In response to President Putin’s televised recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (“DNR” and “LNR”) of Ukraine as “independent” nations, and reports of Russian troops being ordered into Ukrainian territory, the United States has imposed Crimea-style comprehensive sanctions on the DNR and LNR prohibiting new U.S. investment as well as imports and exports to and from the regions. The EU and the UK have sanctioned banks and oligarchs, and Germany has suspended certifications on the NordStream2 pipeline project.
Over the course of the Obama and Trump administrations, U.S. officials have found new ways to incorporate human rights concerns into sanctions and export control policies. Recent announcements by the Commerce and State Departments address how, by the U.S. government in its licensing approvals, and private companies in their foreign-sales decisions, can take into account human rights impacts.
Export Licensing for Dual-Use and Commercial Products
On October 6, 2020, the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued a final rule revising the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) to allow the agency to consider human rights concerns when granting export licenses. Specifically, BIS amended its licensing policy for items controlled for crime control (CC) reasons under 15 CFR §742.7.
The final rule also expands the existing EAR human rights licensing policy. The prior licensing policy provided for case by case review for CC-controlled items “unless there is evidence that the government of the importing country may have violated internationally recognized human rights.” The final rule now would allow BIS to consider the risk that items will be used in violation or abuse of human rights by individuals or entities in addition to the government or the importing country. Further, licensing officers will now review how an item may be used to engage in, or enable, violations or abuses of human rights (not just “internationally recognized” human rights), including through censorship, surveillance, detention, or excessive use of force. Importantly, the new provision also allows the agency to consider such risk for items controlled for reasons beyond CC, covering most items listed on the Commerce Control List (with the exception of items controlled for short supply). The final rule specifically notes the need to examine items controlled for reasons related to certain telecommunications and information security and sensors.
State Department Guidance for Surveillance Tools
Separately, on September 30, 2020, the Department of State released guidance designed to assist U.S. businesses in assessing the risk that surveillance tools exported to foreign government end-users could be used to commit human rights abuses.
The guidance entitled, “U.S. Department of State Guidance on Implementing the UN Guiding Principles for Transactions Linked to Foreign Government End-Users for Products or Services with Surveillance Capabilities,” provides a roadmap for businesses to assess the risk of human rights abuse prior to engaging in a transaction with a foreign government end-user and provides recommended contractual and procedural safeguards should the business proceed with the transaction. The guidelines are non-binding and, according to a statement by a State Department official, they will not be used as a basis for sanctions against foreign governments.
The State Department encourages U.S. businesses to integrate human rights due diligence into compliance programs, including export compliance programs. The following eight recommendations are provided to assist companies seeking to conduct human rights due diligence, screening, and risk mitigation—
- Review the capabilities of the product or service in question to determine potential for misuse to commit human rights violations or abuses by foreign government end-users or private end-users that have close relationships with a foreign government.
- Review the human rights record of the foreign government agency end-user of the country intended to receive the product or service.
- Review, including through in-house or outside counsel, whether the foreign government end-user’s laws, regulations, and policies that implicate products and services with surveillance capabilities are consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Review stakeholders involved in the transaction (including end-user and intermediaries such as distributors and resellers). Refer to BIS’s Know Your Customer Guidance.
- To the extent possible and as appropriate, tailor the product or service distributed to countries that do not demonstrate respect for human rights and the rule of law to minimize the likelihood that it will be misused to commit or facilitate human rights violations or abuses.
- Prior to sale, strive to mitigate human rights risks through contractual and procedural safeguards and strong grievance mechanisms.
- After sale, strive to mitigate human rights risks through contractual and procedural safeguards and strong grievance mechanisms.
- Publicly report on sales practices (e.g., in annual reports or on websites).
The guidance is designed for U.S. companies that engage in transactions involving sensors, biometric identification, data analytics, internet surveillance tools, non-cooperative location tracking, and recording devices, among other products and services. While the guidance is not designed to address export control licensing, the State Department has suggested that the guidance may be used as a resource during export license reviews in cases that raise a human rights concern.
These two announcements form part of a slow-but-steady growth among U.S. officials looking for ways to use existing trade regulatory tools to recognize human rights considerations. Other examples include recent U.S. Customs withhold release orders (WROs) for certain goods produced from forced or indentured labor in Xinjian, China here; Hong Kong trade treatment in the wake of human rights abuses in that territory here; and Global Magnitsky sanctions designations here.
On October 5, 2020, the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued a final rule that imposes new multilateral controls on six “emerging technologies,” agreed during the December 2019 plenary meeting of the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies (Wassenaar Arrangement). These recently developed or developing technologies “essential for the national security of the United States” include forensic hacking tools, surveillance software, sub-orbital craft, and manufacturing tools and technology used to make integrated circuits and semiconductors.
On May 15, 2020 the Commerce Department announced an amendment to the direct product rule that further restricts the ability of Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. and its affiliates on the Entity List, such as HiSilicon (collectively “Huawei”), to receive certain foreign-made semiconductor products.
The Commerce Department also extended the temporary general license (TGL) that authorizes certain dealings with Huawei and its subsidiaries by U.S. persons through August 13, 2020. Statements from the Commerce Department indicate this may be a “final” extension.
On December 26, 2019, the Department of State published in the Federal Register an interim final rule amending the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) to define “activities that are not exports, reexports, retransfers, or temporary imports,” and specifically to clarify that the electronic transmission and storage of properly secured unclassified technical data via foreign communications infrastructure does not constitute an export. The rule also defines “access information” and revises the definition of “release” to address the provision of access information to an unauthorized foreign person.
Recent comments from Bureau of Industry (BIS) officials at the BIS Update indicate the U.S. Government is progressing towards more detailed proposed rules with respect to both “emerging” and “foundational” technologies that will become subject to future export controls. This required rulemaking is part of an interagency effort mandated by the Export Control Reform Act (ECRA) of 2018.
On January 27, 2017, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) recently made two significant changes to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) concerning India that will facilitate the export of controlled items to that country.
The regulations reflect a June 7, 2016 joint U.S.-India statement in which the United States recognized India as a Major Defense Partner, laying the ground work for facilitating technology sharing with India on a level commensurate with that of the United States’ closest allies and partners. The two countries reached an understanding under which India would receive license-free access to a wide range of dual-use technologies in conjunction with steps that India committed to take to advance its export control objectives.
Favorable Licensing Policy
BIS has amended section 742.4 and section 742.6 pertaining to controls for purposes of National Security and Regional Stability reasons to state that export, reexport, or transfer items, including “600 series” items, for civil or military end uses in India will be assessed under a general policy of approval. The items can also be for the ultimate end use by the Government of India, for reexport to countries in Country Group A:5, or for return to the United States, so long as such items are not for use in nuclear, missile, or chemical or biological weapons activities. The rule does not amend any licensing policies with respect to Missile Technology items.
Companies seeing to export controlled items to India can now expect that their license applications will be reviewed more favorably and will routinely receive approvals for transactions as opposed to the “case-by-case” approach previously followed by BIS in reviewing license applications for India, which involved more rigorous scrutiny and possible denials of license applications. Continue reading →
Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 Presidential election put the Republican Party in charge of the White House and Congress for the first time in a decade. President-elect Trump ran as an anti-establishment candidate who departed from many traditional Republican positions and promised bold and in some respects controversial reforms. How his administration will govern and the extent to which its policies will be supported in Congress are key questions facing companies and investors.
This report comments on aspects of international trade, sanctions and export control policies that are currently at the forefront of discussion.
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: