The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost every aspect of law and public policy, and trade has certainly been no exception.  Given that the supply chains for many critical medical supplies and forms of personal protective equipment (“PPE”) run through China, it was inevitable that this impact would affect the Section 301 investigation of China brought by the United States Trade Representative (“USTR”). Late last month, USTR announced a new comment process regarding the need for relief from Section 301 tariffs for products necessary to address the COVID-19 situation.

Earlier this week, at the request of congressional leaders, the U.S. International Trade Commission (“ITC”) initiated a fact-finding investigation to identify products “related to the response to COVID-19.”  The Commission is expected to issue its report by April 30.  A product’s inclusion in the ITC report may improve the likelihood that it receives an exemption from Section 301 tariffs.

At first glance, the standards for inclusion in the ITC’s report might seem fairly straightforward, and many products—such as certain medications or PPE like surgical masks—will be uncontroversial.  But many products could present difficult line-drawing problems.  For example, the FDA has emphasized the importance of improved data collection in the supply chains for essential products.  Are handheld barcode scanners—which are essential for collecting and relaying such data in real time, and which are presently subjected to “List 4B” Section 301 tariffs—therefore “related to the response to COVID-19?”

With the April 30 report deadline fast approaching, importers and sellers may want to work quickly to make their case for inclusion on the ITC’s list.  The first written submission was filed on the Commission’s EDIS system yesterday.

Husch Blackwell continues to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on trade and will provide further updates as new information becomes available.  If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our International Trade and Supply Chain team.