As a consequence of U.S. and UN sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea), companies increasingly need to coordinate compliance efforts across the typically distinct worlds of economic sanctions and import/customs compliance. This is particularly necessary with respect to identifying, and mitigating the risk of DPRK-related labor in supply chains. Below, we summarize first the expanded scope of UN restrictions on the DPRK, including the prohibition on the use of DPRK labor, and then second, how those rules have been implemented and expanded in the United States in increasingly complex ways.

Part I:    United Nations Restrictions:

The United Nations has maintained limited sanctions on North Korea for years, but in 2017 it expanded those sanctions in a number of material ways.  Of relevance to this analysis, the UN Security Council (UNSC) reached a determination that all DPRK labor outside of North Korea poses a high forced labor-related risk.  As a result, the UNSC first required that all new work visas for DPRK citizens be approved by the UNSC, before expanding that restriction in December 2017 (UNSCR 2397) to require all UN Member States to repatriate all DPRK workers currently employed in their territory “immediately but not later than 24 months” (i.e., December 2019).  Therefore, for example Chinese and Taiwanese companies could currently employ DPRK citizens, but they will be required to reduce that employment and ultimately curtail it, or risk violation of UN resolutions.

Part II:   U.S. Restrictions:

In parallel, the United States has implemented a growing array of restrictions that also target DPRK labor.  Below, we summarize the relevant (a) U.S. sanctions prohibiting transactions with the DPRK and (b) a parallel set of import requirements presumptively prohibiting products manufactured with DPRK nationals in the supply chain:

(1) U.S. Sanctions on the DPRK:

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) has maintained a comprehensive embargo on the DPRK since 2017 and more limited restrictions for decades. Today, OFAC prohibits the export of any goods or services to the DPRK  and any transactions with the Government of North Korea or the Workers Party of North Korea.  OFAC generally considers a transaction with a DPRK national ordinarily resident in the DPRK to be prohibited as an indirect export of a service to the DPRK.

Importantly, for this analysis, OFAC also prohibits the importation of any goods or services from the DPRK, even items with only a de minimis percentage DPRK content (e.g., a $10,000 widget produced in Russia with a $2 North Korean origin part would be considered North Korean origin and prohibited entry into the United States).

Over the last few months, we have seen that OFAC has aggressively expanded its enforcement of these provisions, including designation of persons involved in DPRK trade, and issuing advisories to the shipping community about DPRK risks in the supply chain.  See https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm458; https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Documents/dprk_vessel_advisory_02232018.pdf; and https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/dprk_supplychain_advisory_07232018.pdf.

(2) DPRK-Related Import Prohibitions:

In parallel, since August 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) has maintained a North Korean related import restriction.  Specifically, pursuant to Section 321(b) of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (“CAATSA”), CBP utilizes a presumption that any “significant goods, wares, articles, and merchandise mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part by the labor of North Korean nationals or citizens” is produced through forced labor and therefore is prohibited for entry into the United States.  The presumption can be rebutted only through “clear and convincing” evidence that the DPRK nationals are not forced labor (e.g., a demonstration that they are asylees or refugees in a third country).  To assist importers in meeting their “reasonable care” obligation to ensure that goods entering the United States meet these new provisions, the Department of Homeland Security has published CAATSA Section 321(b) Guidance on due diligence steps importers can take, while CBP has noted that the seafood industry presents a high risk of DPRK nationals.  See e.g., https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/spotlights/cbp-leads-delegation-thailand-discusses-forced-labor-concerns-fishing-industry.

Part III: Significant Points for Importers, Exporters and U.S. Companies

The net result of the overlap of the above restrictions is:

  • All U.S. and non-U.S. companies are prohibited to grant new work permits to DPRK nationals, except DPRK nationals seeking an asylum or refugee status.
  • U.S. companies are prohibited under U.S. sanctions law from directly or indirectly exporting goods or services to the DPRK, including transacting with persons ordinarily resident in the DPRK.
  • U.S. companies are prohibited under U.S. sanctions to import any products produced in whole or in part (no matter how small the percentage) with DPRK origin material into the United States.
  • All products manufactured in whole, or in part, with DPRK national labor are presumptively considered to be produced with forced labor and are therefore prohibited to enter the United States, unless the importer can demonstrate through “clear and convincing” evidence that the DPRK nationals were not forced labor (e.g., by demonstrating they are asylum seekers).

 

On April 19, Crowell & Moring’s International Trade Attorneys hosted a webinar on “Trade in 2018 – What’s Ahead?”

Please click here to register and view the webinar on demand.

Summary

From the Section 232 national security tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to the ongoing NAFTA re-negotiation, the Trump administration is seeking to implement significant changes in international trade policy and enforcement. Economic sanctions on Russia continue to expand, the future is far from clear regarding Iran, and perhaps North Korea is coming into focus. A new Asia trade agreement without the United States, and a bumpy road ahead for Brexit all make for uncertainty and the need for enhanced trade risk management. Join us as we identify the international trade risks and opportunities likely to continue and grow in 2018.

Our Crowell & Moring team discussed predictions for the remainder of the year, with cross-border insights from our practitioners in the U.S., London, and Brussels. Topics included likely trends and issues in the U.S. and EU including:

  • Trade policy developments: Section 232, NAFTA renegotiation, and trade remedies
  • Sanctions in Year Two of the Trump Administration: Russia, Iran, North Korea, and beyond
  • Anti-money laundering (AML) and beneficial ownership
  • Supply chain risk management: blockchain, forced labor, the U.K. Modern Slavery Act, and GDPR
  • Europe: Brexit, the EU’s 4th AML Directive, and the EU/U.K. AML enforcement
  • CFIUS: how significant is the new legislation?
  • Export controls: Wither reform?
  • Import and customs

On March 15, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated as Specially Designated Nationals (“SDNs”) 2 new persons under an existing Obama-era cyber Executive Order, and 13 new persons under new authority granted by the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). This was the first time OFAC has utilized any of the multitude of CAATSA authorities to designate new SDNs.

The agency also updated nine previously sanctioned persons, adding the Cyber and/or CAATSA designations.

As background, CAATSA Section 224 requires the imposition of asset blocking sanctions on a person the President determines “knowingly engages in significant activities undermining cybersecurity” on behalf of the Government of Russia.

These actions are closely linked to the recent Mueller indictment of Russian persons for allegedly interfering with U.S. elections. All 15 defendants in that indictment have now been designated as SDNs: three of them were previously designated (but have now been re-designated under a second authority) and the 12 others were newly designated as part of this action. Specifically, the Internet Research Agency LLC is named in the indictment, as are 11 individuals linked to the company.

OFAC amended Cyber General License No. 1, “Authorizing Certain Transactions with the Federal Security Service” (GL 1), and reissued it as Cyber General License No. 1A (GL 1A). GL1A has the same net effect as GL1 insofar as it authorizes transactions, subject to certain conditions, with the Federal Security Service (a.k.a. Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti) (a.k.a. FSB) related to certain licensing and authorization functions that the FSB performs. The only change under GL1A was to clarify that the authorization continues to apply despite the FSB’s new designation under CAATSA Section 224 (i.e., GL1A authorizes transactions otherwise prohibited by both the Cyber sanctions and Section 224).

OFAC also published four updated FAQs relating to GL 1A and one updated CAATSA-related FAQ related to this action.