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Navigating U.S. Export Barriers: What All Small Businesses Should Know About Complying with U.S. Export Control Regulation

Posted in Operating a Business, Other Legal Issues

By:   Ngosong Fonkem[1]

This article was originally posted on the “State Bar of Wisconsin’s Business Law Section Blog.”

The first five rounds of the scheduled seven rounds of the modernization and renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (“NAFTA”) has drawn to a close. Although the current administration has made reducing the U.S. bilateral trade deficits with its trading partners the benchmark for measuring success,[2] exports of U.S. made products to unauthorized end-user, end-use, or destination country without the required export license can lead an unaware U.S. exporter into legal trouble. This is of particular concern to small and medium-size businesses (“SME”) who often lack resources to employ necessary staff or counsel to assist them to navigate the very complex and cumbersome U.S. export control regulations. The U.S. International Trade Administration (“ITA”) reports that SME account for ninety-eight percent (“98%”) of all U.S. exporters,[3] and three-fourths of the exported items are controlled under U.S. export control regulations.[4] Thus, an elementary understanding of U.S. export regulation is vital to any small business looking to expand and benefit from new markets abroad.

What is an Export?

 The starting point for any export control compliance analysis is to understand how an export is defined under U.S. law. Specifically, if an item leaves the U.S. border via carried mail, email, fax, upload or download, mentioned in a phone conversation, or a U.S. exporter accepts a foreign client visit to its facility or permit visual inspection of plans or blueprints, such items or actions are considered an export and are thus subject to U.S. export license requirements.[5] Further, all foreign origin items shipped or transmitted through the U.S. are also considered exports.[6]

Which Federal Agencies Regulate Exports?

All U.S. exporters must fully comply with all applicable U.S. export regulations. Because these laws are administered by several different federal agencies, navigating through the myriad of applicable regulations is a daunting task. Although numerous federal agencies administer exports control regulations,[7] three agencies are of significance. These three agencies are within the following federal departments: The Department of Commerce, the Department of State, and the Department of the Treasury. First, within the Department of Commerce, the Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) enforces the Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”). The EAR regulates the export and re-export of non-military and “dual use” commodities, software, and technology. The EAR also contains the Commerce Control List (“CCL”), which requires licenses for certain exports. Second, within the Department of State is the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (“DDTC”) that administers the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (“ITAR”). ITAR contains the U.S. Munitions List (“USML”) and controls defense articles, defense services, and related technical data as these terms are defined by the USML and the Arms Export Control Act. Third, within the Department of Treasury is the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) that administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions based on U.S. foreign policy and national security goals. Note however that in 2009 the U.S. government began implementing the Export Control Reform Initiative (“ECRI”), which will make significant changes to existing export control system.[8] As of August 2015, Phase Two of the planned three phases is nearly complete.[9] When fully implemented, the ECRI will create a single control list, single licensing agency, unified information technology system, and enforcement coordination center.

What are the Penalties for Non-compliance?

 On June 22, 2016, the BIS published new Administrative Enforcement Guidelines,[10] which aimed to promote greater transparency and predictability to the administrative enforcement process. Further, based on the BIS guidelines, fines for export violations can reach $1 million per violation in criminal cases and up to twenty years prison term, while for administrative cases, it can result in penalties of up to $250,000 and a denial of export privileges.[11] Further, based on the enforcement actions that have been carried out so far by the various agencies, it appears penalties have been applied non-discriminately for each export violation.

 What are the Processes for Determining Whether an Export License is Warranted? 

First determine whether the product at issue has an Export Control Classification Number (“ECCN”) by checking the product against the EAR. The EAR will list reasons why that particular product falls under BIS control. Use this information to determine whether an export license is required, based on where the product is being exported to. Any product that does not have and ECCN is designated as EAR99, which usually does not need an export license, unless it is exported to an embargoed country or in support of a prohibited end-use. If the product is controlled, compare the ECCN against the Commerce Country Chart in the EAR to determine whether or not a license is required. Last, the U.S. maintains a list of restricted parties, which are persons or entities that U.S. exporters are prohibited from exporting to without a license. This may include EAR99 items that otherwise do not require a license based on the country of export. It is important to note that even the most harmless product might be intended for uses not envisioned by the U.S. exporter.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not

necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Addison-Clifton.

[1]Ngosong Fonkem, JD.MBA.LLM.BA is a senior advisor at Addison-Clifton LLC, focusing on its Asian Market Services practice sector. His professional legal and business experience is diverse, working cross-culturally in the USA and internationally on a variety of issues involving commercial transactions and government procurements, energy consulting, compliance and risk management, and fulltime member of the Faculty of Law at Multimedia University in Malaysia. Ngosong received his B.A. from University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (2008), J.D./MBA from West Virginia University College of Law (2011), and LL.M. from Tulane Law School (2012).

[2] USTR Releases NAFTA Negotiating Objectives. https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2017/july/ustr-releases-nafta-negotiating. https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/Press/Releases/NAFTAObjectives.pdf

[3] “Profile of U.S. Exporters Highlights Contributions of Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses,” International Trade Administration, April 8, 2015.  Available at http://blog.trade.gov/2015/04/08/profile-of-u-s-exporters-highlights-contributions-of-small-and-medium-sized-businesses.

[4] Data is obtained from a 2013 National Small Business Association and Small Business Exporters Association Exporting Survey. “2013 Small Business Exporting Survey,” National Small Business Association and Small Business Exporters Association, at p. 13. Available at www.nsba.biz/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Exporting-Survey-2013.pdf

[5] 15 CFR §734.2(b)(1); 15 CFR §734.2(b)(4). https://www.bis.doc.gov/index.php/documents/regulation-docs/412-part-734-scope-of-the-export-administration-regulations/file

[6] Id.

[7] Some of these federal departments and agencies include, Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Food and Drug Administration, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and etc.

[8] https://2016.export.gov/ecr/

[9] Id.

[10] https://www.bis.doc.gov/index.php/enforcement/oee/penalties

[11] https://www.bis.doc.gov/index.php/enforcement/oee/penalties

 

Author’s Bio and contact information.

Ngosong Fonkem graduated from West Virginia University College of Law 2011 (JD/MBA) and Tulane Law School 2012 (LLM), is a senior advisor at Addison-Clifton LLC, Brookfield, Wisconsin, where he assists U.S. and foreign companies with day-to-day compliance with U.S. trade laws and related audits, investigations, intervention, and civil enforcement proceedings; and doing business in Asia.