On March 8, 2018, President Trump signed proclamations authorizing the imposition of a 25 percent customs duty on certain steel products and a 10 percent customs duty on certain aluminum products. The duties were imposed pursuant to Section 232 (“Section 232”) of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, a rarely-used national security provision that authorizes the Department of Commerce (DOC) to investigate the effect of imports on national security. The new customs duties are scheduled to enter into effect on March 23, 2018. Below we discuss the Presidential Proclamations and reactions from Capitol Hill and other countries.
Today, President Trump issued a statement on the status of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“Iran nuclear deal”) and the Office of Foreign Assets Control designated 14 individuals and entities in connection with serious human rights abuses and censorship in Iran, and support to designated Iranian weapons proliferators. Below, we provide notable highlights from the President’s statement.
On December 20, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13818 (the “E.O.”) implementing provisions of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (“Global Magnitsky Act”) (enacted into law in December 2016), which provided for sanctions relating to gross human rights violations or government officials linked to corruption. The E.O. authorizes the imposition of sanctions on non-U.S. persons determined to be responsible for, complicit in, or have engaged in (directly or indirectly) “serious human rights abuse,” corruption, or “the transfer or the facilitation of the transfer of the proceeds of corruption,” or to have attempted to engage in or materially support such acts.
The E.O. applied sanctions designations to 13 persons and, separately, the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) imposed sanctions on 39 additional individuals and entities around the world. This includes individuals and entities from 13 countries and territories spanning the continents of Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America.
Further to our alert published on November 13, 2017 regarding whether acts, policies, and practices (APPs) of China related to transfer of technology, intellectual property, and innovation are actionable under Section 301(b)(1) of the Trade Act of 1974 (Section 301), it is anticipated that the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) will make affirmative findings and remedy recommendations well ahead of the August 2018 statutory deadline, potentially as early as January 2018. USTR is authorized to take specified actions (noted below), “subject to the specific direction, if any, of the President regarding such action[s]” and is authorized to take “all other appropriate and feasible action within the power of the President that the President may direct USTR to take.”
According to USTR officials, if the United States makes an affirmative determination, the next steps will likely proceed in two tracks: (1) the United States may elect to initiate a World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute regarding the APPs, if they are considered to be in violation of WTO commitments, and/or (2) the United States may take unilateral retaliatory action. Below, we comment briefly on both tracks.
On December 5, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) awarded more than $4.1 million to a whistleblower for alerting the SEC to a multi-year securities fraud engaged in by his employer. The award is significant in that the recipient, a company insider who alerted the SEC to the securities fraud, is a non-U.S. national working overseas. This is not the first time that the SEC has awarded a large sum to a foreign whistleblower. The distinction for the largest award ever awarded goes to an award of $30 million awarded in 2014 to a whistleblower living in a foreign country. In that case the whistleblower provided the SEC with information about an on-going fraud that the SEC claimed was hard to detect.
On November 22, 2017, Apple, Inc. released a statement confirming reports that its major supplier in China, Foxconn Technology Group has used illegal student labor to assemble the latest version of the iPhone. Apple indicated that the company and Foxconn are taking corrective action in response. In the past, both Apple and Foxconn have been accused of employing forced labor practices. This time, the discoveries coincide with a time of renewed focus on enforcement of the decades-old U.S. ban on imports of forced labor, carrying consequences for importers in terms of penalties, and withholding and/or seizure of merchandise. As reviewed below, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has recently taken measures to enforce the import ban and sanctions for forced North Korean labor (described below), and issued guidance to importers in this regard.
On November 8, 2017, members of the U.S. House and Senate introduced companion legislation that would update the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) and the national security review process. The bill, entitled the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2017 (FIRRMA), would change the scope of what is considered a “covered transaction” and add a new “declaration” process that would be required in certain cases. Below are three of the most significant changes contained in the proposed bill.
During his visit to China, President Trump raised concerns about the trade deficit between the United States and China as well as China’s trade practices. One longstanding concern in this regard has been technology/intellectual property (IP) transfer requirements in China—an issue the U.S. Trade Representative is currently investigating through a rarely used tool under U.S. law. In their recent alert on the topic, colleagues Nancy A. Fischer, Stephan E. Becker and Sahar J. Hafeez examine the issue and its potential trade implications.
Following President Trump’s trip to Asia, sanctions policies for North Korea continue to evolve. The U.S. government has strengthened sanctions through legislation and Presidential Executive Orders. Further, it is enforcing its secondary sanctions against companies doing business with the North Korean regime, thus far targeting banks, businesses and individuals. The UN Security Council has approved resolutions imposing sanctions on North Korea in reaction to its nuclear and missile tests. Aggressive enforcement by the United States and actions by China and other Asian countries in light of the UN resolutions should be expected. Indeed, President Trump recently tweeted that China would be “upping” sanctions against North Korea.
Below is a summary of key pronouncements from the U.S. government, UN, and other countries.
On November 8, 2017, the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) announced amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (“CACR”) and Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”). In addition, the State Department published a list of entities and subentities deemed to be under the control or to act on behalf of the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services or personnel. These steps implement the changes to the Cuba sanctions program announced by the President in his June “National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba” (“NSPM”). The changes reflect adjustments to the broader Cuba reform initiated by former President Obama in January 2015. A majority of the general license and guidance issued since that time remain in effect.
The key changes to the Cuba sanctions program are as follows: