OFAC issued a Fact Sheet on the Provision of Humanitarian Assistance and Trade to Combat COVID-19

Milena Tona and Davide Rossetti

After the call of global leaders on the Trump administration to ease sanctions in order not to interfere with humanitarian aid facing the spread of COVID-19, on April 16th, 2020, the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a Fact Sheet highlighting the most relevant exemptions, exceptions, and authorizations for humanitarian assistance and trade under the Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, and Ukraine/Russia-related sanctions programs.

The sanctions programs administered by OFAC generally already allow for legitimate humanitarian-related trade, assistance, or activity, through a longstanding mechanism of exemptions, exceptions, and authorizations under existing laws and regulations.

With respect to Iran sanctions program, OFAC maintains that U.S. and non-U.S. persons may provide humanitarian assistance, agricultural commodities, food, medicine, and medical devices, to Iran under existing exemptions, exceptions, and authorizations in U.S. sanctions laws and regulations. Existing exemptions (in the form of general licenses) already include certain personal protective equipment and other items used for COVID-19-related treatment, such as medical gowns, medical eyeshields and goggles, surgical gloves, face shields, certain respirators and masks such as N95, N99, and N100 masks, and certain ventilators.

In addition, OFAC set forth a specific licensing policy for certain limited categories of items that may also be helpful for COVID-19-related assistance (e.g., oxygen generators, full face mask respirators including Powered Air Purifying Respirators, certain diagnostic medical imaging equipment, and certain decontamination equipment), to review on a case-by-case basis.

With respect to North Korea and Syria, OFAC generally licenses nongovernmental organizations (NGO) to provide services related to certain humanitarian activities, including  testing kits, respiratory devices, personal protective equipment, and medicine used in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and recovery from COVID-19.

With respect to Russia,  the Ukraine/Russia sanctions programs prohibit transactions involving the Crimea region, blocked persons, or proscribed conduct. Notwithstanding the Crimea region is subject to a comprehensive sanctions regime, OFAC maintains several general license authorizations designed to provide humanitarian relief and assistance to the Ukrainian people.

With respect to Cuba and Venezuela, OFAC maintains several general license authorizations designed to allow for humanitarian relief and assistance.

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