Both the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) have announced new amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) and Export Administration Regulations (EAR) that continue to build upon existing licenses and authorizations facilitating trade with Cuba. These amendments, effective October 17, 2016, enhance the flexibility of U.S. companies seeking to do business with Cuba or Cuban nationals across various sectors.
On September 15, 2016, President Obama announced that U.S. economic sanctions on Myanmar (also known as Burma) would end, but the announcement left many questions as to what would change and what sanctions might remain. On October 7, the Obama Administration provided the answer with an Executive Order that completely removed the Burmese Sanctions Regulations, lifted the U.S. import ban on rubies and jadeites, made the public reporting requirements for investment voluntary, and lifted the bans on visas for certain sanctioned individuals and most sanctions listings of Burmese Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs).
The United States had been removing sanctions in steps since July 2012 as the Myanmar government moved down a path of reform. However, a patchwork of remaining sanctions and a broad set of sanctions listings continued to make business, investment, banking and trade with Myanmar challenging for U.S. as well as non-U.S. companies. Here are four key impacts of the U.S. policy change and four important issues that remain.
How does this removal of sanctions impact business in/with Myanmar?
1. The sanctions list is nearly gone (see below for what remains). Importantly, this includes removals of (a) the major Myanmar economic conglomerates, businesses and banks; (b) military/economic entities; and (c) the remaining key businessmen, industrialists and military-related figures.
2. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) provided “exceptive relief” to the Special Measures imposed for anti-money laundering (AML) purposes under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act. As a consequence, U.S. financial institutions continue to be authorized to provide correspondent banking services to Myanmar banks. Previously, U.S. financial institutions were permitted to provide correspondent services involving Myanmar transactions for non-SDN banks, although in practice U.S. banks have shied away.
3. The ban on imports to the United States of Myanmar rubies and jadeites, as well as jewelry containing the same, has been completely removed.
4. The State Department’s Responsible Investment Reporting Requirements for new investment over $5,000,000 (previously $500,000) has been removed, but reports can still be made on a voluntary basis.
What issues still remain for persons doing business in or related to Myanmar?
A. Over thirty Burmese SDNs continue to be listed under drug trafficking and North Korea sanctions programs. This includes Yangon Air and several gem, mining, textile, agricultural and constructions companies. Thus, although business in Myanmar will be far less burdensome, some sanctioned-party risk remains.
B. Myanmar banks will need to continue to integrate with the global financial system and establish U.S. correspondent banking relationships to allow dollar transactions. Myanmar’s government and financial system also will have to make continued progress to address FinCEN’s AML concerns. Whether the current FinCEN exception or Myanmar’s continuing reforms will be sufficient to encourage U.S. banks to expand their banking relationships with Myanmar remains to be seen.
C. The U.S. embargo on exports to Myanmar of defense articles and defense services remains in place.
D. Although all property and interests in property blocked under the Burmese Sanctions Regulations are now unblocked, the U.S. government made clear that past violations of U.S. sanctions are still subject to enforcement, including action against U.S. and non-U.S. persons who may have “jumped the gun” by conducting business prior to sanctions removal.
The lifting of sanctions for Myanmar marks a watershed in the unwinding of U.S. sanctions. Now, the U.S. and Myanmar governments will observe how the private sector reacts as Myanmar rebuilds and rejoins the international economy.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) updated its FAQs for Cuba on April 21, 2016 with substantive guidance that addresses U-turn transactions, export policy, insurance, educational and humanitarian activities and leasing of property in Cuba.
U-Turn Rules. OFAC amended the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) on March 16, 2016 to permit funds transfers from a bank outside the United States that pass through U.S. financial institutions before being transferred to a bank outside the United States, where neither the originator nor the beneficiary is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction (so called “U-turn transactions”).
- FAQ 62 clarifies that this authorization allows transactions originating and terminating at accounts in foreign branches or non-U.S. subsidiaries of U.S. banks (which are subject to U.S. jurisdiction), so long as the account-holder is not.
- FAQ 63 clarifies that U.S. banks may process U-turn transactions where the Cuban party is a Specially Designated National (SDN).
