.
- The perception that foreign companies are being disproportionately targeted is also fueled by China’s domestic media reporting, which has played up foreign-related investigations versus those of domestic companies.
- Targeted or not, foreign companies have well-founded concerns about how investigations are conducted and decided. Company concerns include:
o Fair treatment and nondiscrimination
o Lack of due process and regulatory transparency
o Lengthy time periods for merger reviews
o Role of non-competitive factors in competition enforcement
o Determination of remedies and fines
o Broad definition of monopoly agreements
Bigger questions remain unanswered about the objectives of China’s competition regime, such as: Will China use the AML to protect domestic industry rather than promote fair competition? Is the government using the AML to force lower prices, rather than let the “market play the decisive role” as enshrined in the new economic reform program? The answers are not fully determined yet, but in at least some cases so far there are reasons for concern.”
In early September 2014 the US Chamber of Commerce released the attached report, AM CHAM ACTUAL REPORT ON AML, which is highly critical of the Chinese government’s enforcement of its Anti-Monopoly Law. The report states:
This year, the area that has garnered the most attention from foreign companies is enforcement of China’s antitrust law, known as the Antimonopoly Law (AML). In recent months, the press and the public have paid considerable attention to this issue. While both foreign and domestic companies have been targets of investigations, foreign companies appear to have faced increasing scrutiny in recent months. Eighty-six percent of companies are at least somewhat concerned about these issues, with over half specifically citing enforcement as the issue, rather than the legal framework for the law (Fig. 34, 35).
Even though most American companies report that they have not been targeted with antitrust investigations, almost 30 percent of USCBC member companies are concerned they will be subjected to one. Among the most significant concerns for foreign companies are challenges with due process, lack of transparency, and fair treatment in investigations (Fig. 36, 37).
As US antitrust cases have been on the rise in the United States, they are sharply rising against Chinese and foreign companies, including US companies, in China. The recent surge in antitrust cases reaches US and foreign companies like Qualcomm, Interdigital, Microsoft, Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz.
On July 24, 2014, it was reported that the National Development and Reform Commission (“NDRC”), one of China’s three National Antitrust Agencies, announced that it had determined that US chipmaker Qualcomm is a monopoly and was suspected of overcharging and abusing its market position in wireless communication standards. The allegations could lead to record fines of more than $1 billion.
As the Chinese consumer market surges upward, Western companies are seeing their profits fall downward after this wave of antitrust cases. The China media has reported that the prices of many foreign items, including a Starbucks latte to a Jaguar sedan, are higher in China than in many other places in the world.
Chinese consumers, who now travel the World, are complaining. According to the media, although some of the prices differences are explainable by factors, such transportation, real-estate costs, higher Chinese import taxes and fragmented supply chains in which multiple distributors each add a markup, at least some multinationals allegedly have adopted sales practices in China that would not be tolerated by antitrust regulators in Europe or the US. Automobile companies do not always give their Chinese customers a choice in their purchase of spare parts, causing high prices.
What concerns the US government, however, is procedures, the heavy-handed way that investigations are being pursued, and the highly charged media coverage that makes for a very bad atmosphere for Western companies.
Foreign companies have learned two early lessons from the antitrust probes. First, the law provides little protection. The message that the National Development and Reform Commission, Chinese agency that sets pricing rules, delivers in private to multinationals at the outset of a price-fixing investigation is not to bring in their foreign lawyers. The second lesson, apparently, is resistance is futile.
In almost every antitrust case launched so far, foreign companies have settled without a fight. Voluntary price cuts of up to 20% are the norm, accompanied by board-level expressions of remorse and promises to do better. Chrysler described its abrupt decision to slash car-part prices as a “proactive response” to the price fixing probe as it got under way.
These price-fixing investigations have been accompanied by heated nationalistic rhetoric in the state media with anti-foreign overtones. Pushing down multinationals goes over well with large sections of the Chinese public that view the foreign companies as arrogant. The China Youth Daily recently stated that multinationals “pollute the environment, lie to consumers, act arrogantly when facing their wrongdoings, and ignore China’s law and protests from Chinese consumers.”
For many years that China’s Anti-Monopoly Law has been in place, enforcement has been lax, but the National Development and Reform Commission (“NDRC”) and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (“SAIC”), the two agencies charged with enforcing the AML’s antitrust provisions, have rapidly increased enforcement over the last year, with probes into Qualcomm Inc., Microsoft, and now international automakers. The action has come at the same time as the government has voiced a broader intention to promote the creation of Chinese players in many key industries, contributing to the impression that the latest antitrust probes may have a protectionist bent.
