President Donald Trump announced his nomination of two Commissioners to the United States International Trade Commission (“ITC”) on September 28, 2017.

The two nominees are Dennis M. Devaney and Randolph J. Stayin.  If approved, Devaney of Michigan will serve the remainder of a nine-year term expiring June 16, 2023, and Stayin of Virginia will serve the remainder of a nine-year term expiring June 16, 2026.

Devaney and Stayin were nominated to fill the Commissioner positions of Commissioners Kieff and Pinkert, who left the ITC this year.  The ITC is headed by six Commissioners who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.  Currently, the ITC is operating with only four out of six Commissioners.  On October 2, 2017, the Senate received the nominations and referred them to the Committee on Finance.

Devaney is currently counsel at a law firm where he works on international trade matters as well as labor and employment issues. Devaney is a former Board Member of the National Labor Relations Board and former General Counsel for the Federal Labor Relations Authority. Devaney previously served as an ITC Commissioner in 2001 after being appointed by President Bill Clinton.

Stayin focused his legal practice on international trade policy and regulation. Earlier in his career he served as chief of staff to Senator Robert Taft, Jr., and was his trade advisor in negotiating the passage of the Trade Act of 1974. Stayin has represented clients before the ITC, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Court of International Trade, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and NAFTA dispute panels.

President Trump can officially begin renegotiating NAFTA tomorrow, August 16th. The negotiation process can only start 90 days after President Trump officially notified Congress of this intention, which took place on May 18th.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) became law in 1994. NAFTA is a comprehensive trade agreement that sets the rules of trade and investment between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. NAFTA created one of the world’s largest free trade zones. Pursuant to the deal, each NAFTA country forgoes tariffs on imported goods originating in the other NAFTA countries.

Supporters of NAFTA believe the agreement has helped boost the economies of the NAFTA countries. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 14 million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Canada and Mexico. Others believe NAFTA has hurt the economy by creating incentives for companies to relocate manufacturing and other jobs offshore.

President Trump has called NAFTA the worst trade deal in history, and he believes NAFTA is responsible for sending millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs to Mexico. Instead of leaving the trade pact and scrapping it entirely, the Trump administration will renegotiate the agreement.

Since announcing the decision to renegotiate the trade deal, the United States Trade Representative (USTR), Robert Lighthizer, has been consulting with and receiving input from members of Congress, the public, and various trade associations and special interest groups. For example, members of Congress have supported the inclusion of a competition chapter in NAFTA as a way to demonstrate the U.S.’s leadership in promoting competition and fairness in trade.

The public has also been responsive to the USTR’s request for public comment, which resulted in more than 12,000 responses and testimony from over 140 witnesses during three days of public hearings. See our earlier post here regarding the public comments on matters relevant to the modernization of NAFTA.

The USTR released a detailed summary of the negotiating objectives related to the NAFTA renegotiation. The USTR has included deficit reduction as a key objective of the renegotiation. Another major goal is to improve market access in Canada and Mexico for U.S. manufacturing, agriculture and services.

We will be following the negotiations in the coming weeks and months to see how the renegotiation will impact trade policies and practices moving forward.

On the firm’s Energy Law Today blog, Fox Partner Mark V. Santo discusses the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its potential impact on the natural gas trade between the U.S. and Mexico.

North America from space
Copyright: antartis / 123RF Stock Photo

“Mexico imports nearly all of its natural gas from the U.S. and exports to Mexico are expected to double by 2019, with Texas fields being the primary source. At least 17 pipelines currently carry four billion cubic feet of natural gas a day from Texas to Mexico, with four additional cross-border pipelines in the works. Mexico’s demand for U.S.-sourced natural gas has been a boon to domestic producers as it has greatly offset the oversupply of natural gas production. Without this outlet to Mexico, natural gas producers in the U.S. will face a severe downturn with wells shut, job losses and investment curtailed.

