15 CFR Part 760, Supplement No. 13 to Part 760 - Interpretation
Supplement No. 13 to Part 760—Interpretation
This interpretation considers boycott-based contractual language dealing with the selection of suppliers and subcontractors. While this language borrows terms from the “unilateral and specific selection” exception contained in § 760.3(d), it fails to meet the requirements of that exception. Compliance with the requirements of the language constitutes a violation of the regulatory prohibition of boycott-based refusals to do business.
Section 760.2(a) of this part prohibits U.S. persons from refusing or knowingly agreeing to refuse to do business with other persons when such refusal is pursuant to an agreement with, requirement of, or request of a boycotting country. That prohibition does not extend to the performance of management, procurement or other pre-award services, however, notwithstanding knowledge that the ultimate selection may be boycott-based. To be permissible such services: (1) Must be customary for the firm or industry involved and (2) must not exclude others from the transaction or involve other actions based on the boycott. See § 760.2(a)(6) of this part, “Refusals to Do Business”, and example (xiii).
A specific exception is also made in the Regulations for compliance (and agreements to comply) with a unilateral and specific selection of suppliers or subcontractors by a boycotting country buyer. See § 760.3(d) of this part. In Supplement No. 1 to part 760, the following form of contractual language was said to fall within that exception for compliance with unilateral and specific selection:
“The Government of the boycotting country (or the First Party), in its exclusive power, reserves its right to make the final unilateral and specific selection of any proposed carriers, insurers, suppliers of services to be performed within the boycotting country, or of specific goods to be furnished in accordance with the terms and conditions of this contract.”
The Department noted that the actual steps necessary to comply with any selection made under this agreement would also have to meet the requirements of § 760.3(d) to claim the benefit of that exception. In other words, the discretion in selecting would have to be exercised exclusively by the boycotting country customer and the selection would have to be stated in the affirmative, naming a particular supplier. See § 760.3(d) (4) and (5) of this part.
Analysis of Additional Contractual Language
The Office of Antiboycott Compliance has learned of the introduction of a contractual clause into tender documents issued by boycotting country governments. This clause is, in many respects, similar to that dealt with in Supplement No. 1 to part 760, but several critical differences exist.
The clause states:
Boycott of [Name of Boycotted Country]
In connection with the performance of this Agreement, Contractor acknowledges that the import and customs laws and regulations of boycotting country apply to the furnishing and shipment of any products or components thereof to boycotting country. The Contractor specifically acknowledges that the aforementioned import and customs laws and regulations of boycotting country prohibit, among other things, the importation into boycotting country of products or components thereof: (A) Originating in boycotted country; (B) Manufactured, produced and furnish by companies organized under the laws of boycotted country; and (C) Manufactured, produced or furnished by Nationals or Residents of boycotted country.
The Government, in its exclusive power, reserves its right to make the final unilateral and specific selection of any proposed Carriers, Insurers, Suppliers of Services to be performed within boycotting country or of specific goods to be furnished in accordance with the terms and conditions of this Contract.
To assist the Government in exercising its right under the preceding paragraph, Contractor further agrees to provide a complete list of names and addresses of all his Sub-Contractors, Suppliers, Vendors and Consultants and any other suppliers of the service for the project.
The title of this clause makes clear that its provisions are intended to be boycott-related. The first paragraph acknowledges the applicability of certain boycott-related requirements of the boycotting country's laws in language reviewed in part 760, Supplement No. 1, Part II.B. and found to constitute a permissible agreement under the exception contained in § 760.3(a) of this part for compliance with the import requirements of a boycotting country. The second and third paragraphs together deal with the procedure for selecting subcontractors and suppliers of services and goods and, in the context of the clause as a whole, must be regarded as motivated by boycott considerations and intended to enable the boycotting country government to make boycott-based selections, including the elimination of blacklisted subcontractors and suppliers.
The question is whether the incorporation into these paragraphs of some language from the “unilateral and specific selection” clause approved in Supplement No. 1 to part 760 suffices to take the language outside § 760.2(a) of this part's prohibition on boycott-based agreements to refuse to do business. While the first sentence of this clause is consistent with the language discussed in Supplement No. 1 to part 760, the second sentence significantly alters the effect of this clause. The effect is to draw the contractor into the decision-making process, thereby destroying the unilateral character of the selection by the buyer. By agreeing to submit the names of the suppliers it plans to use, the contractor is agreeing to give the boycotting country buyer, who has retained the right of final selection, the ability to reject, for boycott-related reasons, any supplier the contractor has already chosen. Because the requirement appears in the contractual provision dealing with the boycott, the buyer's rejection of any supplier whose name is given to the buyer pursuant to this provision would be presumed to be boycott-based. By signing the contract, and thereby agreeing to comply with all of its provisions, the contractor must either accept the buyer's rejection of any supplier, which is presumed to be boycott-based because of the context of this provision, or breach the contract.
In these circumstances, the contractor's method of choosing its subcontractors and suppliers, in anticipation of the buyer's boycott-based review, cannot be considered a permissible pre-award service because of the presumed intrusion of boycott-based criteria into the selection process. Thus, assuming all other jurisdictional requirements necessary to establish a violation of part 760 are met, the signing of the contract by the contractor constitutes a violation of § 760.2(a) of this part because he is agreeing to refuse to do business for boycott reasons.
The apparent attempt to bring this language within the exception for compliance with unilateral and specific selections is ineffective. The language does not place the discretion to choose suppliers in the hands of the boycotting country buyer but divides this discretion between the buyer and his principal contractor. Knowing that the buyer will not accept a boycotted company as supplier or subcontractor, the contractor is asked to use his discretion in selecting a single supplier or subcontractor for each element of the contract. The boycotting country buyer exercises discretion only through accepting or rejecting the selected supplier or contractor as its boycott policies require. In these circumstances it cannot be said that the buyer is exercising right of unilateral and specific selection which meets the criteria of § 760.3(d). For this reason, agreement to the contractual language discussed here would constitute an agreement to refuse to do business with any person rejected by the buyer and would violate § 760.2(a) of this part.
Title 15 published on 2014-01-01
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