In the latest shoe to drop in the escalation of tensions between the United States and China, the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued a final rule on December 23, 2020, removing Hong Kong as a separate destination under the Export Administration Regulations (EAR). Rather than adding Hong Kong alongside the People’s Republic of China to Country Group D in the Commerce Country Chart, BIS eliminated references to it in all but a few sections of the EAR.

The removal of Hong Kong as a separate destination is a further step toward implementation of Executive Order (EO) 13936, signed July 14, 2020. (85 FR 43413, 7/17/2020). Steptoe’s prior analysis of EO 13936 is available here. EO 13936 directed relevant agencies to amend their regulations to remove differential and preferential treatment for exports, reexports, or transfers (in-country) to or within Hong Kong of all items subject to the EAR when compared to the treatment for such transactions to or within China. The final rule codifies the BIS rule issued July 31, 2020, which required that Hong Kong be treated the same as China in almost all circumstances; that is, Hong Kong would be subject to the same license requirements, license exceptions, and other applicable provisions as China under the EAR (85 FR 45998).

Specifically, in this new rule, BIS removes the entry for Hong Kong from the Commerce Country Chart at Supplement No. 1 to Part 738, since Hong Kong is now to be governed by the entry for China. Most references to Hong Kong in Part 740 of the EAR governing license exceptions were previously removed, consistent with the July 31 final rule. The Hong Kong entities listed separately on the Unverified List, Supplement No. 6 to Part 744, are now merged, alphabetically under the entries for China.

Continue Reading Hong Kong Removed as a Separate Destination from China Under the EAR

On December 23, 2020, the US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) added its long-anticipated Military End User (MEU) List to the Military End Use/User Rule (MEU Rule) of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR). The initial tranche of parties included on the MEU List consists of 102 “military end users,” comprising 57 Chinese companies and 45 Russian companies. Exporters are now on notice that a license is required for exports, reexports, or transfers of any item subject to the EAR listed in Supplement No. 2 to Part 744 (MEU Item) if any of these newly-listed companies are the purchaser, intermediate or final consignee, or end user. License exceptions are generally not available for exports, reexports, or transfers of MEU Items to a MEU listed entity (unless authorized under License Exception GOV as specified). License applications for MEU Items will be reviewed with a presumption of denial.

The published MEU List is substantially revised from the draft that was previously leaked, and widely publicized a month earlier, which listed 117 companies (89 Chinese companies and 28 Russian companies).

The MEU List was published as part of a new final rule that amended the EAR’s MEU Rule, which requires licenses for shipments of MEU Items to “military end users” or for “military end uses” in China, Russia, or Venezuela. The MEU Rule places the onus on exporters to determine whether a transaction is to a military end user or for a military end use and therefore, requires a license. After the MEU Rule was amended and broadened in April 2020, exporters had requested further guidance from BIS to assist with determinations as to whether specific shipments would require licenses under the MEU Rule.  BIS subsequently published FAQs that provided some additional guidance.  The MEU List provides further guidance and clarification to exporters, by informing and providing notice to the public when an entity is considered by the US government to be a “military end user” for purposes of the MEU Rule.

Continue Reading Bureau of Industry and Security Issues New Military End User List

On December 7, 2020 the Council of the EU adopted a Decision and a Regulation establishing a EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime. Similar to the US Magnitsky Act, the framework will enable the EU to target individuals, entities and bodies responsible for, involved in or associated with serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide, regardless of where they occurred.

The new sanctions regime makes it possible to act against human rights violations through the freezing of funds and economic resources of sanctioned persons, entities and organizations. Additionally, it will be prohibited to make funds and economic resources available to those listed. Sanctioned individuals will also be prohibited from traveling to the EU.

The EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime covers a wide range of human rights violations including, genocide; crimes against humanity; torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; slavery; extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings; enforced disappearance of persons; as well as arbitrary arrests or detentions. It also covers other violations or abuses, if they are widespread, systematic or otherwise of serious concern when measured against the objectives of the EU common foreign and security policy. Such other violations or abuses include, trafficking in human beings, as well as abuses of human rights by migrant smugglers; sexual and gender-based violence; violations or abuses of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; and violations or abuses of freedom of opinion and expression or religion or belief.

