US-HK Policy Act – A New Battleground in US-China Trade Wars

As US-China trade wars escalate, residents in Hong Kong have waged fierce battles against a proposed extradition law, which poses the horrendous specter of any person physically present in Hong Kong being seized and extradited to China and subject to its “capricious legal system” on trumped-up charges, without meaningful legislative or judicial reviews. (See, eg, here.) The battles in Hong Kong, however, may turn out to be more than merely domestic politics, but rather far-reaching extensions of the US-China trade war battlegrounds.

To circumvent the rising tariffs imposed on Chinese goods, one strategy for Chinese manufacturers and exporters is to label the Chinese goods as made in another country/region that is not subject to the high tariffs. One such country/region is Hong Kong. (See, eg, here.) Under the US-HK Policy Act of 1992 (22 USC §5701 et seq), Hong Kong is treated by US as a region “autonomous” from China with regard to commerce, among others, even after UK returned HK to Chinese control in 1997. Specifically, the Act provides:

“The United States should continue to […] treat Hong Kong as a territory which is fully autonomous from the People’s Republic of China with respect to economic and trade matters.”

22 USC 5713(3)

Therefore, currently, goods designated as made in Hong Kong are not subject to the increased tariffs imposed on Chinese goods. If Chinese goods are first shipped to HK and then re-labeled (if necessary) and re-shipped to US, potentially these goods could evade the higher tariffs. – As long as the US laws continue to grant HK the special treatment as an autonomous region.

That special treatment, however, may be subject to change, and may be used as a weapon and an extended battleground in the trade wars. Specifically, the Act allows the President of US to suspend the special treatment, in consultation with the Congress, if the President determines that HK is “not sufficiently autonomous”. (22 USC 5722(a)) Additionally, the Congress may enact new laws affecting adversely or eliminating altogether the special treatment.

Judging from recent news headlines (eg, “U.S. warns extradition law changes may jeopardize Hong Kong’s special status”, Reuters, 6/10/2019; “McConnell: Protesters in Hong Kong Should be Heard”, Youtube Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Channel, 6/11/2019; “Pelosi Vows to Review Hong Kong Trade Ties Over Extradition Bill”, Bloomberg, 6/12/2019), the battle of Hong Kong might have begun!

Puzzling Definition of “Time Deposit”


Reg. D Definition of “Time Deposit”

Regulation D (12 CFR 204) promulgated by the Federal Reserve Board (FRB) imposes reserve requirements on certain bank deposits. Generally, “transaction accounts” are subject to reserve requirements, but “time deposits” and “savings deposits” are not. The current definition of the term “Time Deposit”, however, can be confusing if not read in light of the historical context. Currently, Reg. D defines a “Time Deposit” as:

Time Deposit means:

(i) A deposit that the depositor does not have a right and is not permitted to make withdrawals from within six days after the date of deposit unless the deposit is subject to an early withdrawal penalty […];

(ii) A savings deposit;

(iii) […]

(iv) […]

37 CFR 204.2(c)(1).

Based on the above definition, therefore, “Savings Deposits” are a type of “Time Deposits”. But why?

If one reads the definition of “Savings Deposit” in the regulation, a “Savings Deposit” does not require a minimum term or impose an early withdrawal penalty. It is thus substantially different from the type of “Time Deposits” defined in the first sub-part of the “Time Deposit” definition.

Moreover, in practice, “Savings Deposits” are generally understood as a different type of deposit accounts from “Time Deposits”. For example, in the Federal Reserve Form, FR 2900 (Report of Transaction Accounts, Other Deposits, and Vault Cash), with which financial institutions report their deposit liabilities for reserve reporting purposes, “Time Deposits” and “Savings Deposits” are listed as two separate categories, apart from “Transaction Accounts” and “Vault Cash”. Additionally, the Reg. D section of the FRB Consumer Compliance Handbook also lists “Time Deposits” and “Savings Deposits” as two separate and distinct categories.

Under Reg. D, both “Time Deposits” and “Savings Deposits” are explicitly exempted from the reserve requirements. Therefore, it is not necessary to define “Savings Deposits” as a type of “Time Deposits” to achieve the goals of the regulation. — It is a puzzling definition, until one looks up the history of the regulation.


As first written in 1980, Reg. D defined a “Time Deposit” as one that “does not have a right to withdraw” for 14 days after deposit. Notably, the definition at the time did not explicitly impose an early withdrawal penalty. Such a definition, therefore, was broad enough to include certain “Savings Deposits”, for which the bank reserved rights to require an early withdrawal notice. Therefore, it was logical for the 1980 version of Reg. D to define “Time Deposits” to include those “Savings Deposits” that were not considered “Transaction Accounts”. Specifically, the definition was written as follows:

Time Deposit means:

(i) A deposit that the depositor does not have a right to withdrawals for a period of 14 days or more after the date of deposit. “Time deposit” includes funds:

(A) […];

(B) […];

(C) […];

(D) […];

(E) That constitute a “savings deposit” which is not regarded as a “transaction account.”

(ii) […].

45 Fed. Reg. 56018, 56020 (August 22, 1980).

By comparing the 1980 and current definitions, it becomes clear that after the definition of “Time Deposits” was amended, particularly by adding the early withdrawal penalty, “Savings Deposits” no longer belonged in the conventional type of “Time Deposits” and were removed from the explicit list. For unknown reasons, however, the FRB decided to keep it as a separate category under “Time Deposits”, thus creating the present confusions.

To clarify, FRB should amend Reg. D to remove the “Savings Deposit” from the definition of a “Time Deposit”.