Mexico becomes 1st country to ratify USMCA

Dive Brief:

  • Mexico became the first country to ratify the United States, Mexico and Canada Agreement (USMCA) Wednesday when the Mexican Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve the deal.
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in Washington today where he will meet with President Donald Trump and lobby for the deal with members of Congress.
  • With several major hurdles cleared in recent weeks, the path forward for the USMCA is somewhat more clear, though it is by no means a done deal.

Dive Insight:

In order for the deal to go into effect, all three countries’ legislatures must vote to ratify it. Last month, the U.S. lifted steel tariffs on both of its neighbors and Mexico passed a consequential labor law — both considered essential to the deal’s survival. But after recent tensions between the U.S. and Mexico over immigration at the U.S. southern border and tariffs on Mexican imports Trump threatened as a result, the future of the deal was uncertain.

Despite Mexico’s ratification and the tariff threats and machinations of the past month, support and skepticism for the deal remain largely unchanged in the U.S. Congress.

Nancy Pelosi is still waiting to see how Mexico implements its new labor legislation, the passage of which was a condition of Democratic support, reported Politico.

Some Democrats have also called for revisions to the deal. The Trump administration has strongly opposed amending the agreement in the past, but U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer went to Capitol Hill Wednesday to tell the House Ways and Means Committee he is open to hearing their concerns and possibly making accommodations in the text.

Congress has 18 working days left when both houses are in session before summer recess, and Canada is reportedly looking to pass the deal somewhat in tandem with the U.S. in what Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland called a “goldilocks approach” — not too fast, not too slow.

20 June 2019 | Emma Cosgrove | Supply Chain Dive

Trump, Xi to resume US-China trade talks at upcoming G20 summit

Dive Brief:

  • President Donald Trump announced via tweet June 18 he will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping for “extended” trade talks at the upcoming G20 summit in Japan June 28 and 29. Trump previously said if Xi did not attend the G20, the U.S. would immediately levy tariffs on an additional $300 billion of Chinese goods, covering nearly all imports from the country.
  • “Leader level engagement at last year’s G20 was critical to jumpstarting the talks,” Clete Willems, a former trade negotiator for the Trump campaign, told Reuters, referring to the 2018 G20 meeting between Xi and Trump in Argentina. “It will be essential to managing the current political dynamic and getting the talks back on track once again.”
  • Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., more than 300 witnesses who represent major businesses and supply chain and manufacturing associations are testifying in U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) hearings to express their opposition to the proposed fourth tranche of tariffs. The hearings opened on June 17 and will close on June 25 before kicking off a week-long rebuttal period. Whether the tariffs are implemented will likely be subject to the results of the G20 negotiations.

Dive Insight:

While neither country’s delegation has released formal commitments, businesses on both sides of the Pacific hope for a resolution, or at least a stabilization, of the unpredictable trade war. However, as the previous year’s negotiations have shown, talks alone are not a guarantee. The last G20 meeting produced a 90-day truce, but the list three and list four tariff announcements came not long after the end of the truce.

The uncertainty has led to inventory stockpiling as companies try to rush goods to the U.S. ahead of the impending tariffs. While this has caused record-breaking traffic at some ports, and even capacity problems, the trend is beginning to slow down as demand has begun to soften and firms await the results of the trade talks.

Likewise, the recent proposition and scrapping of tariffs on Mexican imports has companies uncertain about where to go next in terms of materials sourcing and manufacturing.

“I started looking in Mexico, but I got scared off,” Mark Schneider, CEO of Kenneth Cole Productions, a clothing company, testified in a USTR hearing. “Some sort of stability with this type of discussion would be really helpful. There’s no preparation for anything.”

Companies that rely on China for electronics and machine parts also want a truce. David Baer, general counsel for domestic TV manufacturer Element Electronics, stated, “we will be forced to shut down the South Carolina factory and move our production offshore,” as the cost of components will be too high to sustain its U.S. operations.

