In response to the recent military coup in Myanmar (also known as Burma) against the democratically-elected government, on February 11, 2021 the Biden Administration issued an Executive Order on Blocking Property with Respect to the Situation in Burma (E.O.), which launched a new targeted sanctions regime. That same day, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated former and current officials of Burma’s military or security forces and affiliated entities in the jade and gems sector as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs). In addition, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) announced a series of steps to tighten export controls on certain ministries, armed forces, and security services, and to limit availability of license exceptions. It has been indicated that these are initial steps, and that further sanctions and export control may follow.
On January 13, 2021, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a withhold-release order (WRO) on all cotton and tomato products from China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) based on information that reasonably indicated that such products used forced labor. This action comes after CBP’s December 2020 WRO on cotton and cotton products produced by Xinjiang Production and Construction Corporation (XPCC). Continue reading →
On December 2, 2020, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued an import detention or Withhold Release Order (WRO) against cotton produced by Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) based on information that reasonably indicated XPCC used forced labor within its cotton supply chains. This action comes after CBP issued five WROs in September 2020 on products found to be reliant on state-sponsored forced labor in Xinjiang. The U.S. government has expressed ongoing concern about human rights abuses of the Uyghur minority in this part of China.
Continuing its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, the United States has (a) ratcheted up sanctions under Executive Orders that provide for the imposition of secondary sanctions on non-U.S. companies that engage in transactions with Iranian financial institutions, and (b) authorized the imposition of secondary sanctions on non-U.S. companies that engage in arms-related transactions with Iran pursuant to a new Executive Order, notwithstanding the expiration of the United Nations arms embargo under Security Council Resolution 2231 implementing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
On August 11, 2020, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a new guidance document, the Sudan Program and Darfur Sanctions Guidance (“Sudan Guidance”), which clarifies the current status of sanctions and export controls that apply to Sudan and the Government of Sudan. The Sudan Guidance confirms the removal of comprehensive sanctions on Sudan, permitting U.S. persons to engage in most economic activity. However, individual sanctions listings in Sudan and South Sudan continue and a U.S. embargo policy remains in place for exports to Sudan.
On March 12, 2020, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued sanctions against a second affiliate of PJSC Rosneft Oil Company (Rosneft) related to its activities with Venezuela. OFAC added TNK Trading International S.A. of Switzerland (TNK) to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN List), and the Sectoral Sanctions Identifications List (SSI List) under Directives 2 and 4, pursuant to Executive Orders 13850 and 13662. Previously, on February 18, 2020, OFAC placed Rosneft Trading S.A. (Rosneft Trading), a Swiss subsidiary of Rosneft, on the SDN List for purchasing, transferring, brokering, and otherwise facilitating the shipment of crude oil from PdVSA. OFAC has authorized a wind down period for both companies through 12:01 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time on May 20, 2020.
On January 10, 2020, the United States imposed additional sanctions on Iran in the wake of recent tensions between the countries and the continuing broader “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran. Specifically, President Trump signed Executive Order 13902 (E.O. 13902) authorizing the imposition of secondary sanctions on certain transactions involving Iran’s construction, mining, manufacturing, and textiles industries. This follows Executive Order 13871 from May 2019, which authorized secondary sanctions on Iran’s iron, steel, aluminum and copper sectors. Concurrently with the issuance of E.O. 13902, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) added to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN List) several major Iran-related metal and mining companies, Chinese and Seychelles entities plus a related vessel involved in the Iranian metals trade, and Iranian regime officials.
On December 31, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas overturned a $2 million fine imposed by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) against ExxonMobil Corp., and its U.S. subsidiaries ExxonMobil Development Company and ExxonMobil Oil Corp. (collectively, “Exxon”). This marked a rare court decision overturning an OFAC sanctions penalty. The Court’s decision focused not on the subject of the sanctions but addressed whether OFAC had provided proper notice of its sanctions requirements.
The U.S. Treasury Department has issued sanctions designations against Turkey’s Ministry of National Defense, Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, and the Ministers of Defense, Energy and Interior pursuant to a new Executive Order issued on October 14, 2019 by President Trump in response to Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria. The Executive Order authorizes secondary sanctions and can expose non-U.S. companies and financial institutions interacting with designated Turkish parties to risk of penalties.
On June 5, 2019, the Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) amended an important license exception which generally permitted the temporary sojourn of civil aircraft and vessels to Cuba. Specifically, BIS eliminated the license exception for use by non-commercial aircraft and passenger and recreational vessels sailing to Cuba. BIS also amended its licensing policy for such aircraft and vessels establishing a general policy of denial. On the same day, the Department of the Treasury eliminated its authorization for group people-to-people educational travel to Cuba.