You Had Just One Job: BIS Spokesman Dodges Qatar Boycott Question

Posted by at 8:34 am on July 13, 2017
Category: Anti-BoycottBIS

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Eugene Cotilli is the Media/Congressional Liason at the Department of Commerce and is the listed contact for inquiries relating to the Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”). Josh Lederman of the Associated Press contacted him to ask him whether the boycott against Qatar by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the U.A.E. is an unsanctioned foreign boycott for purposes of the BIS anti-boycott rules that prohibit U.S. companies from complying with unsanctioned foreign boycotts. This blog has previously discussed this issue in this post.

This is a perfectly legitimate question. It is an important question because if the rules do apply and a U.S. company accepts a purchase order with an impermissible boycott clause, it is subject to a fine of $284,582 or twice the value of the transaction, whichever is greater. If the order with the impermissible clause is for $1 million worth of goods, the company accepting that order is liable for a civil penalty of $2 million dollars.

So, given the serious consequences of such a violation, Mr. Cotilli certainly provided useful guidance on this simple question, right? Here is his response: no comment. Right, he declined to answer Lederer’s simple and legitimate question. He didn’t even say,  “I’ll find out and get back to you.”

Part of the purpose of this post is to shame bad government. But there’s another purpose as well. It’s to encourage you to download and save a copy of Josh Lederman’s article and put it in your files. Although the safe play with respect to the Qatar boycott is to treat it as an unsanctioned foreign boycott, as my previous post thought was the case, you might still get caught up in a violation because BIS’s antiboycott rules are ridiculously complex, profoundly unclear and preposterously confusing. You could, even with the best of intentions, run afoul of them because of some clause buried in a letter of credit. Cotilli’s refusal to answer a simple and direct question as to whether the Qatar boycott is covered by these rules may turn out to be your best defense.

You’re welcome.


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Copyright © 2017 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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One Comment:

When I spoke to the policy shop at OAC about a week after the Qatar boycott/embargo/blockade was announced, I got a more nuanced reply: They had not seen anything official and therefore had no information upon which to render an determination.

One wonders whether, with the passage of time, OAC has received such documentation from the Commercial Service at any of the embassies, or whether they are engaging in the sort of “self-blinding” for which they impose penalties on business.

I note that even back in the days before the Comprehensive AntiApartheid Act, OAC determined that EU and AU sanctions and restrictions on South Africa were reportable boycott requests.

Comment by Mike Deal on July 13th, 2017 @ 8:53 am