Apparel is another vulnerable category. In an interview with NPR, American Apparel & Footwear Association CEO Rick Helfenbein said 42% of apparel and 72% of footwear into the U.S. comes from China. “We’ve been threatened with this for some time … And we don’t exactly have a place to go, which means, quite frankly, that prices will go up, that sales will go down,” Helfenbein said.

19 June 2019 | Morgan Forde | Supply Chain Dive

US denies tariff exemptions for Tesla, GM, Uber

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has denied tariff exemptions from Tesla, GM, and Uber, according to Reuters which cited government documents for the finding. The USTR allows for tariff exemptions if companies can show products can’t be acquired from another source.
  • Telsa applied for exemptions on key technological components for its electric vehicles including it’s “brain” — the car’s main autopilot computer. GM filed for over 50 exemptions ranging from components for push-button ignition to battery cables. Uber sought exemptions for its electric scooter fleets. In total, Reuters reports that the USTR has received over 13,000 exemption requests since the trade war began and has rejected 7,000 of them.
  • In the case of Tesla, GM and Uber’s denials, the USTR claimed that the technologies they wished to exempt from tariffs were material to Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” initiative or other critical industrial programs. “Made in China 2025” refers to a recently launched Chinese government initiative aimed at leveraging government subsidies and nationalized manufacturing capabilities to increase its dominance in high-tech manufacturing across a range of industries.

Dive Insight:

Tesla, GM and Uber are not the only companies in the industry denied exemptions. In May, Fiat Chrysler, Nissan and Volvo (among other major auto brands) applied for tariff exemptions citing profitability concerns and were rejected on similar grounds.

Now fully exposed to the 25% tariffs on affected components, automakers are preparing for lost profits and consumer price hikes. In its USTR filing, Fiat Chrysler said exposure to the 25% duties would force it to “reduce its margins, pass the additional cost onto consumers or some combination of the two.”

Likewise, Tesla stated in its application, “choosing any other supplier [for its autopilot computer] would have delayed the [Model 3] program by 18 months with clean room setup, line validation and staff training.”

Despite the impact on automakers in the U.S., the Trump Administration maintains the tariffs are necessary to preserve American intellectual property from “persistent theft” by the Chinese.

Drewry report released before the rate on the third list of tariffs increased last month, stated the 25% figure would reduce vehicle imports from both Asia and Europe by 11% in 2020.

14 June 2019 | Morgan Forde | Supply Chain Dive

Automotive industry condemns tariff ‘secrecy’

Automotive sector bodies from the US and overseas have rounded on the US Department of Commerce for not giving them access to its report for Donald Trump about possible duties on imports of automotive goods.

Trump requested the report in May last year as part of a Section 232 investigation, which authorises the president to apply tariffs (or other means) to adjust imported goods if they are deemed to threaten national security. There is speculation that the levies recommended could be as high as 25% for vehicles and parts.

The report was delivered on February 17 and Trump now has 90 days to decide how to act.

A number of associations representing the automotive industry have complained that failure to disclose the figures is fuelling uncertainty, threatening businesses and jobs.

The Motor and Equipment Manufacturers’ Association (Mema) said it was crucial the automotive industry had the opportunity to review the recommendations and advise the White House on how the proposed tariffs could “put jobs at risk, impact consumers, and trigger a reduction in US investments” – impacts it said could set the industry back decades.

“Secrecy around the report only increases the uncertainty and concern across the industry created by the threat of tariffs,” stated Mema, calling for the immediate and full release of the report. “The ongoing uncertainty due to changing trade policies is already discouraging new investment, and additional tariffs from the 232 auto investigation will hinder future investment even more.”

Echoing Mema’s point, John Bozzella, president and CEO of Global Automakers, which lobbies for some of the foreign OEMs with plants in the US, added: “The prolonged uncertainty about these tariffs freezes investment decisions, makes planning for the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement [USMCA] next to impossible, and does incalculable damage to the US auto industry.

