On June 6 and June 9, 2022, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) issued additional guidance on the sanctions that prohibit U.S. persons from making a “new investment” in Russia and from providing accounting, trust and corporate formation, and management consulting services to any person located in Russia.

Separately, from June 15, 2022, the UK Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (“OFSI”) gained new powers to impose financial penalties for breaches of UK sanctions regulations (including, but not limited to, the UK sanctions regulations with respect to Russia) on a strict liability basis and to publish reports of cases where it is satisfied that a breach of financial sanctions has occurred but where no penalty is imposed.

This alert summarizes these new sanctions developments.

New U.S. Sanctions Developments

Guidance on the Prohibitions on “New Investment” by U.S. Persons in Russia

On June 6, 2022, OFAC issued guidance in the form of responses to new frequently asked questions (“FAQs”) to clarify certain aspects of the prohibitions on “new investment” in Russia by U.S. persons that were imposed under the following executive orders (“E.O.s”):

  • E.O. 14066, issued on March 8, 2022 (prohibiting new investment by U.S. persons in the energy sector of the Russian Federation, as described in our March 10 alert); 
  • E.O. 14068, issued on March 11, 2022 (prohibiting new investment by U.S. persons in any sector of the Russian Federation economy as may be determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State); and 
  • E.O. 14071, issued on April 6, 2022 (prohibiting “all new investment in the Russian Federation by U.S. persons, wherever located” as well as “any approval, financing, facilitation, or guarantee by a U.S. person, wherever located, of a transaction by a foreign person where the transaction by that foreign person would be prohibited by E.O. 14071 if performed by a U.S. person or within the United States,” as described in our April 11 alert.


Continue Reading Recent Developments in U.S. and UK Sanctions: OFAC Guidance on “New Investment” and Prohibition on the Provision of Certain Services to Any Person in Russia; UK Sanctions Enforcement Developments

Trade associations, 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations, other outside groups that pay for
political advertisements, and their donors now have more answers to long-running questions
regarding when donations to these groups are publicly reportable. After postponing
consideration of the issue during its previous meeting, the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”)
approved Wednesday an interim final rule on donor disclosure. The interim rule amends the
federal regulations that describe when outside groups that pay for independent expenditures–
advertisements that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate–
must publicly disclose on FEC reports the names of their donors. The amended rule will take
effect 30 legislative days after the FEC transmits the new rule to Congress, which the FEC
anticipates will be September 30, 2022.

The interim rule brings the FEC’s regulations into harmony with a 2018 court decision that
invalidated a long-standing regulation, 11 C.F.R. § 109.10(e)(1)(vi), requiring outside groups to
disclose only those donors who contributed at least $200 to the outside group “for the purpose
of furthering the reported independent expenditure.” The interim final rule strikes the regulation
entirely. However, the FEC added a note to 11 C.F.R. § 109.10(e)(1) that clarifies the remaining
portions of the regulation and the relevant statute are still in effect.

In the wake of the 2018 decision, many questions remained about when these groups must
disclose donor names. The revised regulation itself was not meant to answer those questions; it
was simply meant to harmonize regulations on the books with existing court decisions. Some of
these questions were answered by an unusual guidance document the Commission posted to
its website after the 2018 decision. That guidance, which remains in effect, provides that groups
(other than political committees) that pay for independent expenditures must disclose the names
of donors of over $200 who made contributions “earmarked for political purposes” during the
reporting period.