While technically, agency decisions can be appealed to China’s administrative courts, the courts tend to defer to the agencies in all but the most blatant violations of the law. That means that as a practical matter companies don’t have the same ability to force the agencies to defend themselves in court the way firms do in the U.S. and Europe.
In response to these reports on September 21, 2014, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent a letter to Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang raising serious concerns about China’s enforcement of its anti-monopoly law (AML). Sources reported that this is a sign that mounting U.S. business complaints regarding the law have reached a high political level. In commenting on the letter, Secretary Lew stated:
“But let me say that this issue of the anti-monopoly law is one that we’ve raised at the [Strategic & Economic Dialogue (S&ED)], and we made very clear that if the anti-monopoly law is used to essentially work disproportionately against U.S. and other foreign firms and it [is] used as a barrier to doing business, or an extra cost to doing business, that that was something that was very much inconsistent with the close economic relationship we’re together working to build.”
“We’ve been very clear in many forms that the anti-monopoly law is something that we see as part of this set of issues, and I certainly hope that they understand how important that issue is to us.”
Subsequently Bill Baer’s speech quoted above appeared to reinforce the statement by Secretary Lew, especially his quote that antitrust enforcement decisions must not be used to “promote domestic or industrial policy goals, protect state-owned or domestic companies from foreign competitors, or create leverage in international trade negotiations.”
The problem with the statement is that it is easy for the US Government to say. When US antidumping laws based on Alice in Wonderland surrogate values that have no relationship to actual prices and costs in China are used to block billions of dollars in Chinese imports, the Chinese government, as any government would do, is looking for leverage to force the US government to negotiate on this issue.
Chinese government officials have told me that the US government and the Commerce Department simply refuse to discuss whether China will be given market economy status in US antidumping cases as provided in the US China WTO Accession Agreement.
The US throws rocks and the Chinese government will throw rocks back.
On September 2, 2014, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang commented on the concerns regarding China’s Anti-Monopoly Law:
The US Chamber of Commerce said that China is targeting foreign companies in its anti-monopoly investigations with opaque laws and regulations, contributing to deteriorating investment environment for foreign companies. What is China’s comment on this?
I have learned that the US Chamber of Commerce published such a report. I want to stress that China is not the only country carrying out anti-monopoly. Other countries also do it. Monopoly is opposed so as to protect consumers’ interests and create a more transparent, equal and just playing field. While carrying out anti-monopoly investigations and implementing relevant measures, relevant departments of China are strictly following the law in a transparent and impartial way.
China will, as always, encourage foreign companies and enterprises to take part in the competition in China’s market and carry out various forms of cooperation. We are willing to create a sound investment environment for them. Meanwhile, they are also required to abide by Chinese laws and regulations.
On September 8, 2014, it was reported that the US Chamber of Commerce was arguing that China’s discriminatory uses of its Anti-Monopoly was a violation of its WTO commitments. But WTO experts, including US experts, responded that the WTO’s texts and existing jurisprudence create enough uncertainty that U.S. trade authorities will likely hold off on bringing a case. Antitrust is not under the WTO and is not directly addressed in any WTO agreements.
There have been efforts to put competition rules under the WTO, but there is currently no WTO agreement in place setting obligations on WTO members with regards to the objective of their antitrust statutes. This would force the USTR to try to cherry-pick from other WTO texts. The WTO, however, has been very reluctant to expand WTO law beyond a specific agreement.
In reality, the US Chamber of Commerce argument may be an attempt to elevate the issue in the Strategic & Economic Dialogue meetings between the US and China.
AUTOMOBILES — CHRYSLER AND MICROSOFT
On September 11, 2014, the NDRC, one of the three Chinese enforcement agencies of its Anti-Monopoly law announced penalties of a combined $46 million for foreign carmakers for price-fixing. The foreign carmakers include Volkswagen AG and the China sales unit of Fiat’s Chrysler. Chrysler’s China sales unit will be fined 32 million yuan/$5 million US for operating a price monopoly.
On September 28, 2014, in a meeting with China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) Microsoft Corp chief executive Satya Nadella promised to cooperate fully with Chinese authorities in their antitrust investigation into his company.
It was also reported that Director General Xu Kunlin of the NDRC, nicknamed Mr. Confession, was one the officials behind the increased tough enforcement of China’s Anti-Monopoly Law.
SEMICONDUCTORS AND MEDICAL DEVICES??