“Automotive trade does not imperil national security,” he added. “It strengthens our competitiveness and benefits consumers.”

National insecurity
Interest groups from overseas have also expressed their concerns. Erik Jonnaert, secretary-general of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), said imports of cars and parts from the EU clearly did not pose a national security risk to the US and any restrictions on trade would have a serious negative impact on both US and EU manufacturers.

European carmakers produce close to 1m vehicles a year in the US, of which roughly 60% are exported. EU manufacturers also directly and indirectly employ more than 470,000 Americans, according to ACEA.

All carmakers in the US, whether domestic or international, would face a significant increase in costs and Jonnaert said there was the possibility of higher repair costs being passed on to consumers.

“Such measures would make American automobile manufacturing less competitive and hit US consumers in their pockets. In other words, the imposition of tariffs would have a counter-productive effect on the US economy,” said ACEA.

Germany’s Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) said it was incomprehensible that the US could label European car and parts imports as a danger to US national security, meanwhile. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was frightening the US was even considering the possibility.

German OEMs and component-makers have around 300 factories providing jobs to more than 113,000 people in the US, according to the VDA.

Job losses
Mema pointed out that the automotive supplier segment directly employed more than 870,000 US workers, with a total figure of 4.26m jobs reliant on it through the wider supply chain. Furthermore, suppliers account for the largest segment of manufacturing jobs in the nation and generate 2.4% of its GDP.

“Many suppliers import certain automotive parts (including electronic control units, bearings and valves) as inputs that are then manufactured into higher technology or more complex parts here in the US,” stated Mema. “Open markets and integrated supply chains provide a proven framework for economic growth and jobs in our industry.”

The imposition of tariffs comes at a time when raw materials are already being taxed, with the US applying duties of 25% on steel imports and 10% on aluminium. Mema said further levies on vehicles and parts could add $7,000 to the cost of a car.

Threat of retaliation
The American Automotive Policy Council (AAPC), which represents US carmakers FCA, Ford and GM, said any levies would probably encourage retaliatory tariffs against exports of US-made cars and undermine, rather than help, the economic and employment contributions the three companies made to the US economy.

Meanwhile, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM), which represents domestic and foreign carmakers, said import duties would be a tax “on our customers” and that higher duties would ultimately lead to the loss of “hundreds of thousands of US jobs”.

The AAM’s suggested solution is for Washington to conclude trade pacts with key partners such as the EU, Japan and the UK, and explore additional market access opportunities for US automotive exports.

US administrators have said tariff threats on cars are a way to win concessions in trade talks with Japan, the EU, Canada and Mexico, and that Trump has agreed not to impose automotive duties as long as talks with those trading partners proceed in a productive manner.

This week, Japanese and European policy-makers reiterated their belief that this was still the case. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker was quoted by German daily newspaper Stuttgarter Zeitung as saying: “Trump gave me his word that there won’t be any car tariffs for the time being. I view this commitment as something you can rely on.”

In recent days Trump tweeted: “I love tariffs, but I also love them to negotiate.”

20 February 2019 | Steve Garnsey | Automotive Logistics

US-China trade talks resume in Washington

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. and China will hold additional rounds of trade talks this week in Washington, the White House announced Monday.
  • “Deputy-level meetings” begin Tuesday, the White House said, led by Deputy United States Trade Representative Jeffrey Gerrish. The U.S. will hold “principal-level meetings” starting Thursday. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will lead those talks, which will also include Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Assistant to the President for Economic Policy Larry Kudlow and Assistant to the President for Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro.
  • The two countries will discuss structural changes related to trade and China’s agreement to “purchase a substantial amount of goods and services” from the U.S., but did not offer additional details, the White House said.

Dive Insight:

The administration has kept mum for the most part on details of the ongoing trade talks between Washington and Beijing.

