Navigating Trade in the Time of Trump

The United States under the Trump administration has dramatically stepped up its use of economic sanctions against nations, firms, and even individuals that it accuses of a wide range of violations of international law. Given Taiwan’s dependency on trade and its close ties with U.S. suppliers and customers, Taiwanese firms are on the frontlines of sanctions risks, and at least nine Taiwanese entities have found themselves on the U.S. “blacklist” of sanctions violators.

Adam Smith, a former U.S. senior sanctions official during the Obama administration, recently visited Taiwan to offer his views on how Taiwan’s businesses can navigate these treacherous waters. At a presentation on “Understanding and Navigating the Risk of Economic Sanctions in the Trump Era,” held at AmCham Taipei’s Lincoln Room on May 17, Smith offered his perspective on why trade sanctions are being deployed so frequently. He noted that sanctions can be wielded under the sole authority of the president, are highly flexible and effective, and “they cost the government nothing,” in contrast to other measures such as military interventions that put people and materiel at risk.

The impact of sanctions by the U.S. can be huge, forcing rogue nations such as Iran and North Korea to the negotiating table and impacting some of the world’s largest companies, such as China tech-behemoth ZTE Co., which found itself on the U.S. “blacklist” by dint of its continued trading with sanctioned nations. Sanctions cut off ZTE from its supply chain of U.S. components and within days of being singled out by Trump, ZTE declared that it could no longer operate.

Only U.S. persons or entities are directly required to act in accordance with U.S. issued sanctions. However, any transaction involving U.S. financial institutions must also comply with such sanctions, and as 87% of global trade occurs in US dollars, this means that the vast majority of global businesses are required to comply. Refusing to comply, or inadvertently violating sanctions, could result in being placed on the blacklist and banned from participating in most global trade. Further, products that contain a minimum of 10% components produced in the United States are also considered to be U.S. goods and their makers are likewise expected to comply.

To avoid falling afoul of U.S. sanctions regime, Smith advises companies to develop “a compliance system, policies, and processes internally, but also figuring out what your exposure looks like.” Smith says that companies need to ask take thorough inventory of their own and their trade partners’ activities. “The more you know… the more you can explain it, if need be,” says Smith.

 Listen to audio clips to learn more: 

From left to right: Adam Smith, former senior sanctions official in the U.S. Government and Partner of Gibson Dunn; AmCham Taipei President William Foreman


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