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.
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:
Effective October 12, 2017, the Sudanese Sanctions Regulations (SSR) have been revoked in recognition of the Government of Sudan’s (GOS) sustained positive actions in stopping conflict and improving humanitarian access in Sudan. This latest action makes permanent the general license issued in January 2017. However, Sudan remains designated as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and accordingly, key restrictions remain.
Today, President Trump issued an Executive Order (E.O.) providing for sanctions against the Government of Venezuela. The sanctions are structured similar to existing sectoral sanctions on the Russian petroleum sector and target financial transactions with the Government of Venezuela.
On June 29, 2017, the U.S. Treasury Department announced new steps applying pressure on North Korea in relation to its proliferation activities. Specifically, this involved (1) sanctions designations against Chinese shipping company Dalian Global Unity Shipping Co., Ltd. and two Chinese individuals; and (2) anti-money laundering special measures against China’s Bank of Dandong. All were involved in business with North Korea according to the Treasury Department’s announcement.
The Special Measures for Bank of Dandong under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act prohibit U.S. financial institutions from maintaining correspondent accounts for, or on behalf of, that bank. This would prevent access to the U.S. banking system for dollar transactions or wiring services.
None of the sanctioned parties appear to be systemically important companies for China, but the sanctions may be intended, or viewed, as an effort by the Trump Administration to pressure China into doing more to restrain North Korea’s nuclear activities.
On June 16, 2017, President Trump issued a National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba, which begins a process to alter some aspects of U.S. policy towards Cuba, but retains much of the Obama Administration’s reforms to travel, business and trade with Cuba.
The signaled changes focus on limiting business with companies related to Cuba’s military, intelligence and security apparatus and tightening aspects of the administration of existing travel allowances. Existing business and travel arrangements affected by the changes may be grandfathered.
There are no immediate changes to U.S. sanctions or export control policy. The memorandum sets the framework for the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) and other agencies to consider regulatory changes in the coming months.
Questions continue to swirl around the future of U.S.-Cuba policy as recent reports of a Trump Administration plan to strengthen Cuba sanctions surfaced over the weekend. These reports should be assessed against the backdrop of an increased Congressional effort to end the embargo on Cuba.
Effective January 17, 2017, a new general license authorizes a broad range of activities previously prohibited under the Sudanese Sanctions Regulations (SSR), including most transactions with individuals and entities in Sudan and the unfreezing of all property of the Government of Sudan subject to U.S. jurisdiction. This is a dramatic change to a longstanding and comprehensive U.S. sanctions regime, with relevance to banks, the energy sector and a range of companies and investors with interests in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA).
On December 15, 2016, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) provided updated guidance on what companies can expect in the event of the “snapback” of sanctions under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Previously, OFAC Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) had only offered the possibility of working with companies in the event of snapback. The guidance offers assurances of a 180-day wind down period. OFAC issued this clarification in response to many questions it received, but it is not intended to signal an expectation that the sanctions will snapback.
In addition, OFAC issued a new General License J-1 to replace General License J addressing the temporary sojourn of U.S.-origin aircraft in Iran. The updated general license authorizes the temporary sojourn of U.S.-origin aircraft as part of a code sharing arrangement with an Iranian air carrier. Our prior blog post on the issuance of General License J is available here.