After the most recent round of talks, which took place in Beijing, U.S. officials touted “progress” on trade issues the two countries set out to resolve during a 90-day negotiation period, but they offered no specific detail on what that progress entailed.

China purchased shipments of soybeans from the U.S. (the exact amount is unclear) since the trade talks began, a sign of progress in China agreeing to import “substantial” amounts of goods from the U.S. On structural issues such as intellectual property and technology transfer, however, neither the U.S. nor China has revealed any specific progress.

Donald Trump hinted last week he might consider an extension to the March 1 trade negotiation deadline, although the White House made no mention of that in its latest announcement on continuing trade talks. Lighthizer previously called March 1 “a hard deadline.”

The numerous unknowns surrounding trade talks and deadlines leave businesses in a state of uncertainty related to tariffs.

Economic Policy Uncertainty uses economic data and news reports to create a monthly index of uncertainty. In January 2019, it measured U.S. uncertainty at an index of 292, an all-time high since the index began tracking data in 1997 and slightly higher than the global index of 285. In January 2017, the U.S. index measured just 161.

Still, analysts are hopeful the U.S. and China will reach a deal later this year, though it likely will come after the March 1 deadline, and it’s unclear what effect the trade deal would have on existing and future tariffs.

19 February 2019 | Shefali Kapadia | Supply Chain Dive

Retail imports strong ahead of possible tariff hikes

Dive Brief:

  • U.S. retail container imports were up 8.8% in December over November — down from the peak last fall but still higher than normal — as the tariff increase on goods from China looms, according to the latest Global Port Tracker report from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Hackett Associates.
  • Overall, 2018 experienced a record 21.8 million TEU, an increase of 6.2% over the 2017 record of 20.5 million TEU. Estimates for the first half of 2019 predict volumes will rise 4.1% over the first half of 2018.
  • Retailers have accelerated imports to beat the March 1 deadline when U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods will increase from 10% to 25%, unless negotiations are successful.

Dive Insight:

Talks began in December to resolve the trade dispute, but retailers have been preparing for higher costs on imports since last year, according to NRF.

“With trade talks with China still unresolved, retailers appear to be bringing spring merchandise into the country early in case tariffs go up in March,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president for supply chain and customs policy. “We are hopeful that the talks will succeed, but until the trade war is behind us, retailers need to do what they can to mitigate the higher prices that will inevitably come with tariffs.”

The Globe Tracker Report covers the U.S. ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma on the West Coast; New York/New Jersey, Port of Virginia, Charleston, Savannah, Port Everglades, Miami and Jacksonville on the East Coast, and Houston on the Gulf Coast.

Retailers may be doing their best to ensure stocked shelves, but a side effect of robust imports is a shortage of space in warehouse and storage facilities. Available U.S. warehousing and logistics space sits at a multiyear low, according to real estate researcher CBRE Group. In the fourth quarter of 2018, availability for industrial real estate fell to its lowest level since 2000.

To make do, companies and warehouse providers are scrambling for creative solutions like short-term storage trailers and digital marketplaces for warehouse space.

Retail products are not the only commodities surging ahead of the tariffs. According to BIMCO analysis of USDA figures, 754,609 metric tons of soybeans were ready to be shipped to China in January, compared to 25,347 metric tons in December.

13 February 2019 | Garry Wollenhaupt | Supply Chain Dive

Trump, Xi won’t meet before March 1 tariff deadline

Dive Brief:

  • President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House Thursday he would not meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping before the March 1 deadline, after which 10% tariffs are set to rise to 25%. Trump said previously he would meet Xi in February.
  • When asked by reporters if he planned to meet with Xi next month, the President said, “Not yet. Maybe. Probably too soon. Probably too soon,” according to Reuters.
  • U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will travel to Beijing next week for another round of trade discussions. Lighthizer and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He met last week in Washington for trade talks.

