USTR denies request to reopen comment period for Section 301 inquiry into Vietnam currency practices

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Office of the United States Trade Representative will still hold a Dec. 29 virtual public hearing pertaining to a Section 301 investigation into Vietnam’s currency practices, despite recent concerns raised by 24 trade associations.

In a Dec. 18 letter sent to the USTR by law firm Mowry & Grimson, the associations voiced concern that a U.S. Treasury Department report labeling Vietnam as a currency manipulator was issued after the public comment period deadline for the Dec. 29 hearing. In addition to asking the USTR to reopen the public comment period, the associations asked that the hearing and post-hearing comment period be delayed

In its Dec. 22 response, the USTR said that interested parties may still comment on the Treasury report under an existing timeline for public input. This includes the submission of post hearing comments due Jan. 7. It also noted that witnesses at the Dec. 29 hearing “may address matters related to the Treasury Report in their hearing testimony, regardless of whether such matters were covered in their initial summary of testimony.”

The Section 301 investigation, along with a separate inquiry into Vietnam’s alleged use of illegal timber in furniture and other products, will determine whether the U.S. government imposes tariffs on Vietnamese goods shipped to the United States.

Responding to the Dec. 22 letter from the USTR, Jeffrey Grimson, of Mowry & Grimson said, “We appreciate the prompt response from the USTR.  However, we do not think that the opportunity to file rebuttal comments on the Treasury Report solves the unfairness that other witnesses may have requested to appear at the hearing but that request deadline predated the release of the Treasury Report.”

Also on Dec. 22, Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and President Donald Trump had a phone call discussing the bilateral relationship between the two countries.

According to a summary of the conversation Furniture Today received from the Vietnam Embassy in Washington, the Vietnamese prime minister noted that “as a developing country with limited economic capacities, Vietnam has conducted monetary policies with an aim to control inflation and stabilize the macro-economy, not to create unfair competitive advantages in international trade.”

At the same time, he noted, the government and “relevant agencies of Vietnam are taking very strong and decisive measures to purchase more U.S. products and services, including airplanes, LNG (liquefied natural gas) and agricultural products,” in order to create favorable conditions for U.S. companies to do business in Vietnam, including in areas such as “technology and digital trade sectors.”

Vietnam, the prime minister continued, “is also determined to fight against illegal trans-shipment and origin frauds, particularly in cases relating to timber, solar cells, electronics, bicycles, fiber and steel. Vietnamese agencies will continue to actively cooperate with U.S. partners, including the USTR and Treasury Department to address the concerns of both sides. Vietnam is willing to negotiate with the USTR to upgrade the current bilateral trade action plan towards a more balanced, sustainable and mutually beneficial trade relations.”

It was not clear what effect the conversation might have relating to the Section 301 investigation. However, according to the Embassy, President Trump “acknowledged the views of Prime Minister Phuc and said he would instruct relevant agencies for due consideration.”

The Embassy noted that President Trump also congratulated the government and people of Vietnam on their successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the country’s “positive contribution to regional peace, security and cooperation.”

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