NFTC Supports Supreme Court Review of Burma Law

Monday, 29 November 1999
Even though we were successful in the Court of Appeals, more than three dozen state and local sanctions laws are currently on the books against various countries,” said NFTC President Frank Kittredge. “This has been a longstanding issue that potentially affects many important trading relationships. Therefore, a Supreme Court ruling is the best way to achieve an authoritative national decision.”

“This case has always been about what is permissible under the U.S. Constitution, not about Burma,” he continued. “With American businesses currently facing a patchwork of state and local sanctions that inhibit the ability to conduct business abroad, a prompt nationwide resolution is essential-and this is the right case in which to review the issue.”

The Massachusetts Burma Law was enacted in 1996 and effectively barred state agencies from contracting with companies doing business in Burma, now known as Myanmar. The law was challenged on constitutional grounds as a test case by the National Foreign Trade Council, on behalf of its 580 members.

The Federal District Court for Massachusetts ruled on November 4, 1998, that the Burma law was unconstitutional. On June 22, 1999, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit upheld the ruling, holding that the law constituted the making of foreign policy, a sphere reserved exclusively to the national government; that it impermissibly discriminated against foreign commerce; that it impermissibly sought to regulate conduct in foreign nations; and that the law was preempted by federal legislation imposing more limited sanctions on Burma.

more- page 2 The NFTC will argue to the Supreme Court that the Massachusetts’ law is unconstitutional on each of these grounds. The NFTC expects to continue to be supported by numerous amici, including business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Organizations for International Investment, the National Association of Manufacturers, members of Congress and former government officials.

“The members of the National Foreign Trade Council and our supporters in the case strongly believe that state and local sanctions laws do irreparable damage to international trade and that sanctions should be imposed, if at all, only on a national level. Without a coherent national policy, the 50 states and thousands of municipalities would be free to impose sanctions at will, interfering with U.S. foreign policy and with the health of our economy,” Kittredge concluded.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments early next year and to issue a ruling by next summer.

The NFTC has, for most of this century, represented the interests of hundreds of companies in open international trade. NFTC filed the Massachusetts case on behalf of its 580 members because the law established a “restricted purchase list” which includes over 30 of the NFTC’s member companies-preventing these companies from competing on an equal basis for contracts with Massachusetts state agencies unless these companies cease doing business in Burma.

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