Sanctions, Export Controls & COVID-19: (Partial) Lockdown Exit Plans

In Europe, several countries announced details of the (partial) lockdown exit plans, as the spread of coronavirus in their countries slows. From 1 June 2020, non-medical face masks will be compulsory on public transport (in train, bus and metro) in The Netherlands. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been calls for sanctions relief. This, and more, in this newsletter.

COVID-19 & Global Export Restrictions, Trade and Trade-Related Measures

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic, the World Customs Organization (“WCO”) and the World Trade Organization (“WTO”) maintain online lists with COVID-19 related export restrictions and trade and trade-related measures. The WCO keeps up a list[1] of national legislation of countries that adopted export restrictions on certain categories of (critical medical) supplies in response to COVID-19. The list is regularly updated based on the official information provided by countries. The WCO emphasizes the list is not exhaustive.

On the website of the WTO there is a list with COVID-19-related trade and trade-related measures. The last update of the WTO-list was on 8 May 2020. The WTO compiled the list from official sources. Just as the WCO-list, the WTO-list is not exhaustive. The WTO-list is an attempt by the WTO to provide transparency with respect to trade and trade-related measures taken in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.

The International Trade Centre (“ITC”) is an agency, which has a joint mandate with the WTO and the United Nations (“UN”) through the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.[2] The ITC explains that governments are swiftly enacting (temporary) trade measures that aim to restrict exports of vital medical supplies and to liberalize imports of vital medical supplies. Due to the rapid development of the situation, the ITC provides a global daily update of enacted COVID-19 trade measures, and visualises this in images (see Image 1.1 and Image 1.2).

Image 1.1: Map of the world; COVID-19 Temporary Export Measures; screenshot of the situation on 11 May 2020 (source: ITC, 2020)[3]

Image 1.2: Map of the world; COVID-19 Temporary Import Measures; screenshot of the situation on 11 May 2020 (source: ITC, 2020)[4]

On 25 April 2020, the Ministry of Commerce of China announced revisited regulations on its export controls of COVID-19 related supplies.

On 12 May 2020 US Senator Lindsey Graham introduced “The COVID-19 Accountability Act” which authorises the President of the US to impose sanctions on China, if China fails to cooperate and provide a full accounting of the events leading up to the COVID-19-outbreak. According to a press release on the website of Senator Graham, the US-President would be authorised to impose a range of sanctions such as travel bans, asset freezes, visa revocations, restricting US financial institutions from making loans or underwriting to Chinese businesses, and prohibiting Chinese firms from being listed on US stock exchanges.

On 2 May 2020, news agency Bloomberg reported that Turkey lifted the bulk of medical exports restrictions following signs that the country’s coronavirus outbreak was subsiding. According to news agency Al Jazeerah (see press release 8 May 2020), Turkey has sent hundreds of thousands of personal protective equipment (“PPE”) items, to the United Kingdom (“UK”). However, (a part of the) PPE failed to meet UK and EU safety standards.

Calls for COVID-19-related Sanctions Relief

An American economic and financial embargo against Cuba was first imposed in 1958. On 30 April 2020, a group of UN human right experts called on the United States (“US”) to lift the economic and financial sanctions on Cuba. According to the experts, the sanctions are obstructing humanitarian responses to help the country’s health care system fight the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2011, South Sudan gained independence of the Republic of the Sudan (“Sudan”), as the outcome of a 2005 agreement that ended the longest-running civil war in Africa.  Unfortunately, independence did not stop the conflict in (South) Sudan. There have been embargoes and economic sanctions against both countries. On 28 April 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has called for the lifting of international sanctions against the country, because of the increasing number of COVID-19 casualties in Sudan.

Sanctions and Export Controls-related Extensions, Reliefs and Waivers

According to a 6 May 2020 news article in The New York Times, the US will grant a 120-day waiver for Iraq to continue importing electricity from its neighbour Iran, to help the new Iraqi government succeed. On 30 April 2020, the UN Security Council granted a South Korean NGO an exemption from UN sanctions, for six months. According to the website of the UN, the exemption is made to import items to North Korea for a project with the title: “the Agricultural Rehabilitation Project for physical-psychological development and recovery of people with disabilities”.

Military, Arms & Arms Embargos

On 22 January 2019, Germany and France signed a treaty on Franco-German cooperation and integration (“Aachen Treaty”). According to the Aachen Treatythe two countries will develop a common approach on arms exports with regard to join projects”. In October 2019, Germany and France agreed on defence export controls, following the Aachen Treaty. A Franco-German agreement on export controls in the field of defence was published in the Official Journal of the French Republic on 14 November 2019. The German Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control – “Bundesamt für Wirtschaft und Ausfuhrkontrolle” (“BAFA”) – has issued General Licence 28 to implement the agreement, effective from 1 April 2020. General Licence 28 was published in the German Federal Gazette of 31 March 2020 and came into force on 1 April 2020.

Investigative website The Intercept reported on 13 April 2020, that Erik Prince, owner of private security firm Blackwater, in recent months sought to provide lethal military services to a sanctioned Russian mercenary firm in at least two African conflicts (in Libya and Mozambique). According to the Financial Times (“FT”), two companies based in the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”) shipped nearly 11,000 tonnes of jet fuel to Libya. In a news article of 20 April 2020, the FT says the shipment is under investigation by a UN panel of experts by the UN. Stephanie Williams, the acting UN envoy to Libya, told the FT that jet fuel was considered to be “combat supplies” and the shipment to Libya could constitute a violation of the Libyan embargo. On 26 April 2020, Turkish news agency Anadolu Agency released an article stating that Maltese arms dealer James Fenech was charged with violating the EU’s Libyan sanctions. Fenech and four other men were charged in a Maltese court. According to the prosecution, Fenech had an agreement with a UAE company to transport personnel in and out of Libya.

On 30 April 2020 the EU called on the UN Security Council to renew the arms embargo against South Sudan and stresses the need to have the embargo enforced (the arms embargo against South Sudan will expire on 31 May 2020). On 4 May 2020, a press release was published by the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs. An overwhelming bipartisan majority of House Members called on the Trump Administration to extend the Iranian arms embargo.

If you want more information about one of the topics of this newsletter, such as COVID-19 related (temporary) import and export measures, or the mandatory facial protection in the Dutch public transport, from 1 June 2020, you can contact BenninkAmar Advocaten at:

[1], accessed on 11 May 2020.

[2], accessed on 11 May 2020.

[3], accessed on 11 May 2020.

[4], accessed on 11 May 2020.

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