Continue Reading FEC Commissioners Issue New Guidanceon Donor Disclosure for Groups Paying forPolitical Advertisements

Presidential Action Triggered by Crisis in the U.S. Solar Industry

In recent months, the U.S. solar industry has been in the midst of an existential crisis, triggered by the threatened imposition of retroactive and future tariffs on a significant portion of U.S. imports. That crisis began on April 1, 2022, when the Department of Commerce (“Commerce”) initiated an inquiry to determine whether solar cells and modules from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam are circumventing antidumping (“AD”) and countervailing duty (“CVD”) orders on solar cells from China. Solar cells from these countries generally accounted for approximately 80% of U.S. solar module imports in 2020.[1] If Commerce finds circumvention, solar cells and modules from the four target countries could not only be subject to combined AD/CVD tariffs approaching 250%, but Commerce’s regulations also allow for the agency to apply these tariffs retroactively to merchandise entering on or after April 1, 2022 (and potentially as far back as November 4, 2021). This threat of AD/CVD tariffs triggered a steep decrease in imports of solar cells and modules from Southeast Asia, and caused parts of the U.S. solar industry to come to a stand-still, furthering domestic reliance on coal.[2] Given this paralysis in the solar industry, lawmakers and others urged the President to provide relief from potential AD/CVD tariffs.[3]

The President’s Response

On June 6, 2022, President Biden issued a declaration of emergency (the “Declaration”)[4] pursuant to section 318(a) of the Tariff Act of 1930, as amended (19 U.S.C. § 1318), and issued a determination pursuant to section 303 of the Defense Production Act of 1950, as amended (50 U.S.C. § 4533) (“the DPA Determination”)[5]. The Declaration finds that an emergency exists “with respect to the threats to the availability of sufficient electricity generation capacity” and authorizes Commerce to issue a moratorium on tariffs on solar cells and modules from Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam for up to a 24-month period, while the DPA Determination aims to “expand the domestic production capability” for solar cells during this 24-month period. The Declaration itself does not prevent the imposition of tariffs on imported solar cells and modules from the Southeast Asian countries, rather it authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to “take appropriate action” to permit the duty-free importation of solar cells and modules for 24 months after the Declaration’s issue date.[6]

Continue Reading President Acts to Prevent Import Tariffs on Solar Cells and Modules from Southeast Asia

The California Privacy Protection Agency (“CPPA”) held a board meeting on May 26th, 2022. At the meeting, Executive Director Ashkan Soltani, Acting General Counsel Brian Soublet, and members of the Board offered insight into the following key topics:

  • Bifurcation of CPRA Rulemaking Process: The Board’s CPRA Rules Subcommittee indicated that the CPPA’s rulemaking process will

Like many governments around the world, UK politics currently appear somewhat unstable. And the UK’s problems are a reflection of the world, where established views and beliefs are suddenly no longer the unassailable certainties they have seemed to be for decades.

Davos met this week for the first time in two years against this very unsettled backdrop.  A few thoughts and reflections on discussions there follow…

Conversation seemed to centre around emerging trends which challenge the apparent established order of the postwar years. Liberalised economies, increasing globalisation and spreading democracy have been remarkably successful at lifting many millions of people out of poverty and providing them access to electricity, clean water, food and economic opportunity.

Yet now the acceptance of the universality of that approach appears to be under challenge and the world economy teeters on the edge of a downturn…

Continue Reading A few thoughts from Davos…

Most observers expect the Republicans to take control of the House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate, in the upcoming midterm elections.  While both Democrats and Republicans are likely to keep their attention on the actions of so-called “Big Tech,” this political shift should bring a renewed focus on amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  Section 230, which provides platforms with immunity from liability for third-party content and content-moderation decisions, has been a target for lawmakers seeking to limit the power of large technology companies.  Republicans have generally focused more on modifying Section 230, versus Democrats, who have spent more energy on using antitrust legislation to regulate those platforms.

Looking ahead, now is the time to consider policies and plans in light of a Republican-controlled Congress taking on potentially divisive issues through the lens of Section 230.

Republicans, Conservatives, and Section 230

Two trends will guide Republicans’ approach to Section 230 in the next Congress.  First, as in many areas, Republicans will seek to address what they see as “woke capitalism.”  New York Times columnist Ross Douthat coined the term in 2018 and defined it as a “certain kind of virtue-signaling on progressive social causes, a certain degree of performative wokeness, [that] is offered to liberalism and the activist left pre-emptively, in hopes that having corporate America take their side in the culture wars will blunt efforts to tax or regulate our new monopolies too heavily.”

