UPDATED: April 6, 2020 – Major operational changes continue at trade-related U.S. government agencies and courts due to personnel and public safety concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. Below is currently available information on their status. Overall, the Office of Personnel Management has announced that as of March 16, 2020, and until further notice, federal offices nationwide are open but “maximum telework flexibilities” are in place for all eligible employees “pursuant to direction from agency heads.”
Trade Agencies and Court Status
U.S. Department of Commerce – While Commerce has published no formal notice of its operating status, it is known that the main Commerce building was closed on March 31 until further notice. Access to the Herbert C. Hoover building is now restricted to only necessary security and maintenance staff, and “mission critical” employees are in contact with their supervisors. The International Trade Administration (ITA) has temporarily modified its antidumping and countervailing duty (AD/CVD) cases to facilitate the serving of documents through electronic means. Effective March 24, 2020 and until May 19, 2020, documents containing business proprietary information (BPI) may be served on opposing counsel via ITA’s online ACCESS data portal instead of the normal requirement for hard-copy “in-person” service. Further, the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has canceled its export control forums scheduled for April 2020.
U.S. Department of the Treasury – While Treasury has published no formal notice of its operating status, the “public engagement” schedule remains empty, indicating that all outside meetings and events have been canceled. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has not indicated yet whether its operations have been affected.
U.S. Department of State – The Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) has stated that its core activities across its Licensing, Compliance, Policy, and Management offices continue to function within the parameters and adjustments that have been made as the agency follows OPM guidance.
- Licensing activities: All electronic application systems are currently in normal operational mode and new licenses continue to be accepted for processing; however, a longer than normal processing time should be expected.
- Registration, Commodity Jurisdiction Requests and General Correspondence: These filings via the Defense Export Control and Compliance System (DECCS) continue and are being processed as they are submitted; responses may be delayed by the current operational environment.
DDTC states that it has established a new option for industry to submit disclosures and related information (e.g., exhibits, extension requests and responses to DTCC inquires) by allowing submissions via email to DTCC-CaseStatus@state.gov. In the event that a disclosure cannot be submitted via email, DDTC indicates that the continued use of regular U.S. mail is acceptable.
U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) – The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has still offered no update on its operating status within the Executive Office of the President.
U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) – The ITC stated that it is open for business while it continues to monitor the situation. Since March 17, all ITC employees have been teleworking full-time. The secretary’s office will accept only electronic filings during this time. Filings must be made through the ITC’s Electronic Document Information System (EDIS) at https://edis.usitc.gov. No in-person, paper-based filings or paper copies of any electronic filings will be accepted until further notice. The ITC building is now closed to the public entirely through at least April 24, 2020.
- Section 337 Hearings: Administrative law judges (ALJs) have been ordered to postpone any hearings until after May 12, 2020. All discovery will continue and any essential outside participation by staff will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
- Title VII Matters: Until further notice, no in-person preliminary phase Title VII (antidumping and countervailing duty) staff conferences will be held for new and ongoing investigations. Instead, interested parties will have the opportunity to provide opening remarks, witness testimony, and responses to staff questions through written submissions, in addition to post conference briefs. Information and guidance will be provided to parties by the investigative staff in each affected investigation. All ITC Title VII votes will be conducted by notation; there will be no in-person vote for the next 60 days. Until further notice, no in-person hearings will be held for final phase Title VII investigations, five-year (sunset) reviews, and those held under Section 332 and Section 131. In lieu of in-person hearings, staff will provide specific information and guidance to parties in each affected investigation on alternative means of providing information to the commission. Interested parties will be invited to provide opening remarks, written testimony, and responses to questions issued by the commission with certified written responses; parties may also be invited to participate in virtual or telephonic closing and/or rebuttal statements. The ITC has prepared a COVID-19 related set of FAQs.
- Electronic service of documents has temporarily been implemented for most ITC issuances. Public documents will continue to be made available via the ITC’s electronic record, EDIS. In addition, temporarily, confidential documents will be made available to authorized parties via Box (box.com). Service of confidential documents will be considered effected upon notification via email to other parties/counsel in ongoing investigations that the documents are available for download.