In early September, there were reports that MOFCOM had conducted antitrust unit visits to medical device and semiconductor firms in Shanghai.
ARTICLES BY CHINESE ANTITRUST LAWYER MICHAEL GU
In mid-September Michael Gu and Shuitian Yu of the Anjie Law Firm issued the attached article, GU NDRC Publishes Full Decisions in Zhejiang Car Insurance Case_AnJie_Michael Gu_20140911, “Better Late Than Never: NDRC Publishes Full Decisions on Zhejiang Car Insurance Cartel Case – Analysis of NDRC’s Antitrust Law Enforcement Approach”
TD MICROSOFT ARTICLE
In the attached August 2014 report on Chinese antitrust law by the Chinese T&D Law Firm, TD Antitrust Report, Chinese antitrust lawyer John Ren had this to say about the Microsoft case:
“On August 4, 2014, the SAIC warned Microsoft not to interfere with an ongoing anti-monopoly probe as they began inquiries into the company’s corporate Vice President Mary Snapp.
Investigators from the SAIC warned that the company must firmly abide by Chinese law, and shall not interfere with the investigation “in any way”.
SAIC confirmed that it launched a probe into Microsoft China Co., Ltd, and three of its branches in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu as Microsoft is suspected of monopoly practices.
SAIC also said Microsoft had not been fully transparent with its sales data on the software it distributes in China, including information on sales of its media player and web browser software. . . .
SAIC Investigating Accenture in Microsoft Probe
August 6, 2014
According to the report, SAIC’s probe into Microsoft expanded to Accenture on August 6 as Microsoft is under investigation.
The SAIC said in a statement that it is investigating Accenture’s office in Dalian City, Liaoning Province, for being the financial service outsourcer of Microsoft China Co., which is suspected of monopoly practices. The SAIC did not reveal results of the investigation and the probe is still underway
Microsoft’s Browsers and Players are Involved in SAIC’s Anti-Monopoly Investigation
August 27, 2014
With regard to the progress of the anti-monopoly investigation on Microsoft, Mr. Zhang Mao, the Minister of the SAIC, revealed at a press conference held by the State Council Information Office that Microsoft is suspected of inadequate disclosure of information in relation to Windows and Office and suspected problems regarding the launch and sale of Players and Browsers. Currently, the investigation on Microsoft is progressing, and the SAIC will publicize the interim results at every stage in a timely manner. Compared to its previous statements, SAIC talked about Microsoft’s potential problems on the launch and sales of Players and Browsers for the first time.
It is said that in June, 2013, some entities complained to SAIC that Microsoft’s incomplete disclosure of information on its Windows and Office Suite has caused problems with compatibility, tying, and file validation, raising suspicions that the company violated the Chinese AML. SAIC therefore investigated Microsoft, accordingly. In June of this year, SAIC initiated the investigation against Microsoft and already publicized the progress of its investigation three times. Minister Zhang also mentioned that Microsoft’s senior management has expressed that they will respect Chinese law and cooperate with the Chinese anti-monopoly authority in the investigation.”
FOREIGN CORRUPT PRACTICES ACT (“FCPA”)
In a fascinating six part series on the origins of the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act, Tom Gorman, a partner in our Washington DC office and a former member of the SEC Enforcement Division, describes the origins of the FCPA and why this law came into being, including the reasons for prohibiting the bribery of foreign officials. The first part and the conclusion are published in this e-mail. The entire article is attached, TOM GORMAN ENTIRE ARTICLE ORIGINS OF FCPA. As Tom Gorman states:
PART ONE THE ORIGINS OF THE FCPA: LESSONS FOR EFFECTIVE COMPLIANCE AND ENFORCEMENT
“They trusted us” — Judge Stanley Sporkin explaining why 450 corporations self- reported in the 1970s Volunteer Program without a promise of immunity.
This is the first part of an occasional series. The entire paper will be published by Securities Regulation Law Journal early next year.
Can one man make a difference? Stanley Sporkin is proof that the answer is “yes.” In the early 1970s he sat fixated by the Watergate Congressional hearings. As the testimony droned on about the burglary and cover-up, the Director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (“SEC” or “Commission”) Enforcement Division sat mystified. Witnesses spoke of corporate political contributions and payments. “How does a public company book an illegal contribution” the Director wondered. “Public companies are stewards of the shareholder’s money – they have an obligation to tell them how it is used” he thought. He decided to find out.
