DOC Announces New Rebuttal System in Attempt to Improve Much-Criticized Section 232 Exclusion Process

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The U.S. Department of Commerce. qingwa/Adobe Stock

The impact of the U.S.’s Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs on its relationships with other countries has been well-documented — but what about Section 232 challenges at home?

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For domestic businesses seeking to win product exclusions from the tariffs that went into effect March 23, the process has been slow going, to say the least.

Even now, exclusion requests and objections continue to roll in every day.

In June, the Department of Commerce (DOC) announced its first responses to a small percentage of exclusion requests — which then hovered around 20,000 — granting 42 requests (from seven companies), while also denying 56 requests from a total of 11 different companies.

As of late last month, the DOC had received more than 38,000 exclusion requests and 17,000 filed objections — and the numbers continue to rise, with objections being filed this week.

Earlier this summer during a Senate Finance Committee hearing — during which Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross testified — committee members offered criticism of the exclusion request process, questioning if the DOC was prepared for the number of requests that have come in.

While some progress has been made since June, the DOC has still produced determinations for a relatively small percentage of the overall requests.

Naturally, with the exclusion request process under fire for its lack of pace, the DOC announced a change last week that it hopes will streamline the process.

According to a DOC release, it has implemented an updated rebuttal system, which is available to “all U.S. businesses which have not received a final determination.”

“The Department of Commerce and the Bureau of Industry and Security have made an unprecedented effort to ensure American businesses are not unduly harmed by Section 232 tariffs,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “These updates will help perfect the process to ensure a fair hearing for all parties involved.”

The Bureau of Industry and Security published information in the Federal Register on an interim final rule governing the process, which went into effect Sept. 11.

“The revisions are informed by the comments received in response to the March 19 rule and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s (referred to henceforth as “the Department”) experience with managing the exclusion and objection process,” the rule document on the Federal Register states. “The Department understands the importance of having a transparent, fair and efficient exclusion and objection process. The publication of today’s rule should make significant improvements in all three respects, but due to the scope of this new process, BIS is publishing today’s rule as an interim final rule with request for comments.”

Per the DOC release, exclusion requesters have seven days to submit a rebuttal. Then, objectors will have seven days to submit a surrebuttal.

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“To further assist industry moving through the process, the Department of Commerce is also cataloging the Objection, Rebuttal, and Surrebuttal Identification Number associated with each Exclusion Request,” the DOC release states. “The Aluminum Rebuttal & Surrebuttal Finder and the Steel Rebuttal & Surrebuttal Finder will be uploaded each day at www.commerce.gov/232.”

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