FAQ 63 also provides guidance for U.S. banks on the due diligence expected when processing Cuba U-turn transactions. Where a U.S. bank is only an intermediary, it may rely on the information provided by the remitting and receiving banks to determine if the parties are persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Where the transfer involves a direct customer, OFAC expects more substantial customer due diligence. In either case, the bank should conduct screening. If a U.S. bank fails to identify and block a prohibited transaction, despite following this guidance, OFAC indicated it would consider the totality of the circumstances in determining how to enforce.
Export Clarifications. FAQ 67 addressed the licensing requirements for removal of items from Cuba for repair or servicing. For items previously exported to Cuba under an authorization, an import from Cuba to the U.S. or a third country for repair/servicing requires OFAC authorization, which will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Separate Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) authorization would be required for return of the items to Cuba after servicing where subject to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR). However, where the import back to the United States is required under the terms of BIS authorizations used for export/reexport to Cuba, no further OFAC specific license is necessary.
FAQ 68 clarifies that the authorization under section 515.533 of the CACR for persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to engage in transactions incident to the reexport of 100 percent U.S.-origin items from a third country to Cuba where consistent with BIS licensing policy only applies where the items are 100 percent U.S.-origin.
Insurance. Transactions directly incident to authorized activity generally are permitted under the CACR, and OFAC clarified this authorization includes a variety of types of insurance for individuals traveling to Cuba and exports to Cuba (e.g. cargo or hull insurance). Insurance companies also may pay or settle claims to Cuban nationals for insurance incident to authorized activities. Providing insurance is otherwise prohibited, including reinsurance for activities in Cuba by foreign parties not subject to U.S. jurisdiction. See FAQs 80 & 81.
Grants to State-Owned Entities. Cuban state-owned entities may be the recipients of certain grants authorized under sections 515.565 and 515.575 of the CACR for education, scholarships, awards and certain humanitarian projects designed to benefit the Cuban people. See FAQ 93.
Leasing of Real Property. Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction may lease real property in Cuba where they are authorized to travel to or reside in Cuba. This would include, for example, short-term leases of residences in lieu of hotels when on authorized travel, or the rental of apartments when employed by a business authorized to have a physical or business presence in Cuba. OFAC cautioned that the ability to lease is limited to the time the person is permitted to be in Cuba and real property rights may not be retained thereafter. See FAQ 97.
The updated FAQs are available at:
In advance of President Obama’s highly publicized trip to Cuba, the Administration took additional steps to ease restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba. These changes to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) and Export Administration Regulations (EAR) have implications for the banking sector, shippers, the travel industry and other businesses.
On January 27, 2016 the Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) and the Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) published amendments to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) (Link) and Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) (Link). These amendments further loosen aspects of the Cuba embargo in line with the President’s December 2014 initiative:
- Trade Finance – OFAC added a new general license authorizing payment and financing terms, including letters of credit, for U.S. exports and reexports of 100 percent U.S.-origin items from a third country so long as they (a) are authorized by the BIS and (b) not related to agriculture or commodities. OFAC’s previous policy restricted financing for exports to cash-in-advance or third-country financing.
- Trade and Business Licensing Opportunities – BIS established a new case-by-case licensing policy to permit exports and reexports “meeting the needs of the Cuban people,” including exports and reexports destined for state-owned enterprises, agencies and other organizations of the Cuban government. BIS provided a list of examples including agricultural production, artistic endeavors, education, food processing, disaster preparedness, relief and response, public health and sanitation, residential construction/renovation and public transportation. BIS suggested that the types of eligible items could include water treatment, electrical generation facilities, athletic facilities and other infrastructure beneficial to the Cuban people. The new licensing policy opens the door for U.S. companies to consider a range of possible exports. Areas that are still off-limits include items that primarily generate revenue for the state (including tourism and extractive industries) or are destined to Cuban intelligence and security services.
- Travel Authorizations for Business – OFAC expanded the general license for travel to Cuba to include travel-related transactions for market research, commercial marketing, sales or contract negotiations, accompanied delivery, installation, leasing, or servicing in Cuba of items consistent BIS export and licensing policy. In addition, OFAC expanded its previous authorization for attending professional meetings to also allow organizing such meetings.
