[Federal Register Volume 85, Number 196 (Thursday, October 8, 2020)]
[Pages 63639-63640]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2020-22270]

[[Page 63639]]



[Docket Number USTR-2020-0036]

Initiation of Section 301 Investigation: Vietnam's Acts, 
Policies, and Practices Related to the Import and Use of Illegal Timber

AGENCY: Office of the United States Trade Representative.

ACTION: Notice and request for comments.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Trade Representative is initiating an investigation 
of Vietnam's acts, policies, and practices related to the import and 
use of timber that is illegally harvested or traded. The Office of the 
United States Trade Representative (USTR) seeks comments regarding the 

DATES: To be assured of consideration, you must submit written comments 
by November 12, 2020.

ADDRESSES: You should submit written comments through the Federal 
eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov (Regulations.gov). 
Follow the instructions for submitting comments in section IV. The 
docket number is USTR-2020-0036. For issues with on-line submissions, 
contact the Section 301 line at 202-395-5725.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For procedural questions concerning 
the submission of written comments, contact the Section 301 line at 
202-395-5725. For other questions concerning the investigation, contact 
David Lyons, Assistant General Counsel, 202-395-9446, Marta Prado, 
Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Southeast Asia and the 
Pacific, 202-395-6216, or Joseph Johnson, Senior Director for 
Environment and Natural Resources, 202-395-2464.


I. Background

    Vietnam is one of the world's largest exporters of wood products, 
including to the United States. In 2019, Vietnam exported to the United 
States more than $3.7 billion of wooden furniture. To supply the timber 
inputs needed for its wood products manufacturing sector, Vietnam 
relies on imports of timber harvested in other countries. Available 
evidence suggests that a significant portion of that imported timber 
was illegally harvested or traded (illegal timber). Some of that timber 
may be from species listed under the Convention on International Trade 
in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
    Evidence indicates that much of the timber imported by Vietnam was 
harvested against the laws of the source country. Reports indicate that 
a significant amount of the timber exported from Cambodia to Vietnam 
was harvested on protected lands, such as wildlife sanctuaries, or 
outside of and therefore in violation of legal timber concessions. 
Cambodia nevertheless remains a significant source of Vietnam's timber 
imports. Similarly, timber sourced from other countries, such as 
Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), may have been 
harvested against those countries' laws.
    In addition, Vietnamese timber imports may be traded illegally. For 
example, it appears that most timber exported from Cambodia to Vietnam 
crosses the border in violation of Cambodia's log export ban. In 
addition, aspects of the importation and processing of this timber also 
may violate Vietnam's domestic law and be inconsistent with CITES.

II. Initiation of Section 301 Investigation

    Section 302(b)(1)(A) of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended (Trade 
Act), authorizes the U.S. Trade Representative to initiate an 
investigation to determine whether an act, policy, or practice of a 
foreign country is actionable under section 301 of the Trade Act. 
Actionable matters under section 301 include acts, policies, and 
practices of a foreign country that are unreasonable or discriminatory 
and burden or restrict U.S. commerce. An act, policy, or practice is 
unreasonable if, while not necessarily in violation of, or inconsistent 
with, the international legal rights of the United States, it is 
otherwise unfair and inequitable.
    On October 2, 2020, the U.S. Trade Representative initiated a 
Section 301 investigation to examine whether Vietnam's acts, policies, 
and practices related to the import and use of illegal timber are 
unreasonable or discriminatory and burden or restrict U.S. commerce.
    Pursuant to section 302(b)(1)(B) of the Trade Act, USTR has 
consulted with appropriate advisory committees. USTR also has consulted 
with the interagency Section 301 Committee. Pursuant to section 303(a) 
of the Trade Act, the U.S. Trade Representative has requested 
consultations with the Government of Vietnam.
    Pursuant to section 304 of the Trade Act, the U.S. Trade 
Representative must determine whether the act, policy, or practice 
under investigation is actionable under section 301. If that 
determination is affirmative, the U.S. Trade Representative must 
determine what action to take.
    The investigation initially will focus on the following issues:
     Vietnamese imports of illegal timber may be inconsistent 
with Vietnam's domestic laws, the laws of exporting countries, or 
international rules. The import of illegal timber may indicate that 
Vietnam is not enforcing its own laws concerning the import and 
processing of timber, such as laws requiring that wood processors 
ensure the lawful origins of the timber they use. For species listed 
under the CITES that are imported from Cambodia or the DRC, there is 
evidence that Vietnamese authorities are not requiring the permits or 
certificates that should be needed to enter or re-export from Vietnam.
     Evidence indicates that Vietnam at least tacitly may 
support the import and use of illegal timber. For example, reports 
indicate that Vietnamese officials do not record the origin of timber 
crossing the Cambodia-Vietnam border. This practice would enable 
Vietnamese exporters to disclaim knowledge of illegal timber inputs 
when exporting wood products to third countries. Vietnam may have 
allowed the importation of CITES-listed species based on invalid CITES 
permits. At the provincial government level, there are reports of 
Vietnamese officials accepting payments in return for facilitating 
illegal timber imports.
     Other acts, policies, and practices of Vietnam relating to 
the import and use of illegal timber.