Dive Insight:

Trade discussions between the U.S. and China are far from over. Several rounds have taken place since Trump and Xi agreed to a 90-day halt on tariff increases last year at the G-20 summit, and additional discussions are scheduled for next week.

But the likelihood of reaching a deal in the near future is waning. The deadline is rapidly approaching with no plans in place for the two presidents to meet. “No final deal will be made until my friend President Xi, and I, meet in the near future,” Trump tweeted on Jan. 31.

What happens to tariff rates on March 2 remains unclear. After the 90-day “cease-fire” was announced, the Trump administration maintained tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports would rise from 10% to 25% if the two parties did not reach a deal before the deadline.

“The likely outcome is that the tariffs remain at the current 10 percent rate,” CNBC reported Thursday, citing administration officials and sources briefed by the White House.

But Reuters later cited three anonymous sources who indicated the CNBC report was incorrect.

Maine Pointe CEO Steve Bowen told Supply Chain Dive he doesn’t expect Trump to back down “one iota” from his plan to raise tariffs and negotiate trade issues with China.

He does anticipate the U.S. and China could reach a deal later this year to remove the tariffs, with the upcoming election cycle playing a role in the timing. The CEO of agricultural trader Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) made a similar prediction, expecting a trade resolution with China this year.

The March 2 tariff hike (if it happens) won’t come as a surprise to the business world. The U.S. and China sought to resolve deep-seated trade issues in just three months, and analysts largely agreed the short time frame did not provide sufficient time for matters such as intellectual property and technology transfer.

Businesses have been planning for the scenario of rising tariffs at the beginning of next month, by rushing imports and stockpiling goods — although that doesn’t mean companies are embracing increased duties.

“Retailers are doing our best to mitigate the pain, but raising tariffs on thousands of consumers products causes massive disruption to retailers in an already uncertain environment,” Hun Quach, Vice President for International Trade at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, told Supply Chain Dive in an email. She described the deadline as a “black cloud.”

study released Wednesday by Tariffs Hurt the Heartland, a campaign opposed to tariffs, said an increase to 25% would reduce employment by 934,000 jobs and GDP by 0.37%.

Until now, a good deal of optimism has surrounded the U.S.-China trade negotiations, which Bowen said lead some companies to relax a bit and back off of their contingency planning. “They’re making a mistake because they need to be prepared,” he said.

07 February 2019 | Shefali Kapadia | Supply Chain Dive

A trade deal with China is ‘miles and miles’ away, Commerce secretary says

Dive Brief:

  • A delegation of roughly 30 Chinese trade negotiators will visit the White House next week to resume trade negotiations, but U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC Thursday, “we’re miles and miles from getting a resolution.”
  • The next round of negotiations taking place next week is the result of a 90-day delay of further tariff hikes that runs out March 1. After that, tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods will increase from 10% to 25% if the parties cannot reach an agreement.
  • Ross said negotiators have “quite a little bit of time” before March 1 to figure out if a deal is possible. Courtney Rickert McCaffrey, manager of thought leadership in A.T. Kearney’s Global Business Policy Council, told Supply Chain Dive in December the March 1 timeline is “incredibly ambitious.”

Dive Insight:

Ross said it shouldn’t be surprising a deal hasn’t yet taken shape since “trade is very complicated.” He added negotiations go far beyond quantities of fuel and other commodities, and the real differences are in “structural reforms” in the Chinese economy and “enforcement mechanisms.”

Though China has made some concessions in agreeing to purchase more U.S. agricultural products, the White House has made it clear the issues of intellectual property and technology transfer are the tougher and more important issues.

In December, the Trump administration said in a said in a statement that these negotiations would revolve around “structural changes with respect to forced technology transfer, intellectual property protection, non-tariff barriers, cyber intrusions and cyber theft, services and agriculture.”

In his comments, Ross left wide open the possibility that the two parties could indeed reach an impasse, allowing tariffs to rise.

