Skip to main content

View more from News & Articles or Primerus Weekly

Stewart and Stewart

Washington, D.C.

Although economic sanctions or embargoes have long been a staple of national security policies all around the world, there are several developments that are drawing more attention to U.S. sanctions programs as well as forcing U.S. -- and some foreign businesses -- to exercise greater caution in their international dealings, says a former U.S. assistant secretary of commerce who is now practicing international trade law.

The former Department of Commerce official, Alan M. Dunn, now a partner the Law Offices of Stewart and Stewart in Washington, D.C., made his comments in a respected online forum along with the managing partner of his firm, noted international trade and customs lawyer Terence P. Stewart. Their comments appear in an online roundtable on U.S. sanctions and trade law issues sponsored by Who’s Who Legal.  Dunn said the U.S. and many of its trading partners and the United Nations have been implementing and calling for economic sanctions against an increasing number and a wider range of countries, regions, individuals and groups.  Stewart noted in a related post looking at China and trade remedy actions that the number of complaints filed against what many consider the world’s leading trade rule violator, China, has been far fewer than generally thought.

Dunn pointed out the U.S. typically is quicker than its trading partners to implement sanctions regimes on foreign governments, organizations or individuals that it perceives as bad actors in the world.  Whether in response to national security concerns or other concerns, the U.S. Congress and Executive Branch have a number of models for both broad and narrowly tailored sanctions programs, and are relatively quick to implement restrictions under one or more types of sanctions regimes.  Just as regional insecurity (civil strife/wars in Syria, Sudan, Libya, etc.) raises national security concerns that can lead to new sanctions, global interconnectivity makes these security problems more acute both in the U.S. and other countries, which also encourages the implementation of sanctions.  Dunn advises domestic and foreign companies with the regulations and export controls restricting both dual-use items under the Export Administration Regulations and defense articles and services under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.

In his post, Dunn said the U.S. has developed a number of electronic systems for trade and financial regulation that are nearly universal in the U.S.  Therefore, almost all trade and financial transactions that originate or pass through the U.S. can be monitored for compliance with, inter alia, sanctions regimes.  Because trade in goods or services from, with, or even through the U.S. (including payments through U.S. financial institutions) are subject to pervasive regulatory scrutiny, it is incumbent upon companies to increase their efforts at compliance with the wide range of regulations, including the restrictions arising under U.S. sanctions laws.

Importantly, U.S. trading partners are also increasingly imposing sanctions on problem groups and countries, sometimes in coordination with the U.S. or the UN and sometimes on their own.  In almost all cases there are differences between and among the various national sanctions programs, and in some cases U.S. trading partners pass laws opposing or directly contradicting U.S. sanctions laws, Dunn said.  In addition, U.S. and foreign sanctions laws and enforcement regimes change frequently, with new restrictions being imposed, amended or lifted every month.  The result is a highly complicated and fluid web of international sanctions rules, some of which expose companies to significant civil and even criminal penalties for violations, Dunn said.

“Consequently, understanding and complying with sanctions laws, as well as addressing violations, is an increasingly active area of concern for executives, trade compliance officers and general counsel of domestic companies and of foreign companies doing business in the United States,” Stewart explained.

Prior to entering private practice, Dunn was among the senior U.S. officials responsible for forming and implementing trade-related policy and acted as the administrator of antidumping and countervailing duty laws, as well as several other domestic trade programs.  He also held trade policy responsibility for several industry sectors, including telecommunications, microelectronics, computers, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and metals.  Since 1996 Who's Who Legal, now the strategic research partner of the American Bar Association’s Section of International Law and of the International Bar Association, has identified the foremost legal practitioners in 32 areas of business law.  It features over 10,000 of the world’s leading private practice lawyers in over 100 countries and prides itself “on the integrity and authority of our findings.  It is impossible to buy entry into this publication.”  Stewart is listed in Who’s Who legal for trade and customs law and has been selected by his peers to The Best Lawyers In America® for International Trade and Finance.  He has lectured on trade policy and published dozens of oft-cited whitepapers on international trade for more than 30 years.

For more information about Stewart and Stewart, please visit or the International Society of Primerus Law Firms.