The U.S.-Mexico natural gas symbiotic relationship is just one example of the tri-nation supply chain intricacies and complexities forged under NAFTA. There are countless others, such as deep supply chains in agriculture, construction materials and autos to name a few….”

Mark notes the key provisions of the agreement that the Trump Administration will seek to alter. These provisions relate to the remedies available should a NAFTA nation’s exports injure the domestic market of another NAFTA member.

To read Mark’s full post, please visit the Energy Law Today blog.

Co-Author, Santos Ramos

On June 16, 2017, President Trump announced changes to United States’ Cuban sanctions regime which will stem the tide of liberalization that Obama Administration set in motion 2014. While the regulatory changes have not yet taken effect, the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) released updated its online resources to reflect the Trump Administration’s forthcoming changes.  Most notably, under the announced changes, individual “people-to-people” travel will no longer be permitted and any trade or business ventures involving Cuba’s military, intelligence and security services is strictly prohibited.

Travel

Trump Administration’s new Cuban travel policies crack down on the potential for individual ‘vacation’ travel to Cuba. Under the Obama Administration’s reforms to the Cuban sanctions, individuals could travel to Cuba as long as they affirmed that they were engaged in permitted activities, such as educational and artistic study, news reporting, or other endeavors designed to promote and aid the Cuban people.  Under the newly announced changes, individuals will no longer be able to travel to Cuba on their own for “people-to-people travel” (i.e., educational travel that does not involve any academic study towards the pursuit of a degree and is not under the auspices of an organization). Group people-to-people travel will still be permitted as long as the group is led by a U.S.-based organization and maintains a full-time schedule of educational or other permitted activities. Unfortunately for those who may have already booked their tickets to Havana, the new regulation will not be prospective, meaning that any travel that does not conform with the new regulations (even if previously planned) will be prohibited.

Trade and Business

Companies seeking to do business in Cuba will also have to navigate stricter regulations. While trade and business ventures with the Cuban government remained restricted under the Obama Administration’s revised sanctions, the new rules will more clearly delineate entities which are associated with Cuban military conglomerate Grupo de Administración Empresarial SA (GAESA). GAESA, which is comprised of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services, has an extensive web of subsidiaries and ownership interests which some estimate touch as much as 60 percent of the Cuban economy. OFAC and Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) will publish an extensive list of prohibited entities when the new regulations are completed. The new trade policy will be prospective, however, meaning that any contracts and licenses executed and issued prior to effective date of the new regulations will not be terminated.

What Should U.S. Companies Do?

U.S. companies which have already entered into contracts with a GAESA-related companies will be able to continue operating without any change. Any U.S. company seeking to begin or expand business in Cuba after the new policy takes effect, however, must heed the warning that any transaction with GAESA-related entities is prohibited. Moreover, while OFAC and BIS will strive to produce a comprehensive list of GAESA-related entities, it may prove to be a difficult and ever-evolving challenge.  Accordingly, despite any published list of entities, it will almost certainly remain the responsibility – and potential liability – of U.S. companies to know with whom they are conducting business. In addition, U.S. companies must be vigilant about any renewals of contracts or licenses with GAESA-related entities, as there has been little guidance as to whether renewing an existing contract will be considered continued operation or a new, prohibited engagement.

North America from space
Copyright: antartis / 123RF Stock Photo

Public comment on NAFTA renegotiations has been extended until midnight tonight ET, according to an Alert by Nevena Simidjiyska published on June 13:

The process of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada officially began on May 18 when the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) notified Congress, triggering a 90-day period during which the administration will consult with Congress before NAFTA negotiations can begin. The USTR requested public comments on its negotiation of NAFTA, which were initially due by June 12. The USTR has extended its deadline to June 14 at 11:59 p.m. ET.

After originally calling for a complete withdrawal from NAFTA, the administration displayed a more lenient position in its announcement and notice to Congress. The administration continued to criticize NAFTA’s provisions on labor and environmental protection, digital trade, intellectual property protection, and state-owned enterprises, however, it called for modifying certain aspects of the agreement, rather than comprehensive revisions.

