By Mengqi Sun
Economic and trade sanctions have become a top U.S.
foreign-policy tool for the Trump administration, and that would be
unlikely to change under his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden.
Yet, with the coronavirus pandemic and the economic fallout
taking center stage of the election season, Mr. Biden hasn't said
much about his specific plans for the U.S. sanctions regime,
observers said. Many are looking to the Obama administration, when
Mr. Biden was vice president and the use of sanctions policies
picked up, for clues.
"The assumption is that sanctions is going to be the primary
foreign policy tool," said Judith Alison Lee, a partner at law firm
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP who advises companies on sanctions
compliance issues. "It's very addictive; once any administration
starts to use it and they see the power of this unilateral tool and
immediate implications of sanctions, it's very difficult to
On average, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on more
than 900 entities or individuals each year for the last four years,
nearly 80% more than the annual number of designations imposed by
the Obama administration from 2009 to 2016, according to a Wall
Street Journal analysis of the data compiled by Dow Jones Risk
& Compliance, which is owned by Wall Street Journal publisher
Dow Jones & Co.
In 2020 alone, more than 700 entities or individuals have been
added to the Office of Foreign Assets Control's sanctions blacklist
through Oct. 29, according to the data.
Trump campaign spokesman Ken Farnaso said, "There's no question
that President Trump has held foreign adversaries like Russia,
China, and Cuba accountable more than any president before him,
imposing debilitating sanctions and expelling rogue diplomats."
Mr. Biden's campaign and a spokesman for the U.S. Treasury
Department's OFAC didn't respond to requests for comment.
Here are some areas that will be in play, based on public
statements made by Mr. Biden in recent months and conversations
with sanctions compliance lawyers.
The Trump administration has increased its economic pressure on
Cuba, reversing the Obama administration's shift to a more open
stance toward the nation that had led to an increase in travel
between the two countries.
The Trump administration has added restrictions on travel to
Cuba and this week announced new rules prohibiting U.S. companies
from processing remittances involving Cuban entities on the State
Department's Cuba Restricted List. President Trump in 2019 also
ended the suspension of a provision of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act
that allows certain U.S. nationals with claims to properties
confiscated by the regime of Fidel Castro to seek compensation from
companies operating on those properties.
Fewer than three dozen lawsuits have been filed under the Title
III provision of Helms-Burton, according to data compiled by the
U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. Both U.S. and foreign
companies have been named as defendants in the lawsuits, including
Amazon.com Inc., Société Générale SA and American Airlines Inc.
Sanctions lawyers expect Mr. Biden would roll back some of these
restrictions on Cuba, including reimposing the waiver of the Title
III provision and lifting restrictions on sending remittances,
according to Cari Stinebower, a partner at law firm Winston &
Strawn LLP who specializes in sanctions compliance.
The Trump administration has imposed a pressure campaign against
Iran after pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal. The administration
in recent weeks imposed a volley of sanctions against Iran intended
in part to fortify its campaign against any future effort to unwind
it, The Wall Street Journal previously reported. On Thursday, it
blacklisted Iranian and Chinese energy companies and announced
forfeiture actions against shipments of Iranian missiles recently
seized by the U.S. Navy.
Under a Biden presidency, the U.S. may rejoin the nuclear accord
and roll back some of President Trump's policies on Iran, according
to Ms. Lee. "We do expect there to be changes to Iran, maybe not
immediately," she said.
Many expect the tensions and some of the restrictions placed on
China by the Trump administration to continue even if Mr. Biden
wins. The current administration has imposed sanctions on
individuals for allegedly undermining Hong Kong's autonomy and has
issued warnings against doing business with companies that may be
involved in human-rights violations in China.
Mr. Biden has suggested he could take a tougher stance.
"Trump opposed sanctioning China's government over its atrocious
human rights violations to protect his hollow trade deal and serve
his own personal interests," Mr. Biden said in a tweet from June
21. "Where Trump has been weak, I will be strong, clear, and
consistent in standing up for America's values and its people."
The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on Moscow over
alleged U.S. election meddling. But Mr. Biden may impose more
sanctions on Russia for other issues, including over the poisoning
of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, Ms. Lee said. The European Union
has announced sanctions on members of Russian President Vladimir
Putin's inner circle in response to the poisoning. Russia has
disputed the findings of European laboratories that Mr. Navalny had
been poisoned by a chemical nerve agent.
Mr. Biden has signaled that he would consider issuing more
sanctions on Russia over elections interference.
"I know President Putin, and...he knows me," Mr. Biden said
during a CNN town hall in February. "And he knows that there will
be similar consequences if he engages in trying to interfere with
our election, by moving in a direction to seek greater sanctions
against Russia, because they're doing it...all across Europe and
other parts of the world."
President Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018
and 2019. However, the nuclear talks they committed to restart have
broken down since.
Mr. Biden has called the North Korean leader a thug and said he
would be tougher on North Korea.
"It's like saying we had a good relationship with Hitler before
he in fact invaded...the rest of Europe." Mr. Biden said of Mr. Kim
at the Oct. 22 presidential debate. "The reason he would not meet
with President Obama is because President Obama said we're going to
talk about denuclearization. We're not going to legitimize you.
We're going to continue to push stronger and stronger sanctions on
you. That's why he wouldn't meet with us."
Write to Mengqi Sun at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 30, 2020 05:44 ET (09:44 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.