Filings show millions in Covington fees for fertilizer tariff fight

Signage is seen outside of the law firm Covington & Burling LLP in Washington, D.C., U.S., August 30, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • Covington represents longtime Moroccan client OCP S.A. in dispute at U.S. Court of International Trade
  • Morocco is world's largest phosphates exporter

(Reuters) - Covington & Burling has received nearly $15 million in fees since October 2020 for legal work and policy advice it provided to Moroccan state-owned phosphate miner and fertilizer producer OCP S.A., including in connection with a trade dispute with U.S. regulators, newly filed U.S. Justice Department records show.

The disclosures this week offer a rare snapshot of an ongoing revenue stream for the Washington, D.C., firm. Lawyers, lobby offices and public relations professionals are required to report certain engagements with foreign clients under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Covington, which counts OCP as a longtime client, is providing policy and legal services to the company as it contests the U.S. International Trade Commission's move in March to impose tariffs on certain phosphate imports from Morocco and Russia.

Morocco is the world's largest exporter of phosphates. In 2019, the U.S. imported $729 million worth of phosphate fertilizers from Morocco, according to the Commerce Department.

Covington is challenging the tariffs in a case pending at the U.S. Court of International Trade that has attracted widespread attention in the agricultural industry. Many types of crop producers rely on phosphate fertilizers.

Covington's Bruce Wilson, a senior corporate and mergers and acquisition partner in Washington who represents OCP, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on Friday.

The October 2020 contract the firm signed with OCP showed Wilson's hourly rate was $1,350, and other partners were charging up to $2,250. Covington said it would reduce its standard rates by 7.5% to 15% in certain instances for OCP. It's not uncommon for large U.S. firms to cut rates for government clients.

Covington's policy work for OCP is focused on "legislative and executive department messaging and communication strategies" that address "OCP's role in the U.S. fertilizer sector and the potential impact of tariffs on the U.S. agricultural community," the disclosures say.

The U.S. regulatory trade injury investigation targeting phosphate imports was spurred by a petition from U.S.-based OCP rival Mosaic Co.

A lawyer at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr representing Tampa, Florida-based Mosaic at the international trade court did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Friday.

Five farming trade groups, including the American Soybean Association, National Corn Growers Association and National Cotton Council, filed an amicus brief in October in the international trade court in support of OCP.

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(Note: This story was updated with additional detail about the scope of the firm's legal fees.)

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