Canada and Mexico have shown a willingness to renegotiate portions of NAFTA, provided that the majority of the Agreement stays intact.  The two countries are likely to push back on certain topics, including the administration’s plan to increase local content for country-of-origin calculations, including that of automobiles, reduction in Canada’s protective measures of its dairy industry, and easing of Mexico’s restrictive policy on foreign investment in its energy sector.

The USTR requested public comment on its negotiation of NAFTA on a broad number of topics listed at the end of this article.  Parties may also testify at an open hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. on June 27, 2017 held in the Main Hearing Room of the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington, D.C. Written comments and requests to testify must be submitted to USTR.  Although the deadline for submission was originally June 12, the deadline has been extended to June 14 at 11:59 pm ET.

To read Nevena’s full update on the USTR’s call for public comment on NAFTA, including topics open for public comment, please visit the Fox Rothschild website.

Earlier today, the Department of Justice announced that construction conglomerate Odebrecht SA and its affiliate Braskem SA have pleaded guilty to their maintenance of an elaborate bribery scheme which paid out approximately $788 million in bribes to government officials around the world since 2001.

To facilitate its massive bribery scheme, Odebrecht established its “Division of Structured Operations,” which federal prosecutors dubbed the “Department of Bribery.” The Division of Structured Operations operated on its own floor and used its own communication and computer networks. Code names and secure emails were used by those requesting bribes, bribe recipients, and financial institutions to make payments out of a ‘shadow budget.’ The shadow budget, which accounted for and tracked all bribe payments in complex spreadsheets, was comprised of funds funneled by Odebrecht into off-shore entities and then back into the Division of Structure Operations.

Under their respective plea agreements, Odebrecht and Braskem agreed to pay, at least, a combined $3.5 billion in penalties.  Odebrecht agreed with the DOJ that $4.5 billion would be an appropriate criminal fine, but has claimed that is unable to pay a fine of that amount.  Accordingly, the plea agreement states that Odebrecht will pay at least $2.6 billion, however, an ongoing review of Odebrecht’s ability to pay may result in Oberbrecht paying an amount closer to $4.5 billion. Braskem will pay approximately $957 million in criminal fines.  Brazil, where both of the companies are headquartered, will receive 80% of the fines and the United States and Switzerland will each receive 10%.  Notably, Oderbrecht was credited with 25% reduction in the fine sought based on its cooperation with investigators. Braskem was credited with a 15% reduction based on its partial cooperation.

This blockbuster plea agreement highlights the growing trend of global enforcement. While few companies will ever consider implementing a bribery scheme of the magnitude Odebrecht’s, even small acts to grease the wheels create a slippery slope and companies of all sizes must take precautions — through compliance and training programs — to make sure that a culture where bribery is condoned and supported never begins to gain momentum.

The Miami Herald is reporting that the Cuban government used the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca to create at least 25 corporations registered in the British Virgin Islands, Panama and the Bahamas. Mossack Fonsenca, and its clients, have come under immense scrutiny since the leak of hundreds of thousands of pages of the firm’s files, which have been come known as the “Panama Papers”, revealed elaborate tax shelters used by some of the world’s wealthiest individuals and organizations.

In a June 7, 2016 report, the Miami Herald alleges that at the Cuban government used Mossak Fonseca to set up numerous corporations and then used these off-shore entities to conduct business, including numerous exchanges of oil for Cuban goods, which was prohibited by the US embargo on Cuba. Although the Panamanian firm’s aid or involvement with the Cuban government is likely beyond the jurisdiction of US officials, the potential ramifications for US corporations who may have dealt with the alleged off-shore Cuban entities is uncertain.