The question spawned a series of “illicit” or foreign payments cases by the Commission resulting in the Volunteer Program. Under the Program, crafted by Director Sporkin and Corporation Finance Director Alan Levinson, about 450 U.S. corporations self-reported illicit payments which had been concealed with false accounting entries. There was no promise of immunity but the Director had a reputation for doing the right thing, being fair. Ultimately the cases and Program culminated with the passage of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”), signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1977.
Today a statute born of scandal and years of debate continues to be debated. Business groups and others express concern about the expansive application of the FCPA by enforcement officials and the spiraling costs to resolve investigations. Enforcement officials continue to call for self-reporting, cooperation and more effective compliance. While the debate continues, both sides might do well to revisit the roots of the FCPA. The success of the early investigations and the Volunteer Program is not attributable to overlapping enforcement actions, endless investigations, draconian fines and monitors. Rather, it was a focus on effective corporate governance – ensuring that executives acted as the stewards of shareholder funds. Director Sporkin called this “doing the right thing.” A return to that focus may well end the debate and yield more effective compliance and enforcement.
The Watergate Congressional hearings transfixed the country. A scandal was born from a burglary at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. by the Committee to Reelect the President, known as CREP. The hearings were punctuated by a series of articles in The Washington Post based on conversations with a source known only as “deep throat.” Later the two reporters would become famous. President Richard Nixon would resign in disgrace. His senior aides would be sentenced to prison. See generally, Carl Bernstein & Bob Woodward, All the President’s Men (1974).
A little-noticed segment of the hearings involved corporate contributions to politicians and political campaigns. Most observers probably missed the slivers of testimony about illegal corporate conduct since they were all but drowned in the seemingly endless testimony about the burglary, cover-up and speculation regarding the involvement of the White House.
One man did not. Then SEC Enforcement Director and later Federal Judge Stanley Sporkin was fixated. He listened carefully to the comments about corporate political contributions. The Director wondered how the firms could make such payments without telling their shareholders: “You know, I sometimes use the expression, ‘only in America could something like this happen.’ There I was sitting at my desk . . . and at night while these Watergate hearings were going on I would go home and they’d be replayed and I would hear these heads of these companies testify. This fellow Dorsey from Gulf Oil . . . and it was interesting that somebody would call Gulf Oil and they would say we need $50,000 for the campaign.
Now everybody, I knew that corporations couldn’t give money to political campaigns . . . what occurred to me was, how do you book a bribe . . . ” A Fire Side Chat with the Father of the FCPA and the FCPA Professor, Dorsey & Whitney LLP Spring Anti-corruption conference, March 23, 2014, available at www.SECHistorical.org. at 3 (“Transcript”).
What, if any information did the outside auditors have was another key question, according to the Director. Stanley Sporkin, “The Worldwide Banning of Schmiergeld: A Look at the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act on its Twentieth Birthday,” 18 Nw. J. Int. L. & Bus. 269, 271 (1998) (“Sporkin”). Not only was he fascinated by the testimony but “something bothered him [Director Sporkin]. It was the thought of all that money moving around in businessmen’s briefcases. That money belonged to corporations. Corporations belong to investors. The SEC protects investors. So Sporkin investigated.” Mike Feensilber, He Terrorizes Wall Street, The Atlanta Constitution, Section C at 19, col. 1 (March 21, 1976) . . .
An informal inquiry was initiated. As Judge Sporkin recounts: “To satisfy my curiosity [about how the payments were recorded in the books and records] I asked one of my staff members to commence an informal inquiry to determine how the transactions were booked.” Sporkin at 571. This “was not one of these elaborate investigations where you have 5 people. I called in a guy named Bob Ryan and I said, Bob, go to Gulf Oil.” Transcript at 3. A day later the answer came back: “[W]hat happened was that Gulf Oil had set up two corporations; one called the ANEX, one called the ANEY, capitalized . . . with the $5 million each; took the money back to New York, put it into [Gulf Chairman] Dorsey’s safe at the head of Gulf Oil and there he [Dorsey] had a slush fund, a corporate fund of $10 million.” Id. at 4. The payments were not reflected in the books and records of the company – the shareholders were not told how their money was being used.
It was apparent that corporate officials “knew they were doing something that was wrong because the reason they set [it] up this was . . . is because they didn’t want to expense the money so they capitalized it. And why did they want to expense the money . . . [Director Sporkin explained is] Because they were afraid, not of the SEC, but of the IRS. So it . . . right from the beginning . . . it showed me that there was something afoul here,” Director Sporkin later recounted. Id. at 4. Indeed, it was clear that senior corporate officials had painstakingly designed a methodology to secrete what they knew were wrongful transactions. Sporkin at 271. . . .
