The Biden Administration has continued its efforts at greater international outreach and collaboration by deciding, in consultation with the U.S. civil aircraft industry, not to modify the retaliation list of EU goods as the U.S. and the EU look to find a resolution to the long-running Airbus-Boeing dispute hopefully by mid-year. The Federal Register notice of today is copied below. See USTR, Notice Regarding Periodic Revision of Section 301 Action: Enforcement of U.S. WTO Rights in Large Civil Aircraft Dispute, 86 FR 9420 -9421(February 12, 2021).
“SUMMARY: The U.S. Trade Representative together with the affected United States industry have agreed that it is unnecessary at this time to revise the action in the Section 301 investigation involving the enforcement of U.S. rights in the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute involving Large Civil Aircraft subsidies provided by certain current or former member States of the European Union. The U.S. Trade Representative will continue to consider the action taken in the investigation.
“DATES: This exception to periodic revisions is applicable as of February 8, 2021.
“FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For questions about the investigation or this notice, contact Associate General Counsel Megan Grimball, at (202) 395– 5725, or Director for Europe Michael Rogers, at (202) 395–3320.
“A. Proceedings in the Investigation
“For background on the proceedings in this investigation, please see the prior notices issued in the investigation, including: Notice of initiation (84 FR 15028 (April 12, 2019)); notice of determination and action (84 FR 54245 (October 9, 2019)); and notices of revision of action (85 FR 10204 (February 21, 2020), 85 FR 50866 (August 18, 2020), and 86 FR 674 (January 6, 2021)).
“B. Periodic Revisions and Exceptions Thereto
“Section 306(b)(2)(B)–(F) of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended, provides for periodic revisions of the list of goods subject to additional duties imposed in response to the failure of a U.S. trading partner to implement a WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) recommendation. The statute includes exceptions to the periodic revisions. As relevant here, section 306(b)(2)(B)(ii)(II) provides that no revision is required if the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. industry affected by the noncompliance with the DSB recommendation agree that a revision of the list is unnecessary.
“The most recent revision to the list of goods subject to additional duties was effective on January 12, 2021. See 86 FR 674 (January 6, 2021). In light of the recent revision, the U.S. Trade Representative has agreed with the affected U.S. industry that it is unnecessary at this time to revise the action. The U.S. Trade Representative will continue to consider the action taken in this investigation.
“Deputy Assistant USTR for Monitoring and Enforcement and Chair, Section 301 Committee, Office of the United States Trade Representative“
Both the U.S. and EU have been interested in finding a resolution to the seventeen year dispute on subsidies to Airbus and Boeing. See, e.g., Bloomberg, EU Looks Past Trump to Defuse Transatlantic Trade Conflict, January 11, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-11/eu-looks-past-trump-to-defuse-transatlantic-trade-conflict; Reuters, EU trade official wants swift engagement with Biden on aircraft, digital taxes, WTO, January 15, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-eu/eu-trade-official-wants-swift-engagement-with-biden-on-aircraft-digital-taxes-wto-idUSKBN29K1X5. The action by the United States is one of a series of actions demonstrating an interest by the Biden Administration in finding resolutions to transatlantic issues and reengaging in multilateral organizations.
On his first day as President, President Biden sent notices of the U.S. rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and of its revoking its withdrawal from the World Health Organization. These actions were obviously positive steps by the U.S. in the eyes of many countries including the European Union member states. See White House, January 20, 2021, Paris Climate Agreement, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/01/20/paris-climate-agreement/; President Biden, Letter to His Excellency António Guterres, January 20, 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/01/20/letter-his-excellency-antonio-guterres/.
Similarly Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in communications with some of her European counterpart has indicated the U.S. interest in finding a resolution within the OECD/G-20 process to the issue of digital services taxes, an issue where 301 investigations under the Trump Administration found various EU member state actions as unfair to U.S. interests. Yellen has indicated that resort to 301 duties remain on the table if there isn’t a resolution. Obtaining an international agreement on taxes has been an objective of many countries, including the European Union. International Tax Review, Yellen picks notable experts to join the US Treasury’s digital tax talks, February 5, 2021, https://www.internationaltaxreview.com/article/b1qfh1hw0xy7z2/yellen-picks-notable-experts-to-join-the-us-treasurys-digital-tax-talks. Resolution by the end of June 2021 is the current timeline being pursued by parties.
Similarly, while the Biden Administration doesn’t have its full trade team in place as yet, USTR issued a release last Friday that, following the announcement that the South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee was withdrawing from the contest for the Director-General of the WTO position, the U.S. was throwing its support behind Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is the candidate that pursuant to the procedures being followed in the selection process had been identified as the candidate most likely to attract a consensus back in October before the U.S. had indicated its unwillingness to join a consensus behind her. With the special General Council meeting scheduled for February 15 at 3 p.m., the WTO will have a new Director-General in a matter of days. Nearly all WTO Members, including the EU and its member states, have been anxious for a resolution to the selection of the next Director-General.
And as the Reuters article cited above reviews, the European Union has been looking at WTO reform including the possibility of agreeing to a limiting of the role of dispute settlement and is looking to engage with the U.S. on solving the longstanding U.S. concerns of the WTO dispute settlement system, particularly the operation of the Appellate Body. Assuming the Biden Administration will move in the coming months once its trade team is in place to identify modification in the DSU or needed elements of a General Council decision, the EU has been sending signals that it may be willing to address core U.S. concerns which could lead to the resolution of a core WTO Member concern — the existing impasse on getting the Appellate Body refunctioning.
There is an additional major trade dispute between the U.S. and the EU dealing with the application of additional tariffs on steel and aluminum products following Commerce investigations under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, as amended, and action by President Trump. It is less clear what the off ramp for the parties is here. The EU and a number of other WTO Members have WTO disputes pending panel reports that will be released at the earliest in the second half of 2021. Similarly, the U.S. has disputes with the EU and others who imposed duties on U.S. exports allegedly because countries were treating the national security law used by the Trump Administration as essentially a safeguard law. Decisions in those cases are now due in the second half of 2021. The EU would like the U.S. to simply terminate the duties. There are steel using industries that support such possible action. However, the global excess capacity problems created by China and others in steel and aluminum remain and have no obvious solution particularly in light of China’s refusal to address the massive capacity increases in the sectors which has destabilized global markets. U.S. steel companies, primary aluminum producers and workers support maintaining the duties.
But all in all, the United States in the first weeks of the Biden Administration is working to reengage multilaterally and to see if there are solutions available to resolve a range of long standing conflicts. USTR during the Trump Administration did an admirable job in identifying and documenting problems with WTO dispute settlement and providing approaches under U.S. law to deal with vexing problems where multilateral approaches were not progressing or were inadequate. The Biden Administration has the opportunity now to hopefully find solutions that work for America and restores greater cooperation in Transatlantic relations. With the efforts being made by the Biden Administration, one is seeing interest within the EU to resolve all or many of the major disputes with the U.S. and work on pressing issues of interest to the EU and the U.S. including.recovery from the pandemic, climate change, WTO reform and more.
Better transatlantic relations is an important element in moving the global economy forward in ways that reflect democratic and market-based principles. Let’s hope that win-win solutions are possible on the existing challenges so long delayed momentum on existential issues can be generated.