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 recently published text of the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA) includes a peculiar provision that confers on each of the parties the right to terminate the USMCA if any of the other parties enters into a "free trade agreement" (FTA) with a country determined by any of the USMCA countries to be a "non-market" economy. Insofar as the USMCA requires the parties to choose between maintaining the trilateral trade agreement or entering into an FTA with a non-market economy country, the USMCA imports the premise that underlies U.S. secondary sanctions.
For U.S. persons seeking to engage in permitted noncommercial, personal remittance or inheritance-related transactions, the higher risk sensitivity of some third country (and U.S.-based) financial institutions may complicate (or thwart in some cases), legal transactions. In light of this, persons seeking to engage in such legal transactions in the post-U.S. JCPOA withdrawal environment should exercise extra care in initiating and executing legal transfers with third country financial institutions.
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.
The United States today unilaterally withdrew from the Iran Nuclear Deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)). The U.S. Treasury Department and the White House have announced that those sanctions that were lifted as part of the JCPOA framework will, as expected, be re-imposed. The Office of Foreign Assets Control at Treasury (OFAC) announced today that it will institute 90-day and 180-day “wind down” periods, after which previously lifted U.S. sanctions will again take effect. For example: Starting August 7, 2018, the import to the United States of Iranian carpets and certain foodstuffs will be prohibited, as will the export and re-export to Iran of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services. Starting on November 5, 2018, foreign financial institutions will be subject to U.S. sanctions for transactions with the Iran Central Bank and designated Iranian financial institutions.
The prospect of increasingly hostile policy and legal actions toward Iran may be enough to thwart or make more difficult Iran-related transactions that are (and might remain) legal. Parties planning to engage in such legal Iran-related transactions should take note and, if appropriate, action ahead of any changes in law or adjustments in Iran-related risk-assessments by banks and individual and commercial parties.