May 8, 2020

Beyond COVID-19 work, international trade agreements continue to move forward. While COVID is slowing the pace of progress, USTR is focusing on China and the UK, and an updated trade deal with Brazil looms on the horizon.

US-China Trade

The US and China have published the Phase 1 agreement on international trade, but given COVID, the Chinese have not voted on it yet; however, Post-COVID, a vote is expected.

Under the agreement, China will end forced transfers of IP and other types of confidential business information. As the deal states, the US and China agree “to ensure effective protection for trade secrets and confidential business information and effective enforcement against the misappropriation of such information.” (link) In addition, as part of Phase 1, wholly-owned foreign entities can operate in China without a domestic manufacturer partner.


US-UK trade talks officially began on May 5. US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the goal of these talks is to “write an agreement that… will eliminate barriers to trade and that will incorporate best practices in all sectors. If we are successful, the benefit will flow to workers, farmers, and businessmen on both sides of the Atlantic.” US trade objectives for this effort can be found here

US-Brazil Trade Talks expected to begin in 2020

Some in the international trade community suggest “2020 is a pivotal year to substantively advance bilateral economic ties” with Brazil.

As a report from the Atlantic Council notes, “Brazil remains one of the countries with the highest tariff barriers. As the United States and Brazil work to deepen trade of goods, the United States will look to seize on opportunities to increase regulatory cooperation, identify and eliminate technical barriers, and identify new openings for harmonizing standards and assessment procedures.”

Beyond monetary tariffs, Brazil is known for its non-tariff barriers. These barriers include import licensing, product standards, conformity assessment procedures, and technical regulations.


OSHA has opened an investigation into the COVID-19 safety practices of the Patrick Cudahy/Smithfield Foods meatpacking plant in Milwaukee after a worker shared concerns about unsafe work conditions at the plant. OSHA is also investigating a Smithfield Foods, Inc. plant in Missouri.

The outcome of these investigations will be significant. Legal action against animal protein processors has been filed. But recently, a court in Missouri tossed a lawsuit against Smithfield because the OSHA investigation there is still on-going. However, if OSHA finds that the company was liable for not protecting workers from known hazards, it is very likely to shift the levels of worker protections in this industry.


NIOSH is now in the spotlight as the California Governor, Gavin Newsom (D) waits to learn if the millions of respirators his administration contracted to buy from Chinese manufacturer BYD will pass the N95 certification test.

The contract between the state and BYD required BYD-subsidiary Global Health Product Solutions LLC to obtain NIOSH certification for the masks by April 30. That didn’t happen. Now, BYD has until May 31. In the meantime, it also requires the company to return $247 million to the state for not meeting the original deadline.

FDA scales down its list of approved respirators from China

Similarly, FDA recently struck 65 of the 80 respirators in Appendix A. This list is now only two pages. Last week, it was nine pages.  The reason for the drastic change is likely the result of NIOSH research on these devices and concerns from end-users.

Test (at NIOSH) before you buy!

Anyone can ask NIOSH to test the filtration efficiency of a respirator.  The site for NIOSH’s International Respirator Assessment Request is