The Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act of 2018 seeks further sanctions for those responsible for the death of Jamal Khashoggi, including at the highest levels of the Saudi establishment, and an end to the war in Yemen. The Act adds a chapter to the unfolding story of Congress' increasing sanctions activism, stemming from a lack of faith that the Trump Administration will enforce sanctions with fidelity to law and national policy.
America's economic and financial heft facilitates the extraterritorial reach of U.S. sanctions and other law. For example, global transactions denominated in U.S. dollars and processed through the U.S. financial system create a jurisdictional nexus between the United States and foreign parties, property, and events.
The ZTE case puts into focus the Trump Administration’s apparent strategy to use U.S. sanctions, along with anti-corruption and anti-money laundering laws, as trade war weapons, specifically as “economic tools” and “tools of economic diplomacy” that “can be important parts of broader strategies to deter, coerce, and constrain adversaries.”
On September 7, 2018, Congresswoman Mia Love (R-UT) introduced in the House of Representatives H.R. 6751, the Banking Transparency for Sanctioned Persons Act of 2018 to "increase transparency with respect to financial services benefitting state sponsors of terrorism, human rights abusers, and corrupt officials.” This update discusses the Banking Transparency Act's provisions and what it conveys about the current U.S. legal climate around corruption and human rights sanctions, Congress’ increasingly activist sanctions posture, and the risk management and compliance inferences that U.S. and foreign financial institutions should draw from the Banking Transparency Bill when viewed in context.
Some Congress members are lobbying the Administration to impose human rights sanctions on Chinese officials and companies responsible for or complicit in abuses against China’s Uighur Muslim minority and other minorities. Two companies named, Dahua Technology and Hikvision, are very large, China-based global firms that produce surveillance products and systems. The bottom line is that the tech industry should take note of the development (even if no sanctions are imposed), as it foreshadows the legal and reputation risk issues they will, without doubt, face in connection with tech-enabled abuses, privacy encroachments, and other conduct by consumers of tech products and services.
The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today sanctioned Malaysia-based Mahan Travel and Tourism Sdn Bhd ("Mahan Travel") pursuant to Executive Order 13,224. Rather then information should be taken as a prompt to other travel agencies or vendors that directly or indirectly “act for or on behalf of Mahan Air” to disassociate from the airline. Such other travel agencies or vendors should, at minimum, review and understand today’s Mahan Travel action, assess their sanctions and related risk (legal, commercial, etc.) and take defensive compliance steps that are appropriate to their sanctions/legal exposure and commercial position. The broader takeaway from today’s OFAC action against Mahan Travel is that it reinforces the fact that U.S. sanctions and other laws are global in reach. Non-U.S. parties should take note of their potential exposure to U.S. sanctions or other legal enforcement actions.
The sentiments expressed by Senator Rubio and others reflect commercial, competition, policy, and strategic concerns held by business, policy makers, defense and national security officials, and others about China and Chinese firms like ZTE and Huawei. But when raised in the context of and as a justification for a specific legal enforcement action, the sentiments blur the lines between what should primarily be an enforcement based on facts and applicable laws, rather than an instrument for advancing wider policy objectives that are not specifically advanced by the laws applicable to the conduct for which ZTE was penalized. And, while Secretary Ross' stated rationale to impose the harsher penalty to change ZTE's behavior may have been sound, the recommendation of the career professionals with expertise in sanctions and export controls enforcement should, perhaps, have carried the day. Secretary Ross' description of the process leading to the export ban and the mess that has followed it give more reason to ask whether, in the first place, the export ban was the appropriate remedy as a matter of applicable laws and the objectives served by them.
Other of Mr. Trump’s statements, including dating back decades, hint that he views trade as “unfair” when other nations fail to compensate the United States for providing the secure conditions under which they trade and prosper. In 1987, Citizen Trump took out full page ads in three major newspapers criticizing U.S. “foreign defense policy” for its lack of “backbone.” Why, asked Mr. Trump, were foreign nations like Japan “not paying the United States for the human lives and billions of dollars we are losing to protect their interests?” In a 1988 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Mr. Trump wondered why Kuwait, “where the poorest people live like kings,” was not paying the United States “25 percent of what they’re making” from oil sales when “we make it possible for them to sell their oil.” More recently, to extract trade concessions, the President reminded South Korea of its reliance on the United States for its security.
Much of the talk of trade war between the United States and China, and perhaps other countries, has focused on traditional trade measures and counter-measures like tariffs that strike at the core of international trade: most basically, the movement of goods and services across international borders. But there are two additional fronts of a U.S.-China trade war (thus far): intellectual property and the use of U.S. sanctions and other laws to "coerce and deter" economic rivals like China.
On May 17, the House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a measure to block the Commerce Department from using appropriated funds to alter the export ban (i.e., the “denial order”) that the agency activated against ZTE on April 15, 2018. The ZTE measure was approved as an amendment to the fiscal year 2019 bill funding the Departments of Commerce and Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (“Commerce Appropriations Bill”), which was approved by the Appropriations Committee on May 17.