See the attached article for parts 2-5.
Conclusion: The FCPA Today
The FCPA was unique in the world at passage. It was born of controversy and scandal. The Watergate hearings which transfixed Director Sporkin and the rest of the country spawned unprecedented and far ranging issues and questions. The hearings ushered in a new era of moral questioning.
In the turmoil of that environment Director Sporkin focused on corporate governance, viewing corporate boards and officers as stewards of investor funds. That principled view propelled the SEC investigations, enforcement actions and the Volunteer Program, all of which culminated after two years of Congressional hearings and debate in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
The statute was intended to implement the principles that gave rise to its birth. It was tailored and focused:
Bribery prohibited: The anti-bribery provisions prohibit issuers and other covered persons from corruptly attempting, or actually obtaining or retaining, business through payments made to foreign officials;
Accurate books and records: The books and records provisions were designed to ensure that issuers – those using money obtained from the public – keep records in reasonable detail such that they reflect the substance of the transactions;
Auditors get the truth: Making misstatements to auditors examining the books and records of issuers was barred; and
Effective internal controls: Companies were required to have internal control provisions as an assurance that transactions with shareholder funds are properly authorized and recorded.
The impetus for the passage of the FCPA was not a novel crusade but the basic premise of the federal securities laws: Corporate managers are the stewards of money entrusted to them by the public; the shareholders are entitled to know how their money is being used.
The settlements in the early enforcement actions and the Volunteer Program were designed to implement these principles. The FCPA was written to strengthen these core values.
Today the statute continues to be surrounded by controversy. While the FCPA is no longer unique in the world, U.S. enforcement officials are without a doubt the world leaders in enforcement of the anti-corruption legislation. A seemingly endless string of criminal and civil FCPA cases continues to be brought by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the SEC. The sums paid to resolve those cases are ever spiraling. What was a record-setting settlement just a few years ago is, today, not large enough to even make the list of the ten largest amounts paid to settle an FCPA case. The reach of the once focused statute seems to continually expand such that virtually any contact or connection to the United States is deemed sufficient to justify applying the Act.
For business organizations the potential of an FCPA investigation, let alone liability, is daunting. Compliance systems are being crafted and installed which often incorporate each of the latest offerings in the FCPA market place at significant expense. If there is an investigation, the potential cost of the settlement is only one component of the seemingly unknowable but surely costly morass facing the organization. Typically business organizations must deal with the demands of two regulators in this country and perhaps those of other jurisdictions. The internal investigations that are usually conducted to resolve questions about what happened are often far reaching, disruptive, continue for years and may well cost more than the settlements with the regulators. Since most companies cannot bear the strain of litigating an FCPA case, enforcement officials become the final arbitrator on the meaning and application of the statutes – arguing legal issues may well mean a loss of cooperation credit with a corresponding increase in penalties.Enforcement officials today continue to call for self-reporting as the SEC did at the outset of the Volunteer Program.
Today, however, while many companies do self-report since they may have little choice, there can be an understandable reluctance in view of the potential consequences. Indeed, self-reporting might be viewed as effectively writing a series of blank checks to law firms, accountants, other specialists and ultimately the government with little control over the amounts or when the cash drain will conclude.This is not to say that companies that have violated the FCPA should not be held accountable. They should.
At the same time it is important to recall the purpose of the statutes: To halt foreign bribery and to ensure for public companies that corporate officials are accountable as faithful stewards of shareholder money.While business organizations may express concern about enforcement, accountability begins with the company, not the government. That means installing effective compliance systems using appropriate methods, not just adopting something off the shelf or purchasing the latest offering in the FCPA compliance market place. It means programs that are effective and grounded in basic principles, not just ones that furnish good talking points with enforcement officials if there is a difficulty.
The key to effective programs is to base them on the principles of stewardship which should be the bedrock of the company culture. Accountability for the funds of the shareholders begins with effective internal controls, a key focus when the statute was passed which remains critical today. As Judge Sporkin recently commented: “The problem I see in compliance is that they are not really putting in the kinds of effort and resources that’s necessary here. And I really think that you’ve got to get your compliance department, your internal audit department working together; in too many instances you find that they’re working separately.” Transcript at 18.