Republicans are already planning a variety of legislative and oversight maneuvers meant to address corporations taking certain positions on cultural issues.  Technology companies may very well be at the top of Republicans’ list.

Second, conservatives increasingly view liberals as having abandoned their commitment to free speech.  For example, Republicans view the Hunter Biden laptop controversy, campus speech codes, and social media content moderation as part of a broader effort to silence and marginalize conservatives.  Simply put, conservatives believe that they are now the defenders of free speech.
Continue Reading SECTION 230 IN A REPUBLICAN CONGRESS

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Since entry into force of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (“USMCA”) in July 2020, the United States has brought two known complaints against Mexico under the Agreement’s Facility-Specific Rapid Response Labor Mechanism (“RRM”), concerning allegations that workers at two different factories in Mexico were being denied their fundamental right to organize.

The Office of the

International Trade, Public Policy (U.S.), Technology

On March 23, 2022, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (“USTR”) announced its decision to reinstate through December 31, 2022, 352 previously granted exclusions from tariffs imposed on Chinese imports under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 (“Section 301 Tariffs”). The reinstated exclusions are a subset of a limited group of 549 exclusions that were previously extended and thus were eligible for possible reinstatement, and it remains unclear if and when a broader exclusion process might be forthcoming.

Background

The Section 301 Tariffs are based on the U.S. Administration’s determination in March 2018 that China’s technology transfer and intellectual property (“IP”) policies are harming U.S. companies. Between July 2018 and September 2019, the United States imposed four escalating tranches of tariffs on imports from China. U.S. tariffs on over $360 billion in Chinese imports remain in place despite the “Phase One” agreement that the parties reached in January 2020.

For each of the four tranches or “Lists,” USTR established a process for requesting product-specific exclusions from the Section 301 Tariffs. In total, USTR granted over 2,200 exclusions. USTR also opened a process for submitting comments on whether to extend the duration of particular exclusions. Based on that process, USTR extended 549 exclusions spanning products covered by Lists 1 – 4, but most of these exclusions expired by December 31, 2020, with the remainder expiring on March 25 and April 18, 2021.

On October 8, 2021, days after USTR Katherine Tai announced that her office would open a “targeted” tariff exclusion process, USTR published a Federal Register notice inviting public comment on whether and how long USTR should reinstate 549 product exclusions that were granted and subsequently extended. USTR published on its website a list of all 549 exclusions. The notice indicated that USTR would focus on evaluating whether, despite imposition of the Section 301 Tariffs, “the particular product remains available only from China.” Additionally, USTR would consider whether reinstating an exclusion would “impact or result in severe economic harm to the commenter or other U.S. interests,” or affect the goal of obtaining the elimination of China’s problematic IP policies.

Reinstated Section 301 Tariff Exclusions

On March 23, 2022, USTR announced its decision to reinstate 352 product exclusions among those identified in its October 8, 2021 notice. USTR stated that its determination was based on public comments received as well as input from advisory committees and other U.S. agencies.

All reinstated exclusions are retroactive to import entries made on or after October 12, 2021, that are unliquidated or that are liquidated but remain protestable. The reinstated exclusions expire on December 31, 2022, though the notice provides that USTR “may consider further extensions as appropriate.”
Continue Reading USTR Reinstates Limited Exclusions from Tariffs on Chinese Imports

Securities and Capital Markets

On March 21, 2022, the SEC proposed landmark rules regarding climate-related disclosures that would, if finalized, impact both domestic and foreign private issuers that are subject to the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.  The much-anticipated proposal will elicit discussion regarding the type, amount, and materiality of certain climate-related information that a company could be required to report.  The proposal also highlights the significant shift in market expectations globally regarding a company’s oversight of evolving climate-related risks and opportunities.  The SEC also published a fact sheet describing the proposed new disclosure requirements, which includes a matrix outlining the proposed phase-in periods and accommodations for the new disclosures.  The timing and scope of final rules remains uncertain, but the earliest that certain large accelerated companies would need to comply with the proposed rules if adopted would be 2023 (with the possibility of a filing by 2024).