Under Cuban Assets Control Regulations (31 C.F.R. Part 515), an entity can potentially avoid penalties if it is able to demonstrate that is did not willfully violate the regulations, had no reason to know or suspect that it was involved in a prohibited transaction, and the entity reported the prohibited transaction to the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) as soon as it became aware of the violation. (31 C.F.R. 515.203). It is also possible that individual transactions may have been authorized pursuant to specific licenses issued by OFAC. The critical issue, therefore, is whether any US entities knew or should have known that they were dealing with an entity connected to the Cuban government. As investigations of the Panama Papers continue, correspondence contained therein could potentially demonstrate knowledge by US companies about the Cuban connections of the off-shore entities identified in the Miami Herald report.

US companies who may have engaged the Cuban off-shore entities should be proactive and investigate what, if any, contact they may have had with these entities as self-reporting any transactions to OFAC is a necessary first step in cooperation. Depending on the size of the organization, using a third-party investigator, such a law firm, may ensure the preservation of documents and, in turn, the integrity of the investigation should an investigation by OFAC become necessary.

On June 20, 2016, U.S. President Barack Obama will deliver the keynote address at the meeting of the international trade and investment delegation. This event is being organized by the United States – India Imports Council (USIIC).

The USIIC will be taking a trade and investment delegation composed of 18 members from Gujarat, India, to the U.S.  The delegation will attend SelectUSA, a project of the U.S. Department of Commerce, where the U.S. will present its trade benefits to over 50 other countries. The goal is to promote foreign direct investment and trade in the U.S.  The delegates from Gujarat represent several business sectors, including infrastructure, mining, logistics, pharmaceuticals, automotive, and financial services.

For more information about the USIIC and the trade relationship between the U.S. and India, visit the USIIC website.

Copyright: paulprescott72 / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: paulprescott72 / 123RF Stock Photo

On Thursday, April 28, 2016, the United States and Sri Lanka adopted a joint plan to boost trade between the countries. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Sri Lanka Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade Malik Samarawickrama announced the deal after a meeting in Washington, D.C, under the nations’ bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement.

The goal of the plan is to expand trade and encourage foreign investment. The plan also focuses on promoting business in Sri Lanka. The plan aims to make Sri Lanka’s business and trade sectors more accessible to women and to promote workers’ rights and ethical practices in the work force.

The two countries aim to achieve the goals of the plan over a five year period, and they will release their proposals for implementing the plan later this year.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved sanctions that will toughen penalties against North Korea. The approved resolution contains the most stringent measures ever passed against North Korea, which will undermine North Korea’s ability to raise money and secure technology and other resources for its nuclear program.

The sanctions include the following:

  • All countries are required to inspect all North Korean cargo entering or leaving that country.
  • North Korea cannot sell gold, titanium ore, vanadium ore and rare earth minerals.
  • A ban on aviation fuel exports to the country, including “kerosene-type rocket fuel.”
  • Watercraft, snowmobiles and other recreational sports equipment have been added to a ban on luxury goods.
  • North Korea cannot send martial arts experts to train police officers in foreign countries.
  • Countries are required to expel North Korean diplomats accused of illicit activities.

The U.S. administration also announced related actions by the Treasury and State Department that levied sanctions against additional individuals and entities. The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated two entities and ten individuals with ties to the Government of North Korea and its nuclear and weapons proliferation efforts.  In a related action, the State Department designated three entities and two individuals for activities related to weapons of mass destruction proliferation. These designations freeze any properties the individuals or entities may have under U.S. jurisdiction and bars U.S. citizens from doing business with them.  For information on the designated individuals and entities, see OFAC’s SDN List update.

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew commented on the resolution, stating: “Today the United Nations Security Council approved a historic Resolution which included key designations against North Korea, and the United States issued sanctions also targeting supporters of this repressive regime.  Together, these actions reflect a strong and unified response to North Korea’s provocative, destabilizing, and dangerous activities…. Our coordinated efforts send a clear message: the global community will not tolerate North Korea’s illicit nuclear and ballistic missile activities, and there will be serious consequences until it modifies its reckless behavior.”