24 January 2019 | Emma Cosgrove | Supply Chain Dive

Auto execs decry financial losses due to tariffs

Dive Brief:

  • Fiat Chrysler, Ford, GM, Toyota and others are facing financials losses because tariffs have raised costs of steel and aluminum, Reuters reports, from the Detroit Auto Show.
  • Ford has forecast weaker-than-expected fourth-quarter profit levels, indicating that global tariffs could erode 2019 earnings by about $700 million, according to Reuters. A Toyota executive said the company raised prices three times because of higher tariff costs.
  • In addition to the pain of tariffs, the government shutdown is delaying certification for one of Fiat Chrysler’s new heavy-duty pickup truck models.

Dive Insight:

The uncertainty surrounding trade negotiations is weighing heavily on automakers. “Certainty is something we really desire because of our product lead times,” Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. told Reuters. “We don’t have that right now.”

The trickle-down effect of the tariffs and shutdown is already being felt. The Council on Foreign Relations predicted 40,000 automotive jobs could be lost because of the 25% steel tariff. GM alone announced plans to cut 15,000 jobs.

A study by the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) predicts new car prices could rise an average of $4,400, with even U.S.-built vehicles increasing $2,270 because they still use imported parts and materials. The numbers it cites definitely give automakers — and consumers — cause for concern. For example, CAR, predicts a 25% tariff on automotive and parts imports (such as steel) will cost 714,700 U.S. jobs and a $59.2 billion lower U.S. economic output. Auto dealerships, it said, could lose as many as 117,500 jobs and $66.5 billion in revenue.

“Tariffs and quotas on automobiles and automotive parts will not strengthen the U.S. economy or make U.S. automakers and suppliers more competitive in the global market,” Carla Bailo, CAR’s CEO and president, said in a press release announcing the study, which was commissioned by the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA).

18 January 2019 | Barry Hochfelder | Supply Chain Dive

US-China trade talks extended, ‘going very well’

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. and China extended a two-day round of trade talks to a third day, according to multiple news reports. Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning, “Talks with China are going very well!” without offering further details.
  • The Wall Street Journal, citing sources briefed on the negotiations, reported the two nations made progress on trade issues related to China’s purchases of U.S. goods and services but said the “the two sides are far from striking a deal.
  • The U.S. delegation, which traveled to Beijing for the discussions, will return to the U.S. Wednesday. “The delegation will now report back to receive guidance on the next steps,” the United States Trade Representative (USTR) said in a statement Wednesday morning.

Dive Insight:

The optimistic tone continues surrounding the first face-to-face talks between the U.S. and China since agreeing to a 90 day tariff “cease-fire.”

Members of the U.S. delegation told reporters the talks progressed well. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the extension of the trade talks to an additional day showed but sides were “indeed very serious” about resolving trade issues.

Beyond praise, Chinese and American leaders have been light on the details. USTR said officials discussed “ways to achieve fairness, reciprocity, and balance in trade relations between our two countries,” but did not offer specifics on any progress made.

News reports citing sources familiar with the negotiations overall indicate that the relatively superficial issues — such as Chinese purchases of American goods and services — are seeing some progress. “The talks also focused on China’s pledge to purchase a substantial amount of agricultural, energy, manufactured goods, and other products and services from the United States,” USTR said.

But deep-seated, structural issues remain contentious. In fact, the two sides may be even further apart on these underlying issues like forced technology transfer and intellectual property protection, among others, according to Bloomberg.

The reported lack of progress on structural trade issues is not necessarily surprising, as analysts predicted resolving these would take much longer than the allotted 90 days.

Still, it’s concerning for business managers hoping for relief from tariffs. Without a resolution between the U.S. and China, tariffs on $200 billion worth of goods from China will rise from 10% to 25% on March 2. China is expected to retaliate in kind. For now, it’s a wait-and-see game for businesses and a time to plan for the worst-case scenario.

09 January 2018 | Shefali Kapadia | Supply Chain Dive