- Agency Meetings, Seminars and Briefings: All scheduled in-person meetings with outside persons have been cancelled or postponed.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – CBP refers users to DHS.gov/coronavirus for information related to the COVID-19 pandemic, where it states that “all air, land and sea Ports of Entry (POEs), CBP Officers (CBPOs) and Border Patrol Agents (BPAs) continue to identify and refer individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 or a travel history to China, Iran, or certain European countries in the past 14 days to CDC or local public health officials for enhanced health screening.”
In order to streamline communications and support the trade community, CBP launched the CBP COVID-19 Updates and Announcements web page specifically dedicated to the most recent trade-related information and messaging on the impacts of COVID-19. Information found on the web page includes Federal Register notices and Cargo Systems Messaging Service communications related to COVID-19, as well as updates and announcements in trade programs and cargo security.
DHS continues to state that the “routing of all flights with passengers who have recently been in China, Iran, and certain European countries through select airports with established resources, procedures and personnel is an important, prudent step DHS is taking actively to decrease the strain on public health officials screening incoming travelers and protecting the American public.”
U.S. Census Bureau – Many U.S. Census Bureau employees are operating remotely via telework. During this time, call centers and email inboxes will remain open to assist customers’ daily trade needs. However, the agency will have limited access to physical mail. For those companies that are submitting a Voluntary Self-Disclosure (VSD) or data request, please make the submission electronically to the Trade Regulations Branch (TRB) in a password-protected file to firstname.lastname@example.org (for VSDs) or Data User & Trade Outreach Branch (DUTOB) to email@example.com (for data requests). Additionally, such submissions may be sent to the bureau’s secure fax at 301-763-8835.
U.S. Court of International Trade (CIT) – According to CIT’s statement of April 2, 2020, courthouse access has been temporarily restricted until further notice. The staff of the Office of the Clerk is available by telephone and email. The court’s CM/ECF system continues to be operational during this time and unless otherwise ordered, all filing deadlines will remain in effect.
Any filings that are permitted by the Rules of the Court to be made by mail or delivery should be addressed to:
Office of the Clerk – Case Management
U.S. Court of International Trade
One Federal Plaza
New York, NY 10278
Any filings that are permitted by the Rules of the Court to be made in person should be brought to the court security officers at the courthouse. The court notes “that there will be delays in processing documents that are mailed or delivered to the courthouse.”
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit – Per a public advisory notice and an administrative order, the Federal Circuit began restricting public access to the National Courts Building complex on March 16, 2020. On March 19, the court issued an updated public advisory stating that all cases scheduled for argument during the April 2020 sitting will now be conducted by telephone conference and no in-person hearings will be held.
The Clerk’s Office has issued new guidance on how counsel may accomplish service outside of CM/ECF, which is most frequently required when serving pro se parties or confidential materials. Individuals, including pro se litigants and couriers wishing to deliver or to file case documents, must submit these items either by mail or by deposit in the court’s night box. Mail and third-party commercial deliveries will be limited to the lobby. Any other deliveries must be coordinated ahead of time with relevant court staff.
Useful U.S. Government Website Links
The U.S. government has established multiple websites to assist the public:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- Presidential proclamations, executive orders, presidential memoranda – Presidential Actions
- Presidential briefings and statements – White House Press Room
- The President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America
- State Department – COVID-19 Country Specific Information
- Small Business Administration – SBA Guidance & Loan Resources
- OSHA – Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID‑19
U.S. Government International Trade-Related Websites
- Resources for the shipping industry – Guidance for Ships
- Resources for airlines – Updated Interim Guidance for Airlines and Airline Crew
- Resources for cargo ships – Reporting Maritime Death or Illness to DGMQ
- S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
- Export-Import Bank of the United States – Program Waivers, Extensions and Other Provisions
- World Health Organization (WHO) – Resource Page
- Group of Seven (G7) Leaders – Statement
- European Council – Statement on Economic Policy Response
- European Union – European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control
- United Kingdom – UK Government Response
- Government of Canada – Resources for Canadian Businesses
Thompson Hine has launched a multidisciplinary COVID-19 Task Force to monitor the latest developments and guidance from public health officials and assess the potential impacts on our clients and their businesses. The COVID-19 Task Force page on our website provides a centralized location for recent publications, webinars, articles and resources that you may find helpful.