On February 22, 2012, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued General License No. 15 for the Syria sanctions President Obama implemented in August.
President Obama’s Executive Order No. 13582 blocked property of the Syrian government and prohibited certain transactions with respect to Syria, expanding on executive orders and sanctions that were previously issued by the Bush II Administration. The Bush Administration sanctions primarily applied to exports or reexports of U.S. origin goods or goods containing more than a de minimis U.S. content. The current Administration’s sanctions apply to a much wider scope of goods and services.
To date, however, the Administration has not implemented any regulations relating to the Syrian sanctions, so U.S. persons have been unsure as to how broadly the new sanctions would apply. Therefore, most exporters have taken a conservative stance and presumed they cannot transact any business with Syria, directly or indirectly, similar to other sanctions programs, like those against Iran.
Similar to the other sanctions programs, OFAC has issued a series of general licenses for certain services and transactions relating to Syria. These general licenses range from diplomatic activities to noncommercial remittances. The newest general license for Syria allows certain transactions relating to patents, trademarks, and copyrights. It allows companies to pay fees to the Syrian government to maintain their IP licenses and mirrors the General Licenses in place in other sanctions programs.
It is important to understand the distinction between general licenses and specific licenses issued by OFAC. A general license is an open authorization for U.S. persons to engage in activity that would otherwise be prohibited by sanctions. It is not an exemption because it can be revoked at any time by OFAC. Specific licenses are authorizations granted on a case-by-case basis after a party applies for them.