III. Request for Public Comments

    You may submit written comments on any issue covered by the 
investigation. In particular, USTR invites comments regarding:
     The extent to which illegal timber is imported into 
     The extent to which Vietnamese producers, including 
producers of wooden furniture, use illegal timber.
     The extent to which products of Vietnam made from illegal 
timber, including wooden furniture, are imported into the United 
     Vietnam's acts, policies, or practices relating to the 
import and use of illegal timber.
     The nature and level of the burden or restriction on U.S. 
commerce caused by Vietnam's import and use of illegal timber.
     The determinations required under section 304 of the Trade 
Act, including what action, if any, should be taken.
    In light of the uncertainties arising from COVID-19 restrictions, 
USTR is not at this time scheduling a public

[[Page 63640]]

hearing in this investigation. USTR will provide further information in 
a subsequent notice if it will hold a hearing in this investigation.

IV. Procedures for Written Submissions

    All submissions must be in English and sent electronically via 
Regulations.gov. To submit comments via Regulations.gov, enter docket 
number USTR-2020-0036. Find a reference to this notice and click on the 
link entitled `comment now!'. For further information on using 
Regulations.gov, please consult the resources provided on the website 
by clicking on `how to use Regulations.gov' on the bottom of the 
Regulations.gov home page. USTR will not accept hand-delivered 
    Regulations.gov allows users to submit comments by filling in a 
`type comment' field or by attaching a document using an `upload file' 
field. USTR prefers that you submit comments in an attached document. 
If you attach a document, it is sufficient to type `see attached in the 
`type comment' field. USTR strongly prefers submissions in Adobe 
Acrobat (.pdf). If you use an application other than Adobe Acrobat or 
Word (.doc), please indicate the name of the application in the `type 
comment' field.
    File names should reflect the name of the person or entity 
submitting the comment. Please do not attach separate cover letters to 
electronic submissions; rather, include any information that would be 
in a cover letter in the comment itself. Similarly, to the extent 
possible, please include any exhibits, annexes, or other attachments in 
the same file as the comment itself, rather than submitting them as 
separate files.
    For any comments that contain business confidential information 
(BCI), the file name of the business confidential version should begin 
with the characters `BCI.' You must clearly mark any page containing 
BCI by including `BUSINESS CONFIDENTIAL' on the top of that page and 
clearly indicating, via brackets, highlighting, or other means, the 
specific information that is BCI. If you request business confidential 
treatment, you must certify in writing that disclosure of the 
information would endanger trade secrets or profitability, and that you 
would not customarily release the information to the public. Filers of 
submissions containing BCI also must submit a public version of their 
comments. The file name of the public version should begin with the 
character `P.' Follow the `BCI' and `P' with the name of the person or 
entity submitting the comments. If these procedures are not sufficient 
to protect BCI or otherwise protect business interests, please contact 
the Section 301 line at 202-395-5725 to discuss whether alternative 
arrangements are possible.
    USTR will post submissions in the docket for public inspection, 
except properly designated BCI. You can view submissions on 
Regulations.gov by entering docket number USTR-2020-0036 in the search 
field on the home page.

Joseph Barloon,
General Counsel, Office of the United States Trade Representative.
[FR Doc. 2020-22270 Filed 10-7-20; 8:45 am]