Continue Reading EU adopts Magnitsky-style sanctions framework against human rights violations

On December 11, 2020, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a much-anticipated report under Section 5(b) of the Hong Kong Autonomy Act (HKAA) that—to the relief of non-US financial institutions, including those in Hong Kong—stated the Treasury Department had not identified any foreign financial institution (FFI) at risk of secondary sanctions under the HKAA at this time.

Background

Under Section 5(b) of the HKAA, Congress directed the Treasury Department to identify any FFI that knowingly conducted a significant transaction with a person identified by the State Department in a report under Section 5(a) of the HKAA. The State Department issued its report on October 14, 2020, identifying ten individuals, including Hong Kong’s Chief Executive and other prominent government officials.

(For more information about the HKAA and the State Department’s Section 5(a) report, see our blog post of October 15, 2020, “Update: Hong Kong Financial Institutions Face US Secondary Sanctions after State Department Issues First Report under Hong Kong Autonomy Act.”)

Under the HKAA, FFIs identified in a Section 5(b) report could be subject to a “menu” of ten secondary sanctions described in Section 7 of the HKAA. Those sanctions would become mandatory after one year of the report’s issuance.

Continue Reading Financial Institutions Spared, for Now, from Secondary Sanctions after Treasury Department Issues ‘Null Report’ Under Section 5(b) of the Hong Kong Autonomy Act

On December 1, 2020 the Council of the EU adopted Conclusions calling on the Commission to launch an Action Plan by 2021 focusing on shaping global supply chains sustainably, promoting human rights, social and environmental due diligence standards and transparency. In April 2020, the Commission already announced its intention to develop a legislative proposal and published a study on due diligence requirements through the supply chain (see our previous client alert).

The Action Plan should include a call for a proposal from the Commission for an EU legal framework on sustainable corporate governance including cross-sector corporate due diligence obligations along global supply chains. An EU framework is likely to foresee binding due diligence obligations and may include a definition of the risk management processes companies will be required to follow to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for its adverse human and labor rights and environmental impacts. Companies will have to ensure that human rights are respected along their entire supply chain and will have to assume responsibility for more than just their direct contractual partners. Those affected by violations of companies’ human rights due diligence obligations will be able to enforce their rights in the courts of EU Member States. The German Council Presidency recently suggested that EU-wide legislation could also improve the quality of voluntary standards and certification on fair wages and universal access to social protection.

Continue Reading Council of the EU calls for due diligence rules along global supply chains

On November 30, 2020, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced the addition of Chinese company CEIEC to its list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List), pursuant to Executive Order 13692, for “its role in undermining democracy in Venezuela.”  OFAC also issued General License 38 authorizing certain wind-down activities with CEIEC, as well as an FAQ regarding the designation and general license.

According to Treasury, CEIEC, also known as China National Electronic Import-Export Company, has over 200 offices and subsidiaries worldwide.  CEIEC explains on its website, https://www.ceiec.com/About, that it is a “close partner of many foreign government[s], military and security department[s], to help them fulfill their mission of securing citizen’s confidence to health, safety, economic growth and public governance.”

In the press release announcing CEIEC’s addition to the SDN List, Treasury explained that the designation is due to the company’s involvement in “actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions” in Venezuela.  For example, Treasury stated that CEIEC provided “software, training, and technical expertise to Venezuela[n] government entities, which was then used against the people of Venezuela.”

Continue Reading OFAC Adds Chinese Tech Company CEIEC to SDN List, Issues General License 38 Authorizing Wind-Down Activities

The US executive and legislative branches are ratcheting up pressure on companies to address forced labor in their supply chains. The US Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) has in recent months announced a series of Withhold Release Orders (WROs) and a Finding following investigations into forced labor. Additionally, the US House of Representatives has passed two bills that together would impose import bans, sanctions, and strict reporting requirements on activities related to allegations of forced labor and China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

These actions are in addition to the export controls and sanctions restrictions that have been implemented to target the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) and other entities in the XUAR. The European Union, United Kingdom, and Canada are considering similar actions; and industry groups are increasingly cautioning companies against sourcing products from areas implicated by forced labor.