- Aviation and Vessels – OFAC expanded the general license relating to carrier services between the United States and Cuba to allow the entry into blocked space, code-sharing, and leasing arrangements, including with Cuban nationals. Transactions related to travel between the United States and Cuba by aircraft or vessel on temporary sojourn and transactions by personnel required for normal operation and service of such aircraft and vessel also are authorized. BIS has adopted a general policy of approval for items necessary for safety of civil aviation including the export or reexport of aircraft leased to state-owned enterprises.
- Telecom / Electronics – BIS now “will generally approve license applications for exports and reexports of telecommunications items that would improve communications to, from, and among the Cuban people.” BIS policy will also be more favorable with respect to items and software related to civil society and news gathering.
- Public Performances. OFAC expanded the general license for public performances, clinics and workshops to not only those participating in the event but to those organizing it, provided the event is open for attendance and, in relevant situations, participation by the Cuban public.
- Media and Artistic Activities. OFAC expanded the general license for travel related transactions directly incident to the exportation, importation or transmission of informational materials. This includes transactions directly incident to professional media or artistic productions, including filming movies and television programs, music recording and the creation of art works in Cuba by travelers with professional experience in these areas.
Notwithstanding these changes to the Cuba regulations, it is important to emphasize that the Cuba embargo still remains in force and cannot be lifted without congressional authorization. Transactions outside the scope of BIS license exceptions or OFAC general licenses remain prohibited unless specifically licensed.
With “Implementation Day” came the lifting of certain key U.S. and EU sanctions on the civil aviation industry. However, many prohibitions still remain, and licensing requirements may attach to U.S. persons or non-U.S. persons who seek to do business in Iran or operate airline services to/from Iran. Companies must continue to navigate this complex sanctions framework if seeking to engage in Iran’s aviation sector.
The front line of Iran sanctions compliance and enforcement has been the banking sector. With the arrival of “Implementation Day” under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), financial institutions and persons engaging in financial transactions face an adjusted, but still complex, sanctions environment. Continue reading →
January 16, 2016 was “Implementation Day” under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), bringing into effect the sanctions commitments of the United States and European Union (EU). The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed in Vienna that Iran had met its JCPOA milestones with respect to its nuclear program. The U.S. sanctions changes involve partial relief within a complex regime with continuing primary sanctions and designations on Iranian parties which carry secondary sanctions.
The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued Implementation Day guidance describing the changes to the U.S. sanctions program for Iran, which largely reflect what had been expected under the JCPOA. This includes the ending of secondary sanctions on Iran related to nuclear weapons proliferation; delisting of over 400 Iranian and Iran-related Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs); issuance of general licenses for non-U.S. entities owned or controlled by U.S. persons to engage in certain activities in Iran, as well as for import to the United States of Iranian carpets and foodstuffs including pistachios and caviar; and adjustment of licensing policy to allow authorization of certain exports, sales, leasing and transfers of civilian passenger aircraft. Existing authorizations for agricultural commodities (including food), medicine, and medical supplies remain unchanged. Exports and reexports of U.S. origin products (as well as foreign-origin products with more than 10% U.S. content) still require a license, and U.S. persons still may not participate in business transactions with Iran unless licensed.
Following will be a series of posts on key aspects of the adjustments to U.S. and EU regulations relating to Iran.
On Friday December 18, 2015 the President signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, which funds the Federal government through the 2016 fiscal year. Among many other non-funding related provisions, section 101 of Division O of the Act removed the 40-year ban on the export of crude oil. It repeals Section 103 of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (42 U.S.C. § 6212), the cornerstone of the prohibition on exporting crude, and provides that “[n]otwithstanding any other provision of law … no official of the Federal Government shall impose or enforce any restriction on the export of crude oil.”
The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued General License 20 for Myanmar (Burma) on December 7, 2015, which authorizes certain trade related transactions that were previously prohibited due to the role of sanctioned parties in the country’s ports and other trade infrastructure.