Below we summarize:

  1. Background developments that led to the proposal;
  2. Key provisions of the proposed rules;
  3. Controversial elements of the proposal that may engender further debate; and
  4. What companies should be doing now.

Background

In recent years, investors have become increasingly focused on climate-related issues and risks related to a company’s business.  This heightened awareness has resulted in the SEC taking various steps to address investor demand for more transparent, comparable, decision-useful climate-related disclosure.  For example, in 2010, the SEC released guidance on how companies should apply existing disclosure requirements pertaining to a company’s business operations and exposure to material climate-related matters.[1]

In March 2021, SEC Commissioner and then-Acting Chair Allison Herren Lee requested public input from investors, companies and other market participants on whether current disclosures regarding climate-related opportunities and risks provided adequate information to investors.[2]  ESG-related task forces were also established with the purpose of evaluating climate-related disclosures and claims.  In July 2021, SEC Chair Gary Gensler announced the SEC would propose mandatory climate-related disclosure rules.  In September 2021, the SEC’s Division of Corporate Finance issued a Sample Letter to Companies Regarding Climate Change Disclosures to provide companies with additional guidance regarding climate-related disclosures.
Continue Reading SEC Proposes Landmark Climate-Related Disclosure Rules

On March 11, 2022, President Biden announced that the United States, acting in coordination with the European Union (“EU”) and leaders of major economies belonging to the Group of Seven (“G7”), would begin taking steps to revoke most-favored-nation (or “MFN”) trade status for Russia. MFN trade status—known as Permanent Normal Trade Relations (“PNTR”) status in the United States—is a term used to describe the nondiscriminatory treatment granted among most of the world’s trading partners. Days after the President’s address, on March 16, the House passed to formally revoke PNTR for Russia, and also stripping Belarus of MFN treatment. The bill now moves to the Senate, where timing for its consideration is uncertain.

MFN status is a fundamental principle in the international trading system established under the World Trade Organization (“WTO”), and as a general rule, WTO Members are required to accord MFN status to all other WTO Members. Having acceded to the WTO in 2012, Russia is generally entitled to MFN treatment by other WTO Members. In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, however, several other WTO Members have joined the United States, the EU, and the G7 in stating an intent to revoke MFN treatment for Russia, invoking an “essential security” exception that permits WTO-inconsistent measures where a Member considers such measures to be “necessary for the protection of its essential security interests.” Statements issued by the White House and G7 Leaders emphasized the coordinated nature of the initiative across economies, and the intent to continue to pursue additional collective action to deny Russia the benefits of WTO membership.

While certain G7 countries, such as Canada, have already withdrawn Russia’s trade benefits by means of executive action, revocation of Russia’s PNTR status in the United States will require congressional action. While the House has passed a bill to do so, specific timing for consideration of that legislation in the Senate is still unknown. A revocation of Russia’s MFN status will increase tariff rates applicable to certain U.S. imports from Russia, and may also provoke Russia to take responsive, retaliatory actions against international firms. This alert provides background on Russia’s current trade status, analyzes congressional action to date on the issue, and describes the potential international trade implications for U.S. firms of a change in Russia’s trade status.

Background on Russia’s Trade Status

Under the principle of MFN treatment, WTO Members are required to treat imports of goods and services from any WTO Member as favorably as they treat the imports of like goods and services from any other WTO Member. In practice, this means that MFN treatment is the basic “non-discriminatory” treatment to which all WTO Members are generally entitled. Russia has been accorded MFN treatment by most major economies since it became a WTO Member in August 2012.
Continue Reading Revocation of Russia’s Most-Favored-Nation Trade Status: What Companies Need to Know