Based on the scope and scale of these activities, companies should review their compliance programs to see how they address forced labor and human rights issues in their supply chains. Recent Steptoe posts provide additional background concerning the current US government-wide approach regarding allegations of forced labor in XUAR, including sanctions, export controls, and WROs.

For more information on this trend, click here to read the full Client Advisory.

 

In this advisory, members of our Sanctions and Export Control team provide a preliminary assessment of the expected policy approach of President-elect Biden’s administration to major US sanctions programs, including China and Hong Kong, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, North Korea, and Sudan sanctions programs.

While specific steps to be taken will be revealed in due course, it is expected that the Biden administration will take a more nuanced approach to the imposition and implementation of sanctions than the current administration. While the imposition of unilateral sanctions will undoubtedly continue, we believe a key difference will be a greater effort by the Biden administration to promote multilateral sanctions coordination.

For more information, click here to read the full client alert.

On November 17, 2020, OFAC issued Venezuela General License 8G, “Authorizing Transactions Involving Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA) Necessary for the Limited Maintenance of Essential Operations in Venezuela or the Wind Down of Operations in Venezuela for Certain Entities.”  General License 8G extends the pre-existing authorization for US persons to engage in certain transactions and activities involving the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PdVSA through 12:01 a.m. eastern daylight time, June 3, 2021, for Chevron, Halliburton, Schlumberger, Baker Hughes, and Weatherford International.  These are some of the most significant petroleum companies with US connections operating in Venezuela.  Aside from extending the expiration date – which had been December 1, 2020 – General License 8G is substantively the same as general License 8F, which it replaces.

Specifically, General License 8G authorizes US persons to engage in transactions and activities “ordinarily incident and necessary to the limited maintenance of essential operations, contracts, or other agreements” for the above-mentioned companies and their subsidiaries that –

  1. are for safety or the preservation of assets in Venezuela;
  2. involve PdVSA or any entity in which PdVSA owns, directly or indirectly, a 50 percent or greater interest; and
  3. were in effect prior to July 26, 2019.

Continue Reading OFAC Issues Updated General License 8G Extending Authorization of Transactions with PdVSA for Five Petroleum Companies

The US Treasury Department, or presumably, its Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), is expected to issue a report by mid-December under Section 5(b) of the Hong Kong Autonomy Act (“HKAA”) identifying “foreign financial institutions” (“FFIs”) that have knowingly conducted significant transactions with “foreign persons” previously identified by the US State Department under Section 5(a) of the HKAA on 14 October 2020. FFIs identified in the Section 5(b) Report will face a menu of ten sanctions, ranging from prohibitions on serving as a repository of US government funds to travel bans against corporate officers.

Prior to identification in the Section 5(b) Report and imposition of those sanctions, OFAC “will reach out to an FFI to inquire about its conduct,” according to FAQ 848 issued by OFAC in conjunction with the State Department’s 5(a) report.

While awaiting issuance of the Section 5(b) Report, and in addition to identifying any connection to individuals previously identified by the State Department, FFIs should consider how to respond if they receive an outreach from OFAC. Such an outreach, like any inquiry or request for information from OFAC, must be handled expeditiously and strategically. Inaccuracies or omissions in the response or the failure to respond at all could form the basis of enforcement action separate and apart from the conduct OFAC is reviewing under the HKAA. It will certainly set the tone for interactions with OFAC going forward.

In this note, we provide guidance on how to handle requests from OFAC under the HKAA, and more broadly to other informational outreach, based on our considerable experience in managing similar US government requests for clients in Asia.

Continue Reading Responding to the US Treasury Department’s Information Requests: The Hong Kong Autonomy Act and Beyond