The topic of economic sanctions against Russia is making headlines in the early days of the Trump administration, drawing close attention to measures that have a significant impact on international business. US economic sanctions laws are foreign policy tools designed to change the behaviour of governments, but the effects of these vigorously enforced laws are felt equally in the private sector, where the failure to adhere to these laws can expose companies to significant civil and criminal liability.

The recent easing of some sanctions programmes has created new business opportunities, including most notably the previous Obama administration’s almost complete lifting of the longstanding Sudan embargo, which followed previous 2016 actions that eased sanctions on Cuba, Iran and terminated sanctions on Burma. The inherent political nature of these measures means that change can come swiftly. In addition to the much-discussed Russia sanctions, the Trump administration has signalled that it could take a different direction from the Obama administration on Cuba and Iran. This uncertainty creates both business risk and compliance challenges for US companies with international operations, as well as non-US companies with US operations and interests.

Summary of developments

Sudan. Just prior to leaving office, president Obama issued an executive order suspending the two-decade long comprehensive economic embargo on Sudan. Citing “Sudan’s positive actions over the past six months”, the executive order provides for a permanent lifting of the embargo after six months (in July 2017) if the Trump administration determines that the government of Sudan has sustained its positive actions.

Apr-Jun 2017 Issue

O’Melveny & Myers LLP