The focus is also critical. These systems are not just a defense to show regulators if something goes wrong. Rather, the systems should reflect the culture of the organization. As SEC Commissioner John Evans stated as the events which led to the passage of the FCPA were unfolding:
“I am somewhat concerned that the issue of illegal and questionable corporate payments is being considered by some in a context that is too narrow, legalistic, and short-sighted. In view of the objectives of the securities laws, such as investor protection and fair and honest markets, compliance with the spirit of the law may be more meaningful and prudent than quibbling about meeting the bare minimum legal requirements. I would submit that many companies and their profession accounting and legal advisers would serve their own and the public interest by being less concerned with just avoiding possible enforcement action by the SEC or litigation with private parties and more concerned with providing disclosure consistent with the present social climate. Such a course of conduct should promote the company’s public image, its shareholder relations, its customer relations, and its business prospects . . ..” Evans at 14-15.
Accountability is also critical on the part of enforcement officials. Every case does not demand a draconian result with a large fine, huge disgorgement payments, multiple actions or a monitor. Every case need not be investigated for years at spiraling costs which may bring diminishing returns. The statutes need not be interpreted as an ever expanding rubber band with near infinite elasticity. Rather, enforcement officials would do well to revisit the remedies obtained in the early enforcement cases and those employed with great success in the Volunteer Program. And, they would do well to recall the reason 450 major corporations self-reported without a promise of immunity or an offer of cooperation credit: As Judge Sporkin said, “They trusted us.”
In addition to the securities complaints filed against Chinese companies, the SEC and Chinese individuals are filing securities complaints against US companies, some of which are operated by Chinese individuals, to set up fraudulent EB5 immigration plans. EB5 allows foreign individuals to invest in certain properties in the United States that have been designated as underdeveloped and obtain a green card for a $500,000 investment in the project. The EB5 projects, however, are complicated and investors have to beware and make sure that the project they invest in is a legitimate EB5 project.
On September 3, 2014, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed the attached securities complaint, FAKE EB5 CENTER, against Justin Moongyu Lee and his partner Thomas Kent and the American Immigrant Investment Fund, Biofuel Venture, Nexland Investment Group and Nexsun Ethanol. In the complaint, the SEC states:
This case involves a scheme perpetrated by two immigration attorneys,
Defendant Justin Moongyu Lee (“J. Lee”) and his law partner Defendant Thomas Edward Kent (“Kent”), as well as J. Lee’s spouse, Defendant Rebecca Taewon Lee (“R. Lee”). J. Lee, Kent and R. Lee defrauded Chinese and Korean investors by claiming that their monies would be invested in a program that met the requirements of the United States Government EB-5 visa program, which is administered by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”), and provides immigrant investors conditional permanent residency status for a two-year period, followed by permanent residency if the required program conditions are met.
Specifically, the Defendants represented that the offered investment was EB-5 eligible, and money raised would be used to build and operate an ethanol production plant in Kansas.
On September 10, 2014, Liu Aifang and a number of Chinese individuals filed the attached class action securities complaint, ANOTHER SECURITIES COMPLAINT, against Velocity VIII Limited Partnership, Velocity 240.10b-5), Regional Center LLC, REO Group Properties, LLC, Yin Nan Wang, a.k.a Michael Wang, Yunyan Guan, a.k.a, Christine Guan, Ben Pang, REO Property 9roup’, LLC, Frank Zeng and other unnamed individuals for setting up a fraudulent EB5 project in the United States.
On September 12, 2014, Ranjit Singh filed the attached class action securities complaint against 21 Vianet Group., Inc., a company headquartered in China. CAYMAN CORP
On September 17, 2014, Wayne Sun filed a class action securities case against 21 Vianet Group., Inc., a company headquartered in China, and several Chinese individuals. SECURITIES COMPLAINT
On September 22, 2014 the SEC filed a securities case against Zhunrize, Inc., a US company, and Jeff Pan for a fraudulent plan to raise money from investors China and Korea. PAN CHINESE INVESTORS
On September 26, 2014, David Helfenbein filed a class action securities case against Altair Nanotechnologies, a company with operations in China, Alexander Lee, Richard Lee, Guohua Sun, James Zhan, Stephen B. Huang, Paula Conroy and Karen Wagne. NANOTECHNOLOGIES
On September 29, 2014, the SEC filed a securities case against China Valves Technology, Siping Fang, Jianbo Wang, Renrui Tang for filing false and misleading documents with the SEC. SECCHINAVALVES
If you have any questions about these cases or about the US trade, trade adjustment assistance, customs, 337, patent, US/China antitrust or securities law in general, please feel free to contact me.