Mind Your Own Businesses: UK Court Decision May Signal Pushback On Extraterritorial Enforcement of US Trade Laws

Under a recent court decision, UK government agencies may be able to shield the names of British companies transacting in Iran, and thereby aid these companies in averting potential consequences of U.S. law.

On September 22, 2011, a British tribunal refused to force the UK government to disclose the names of British companies that had applied to sell goods with potential military uses to Iran. The court cited concerns that, if those applicants' names were made public, European banks could come under pressure to eliminate dealings with these businesses. Although the decision is, on its face, a purely administrative ruling on the UK Freedom of Information Act, it may be more notable for the fact that it signals the willingness of a foreign government to protect its country’s businesses from the extraterritorial enforcement and effect of U.S. trade regulations.

In 2009, Bloomberg News (headquartered in New York) requested information on licenses granted by the UK Export Control Organization (“ECO”) for UK companies to export to Iran "dual use" items, i.e., materials with both commercial and military uses. Bloomberg's request was granted and the ECO appealed to the UK’s Information Tribunal.

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