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EU launches online map to navigate sanctions maze

Brussels, Belgium | AFP | The European Union is launching an interactive online map Friday to help businesses and officials steer through the jungle of international sanctions in force against regimes, organisations and individuals around the world.

With around 30 to 40 international sanctions regimes in force against regimes such as North Korea, Syria and Zimbabwe, as well as designated terror groups including the Taliban and the Islamic State group, knowing who is targeted and in which areas can be difficult.

They are laid out in hundreds of pages of dense legal text, making it hard for businesses and administrators to be sure of who they can do deals with legally.

Breaching international sanctions can have major repercussions, as French bank BNP Paribas learned when the US fined it $8.9 billion (7.55 billion euros) for illegal transactions with Iran, Sudan, Myanmar and Cuba.

Fears of breaking sanctions laws have led some into “overcompliance” — avoiding trading with companies or countries that are in fact not subject to restrictions — while some unscrupulous regimes take advantage of the confusion to flout measures.

Estonia, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency and developed the map, says that member states and EU institutions deal with “thousands of enquiries” every day from companies and officials unsure of which sanctions they need to follow.

“There are right now hundreds of legal acts that shape the sanctions regime. The Al-Qaeda sanctions only represent more than 300 legal acts,” Juuli Hiio, a sanctions expert at the Estonian foreign ministry, told AFP.

An EU official said a dedicated European Commission email helpline was typically bombarded with queries about sanctions after new measures were adopted, adding that the new map was a “very welcome and complementary tool”.

Up to now the EU has maintained a 136-page list of sanctions, with links to hundreds of detailed legal acts, she said, but it is currently only updated twice a year.

“But there are on average 80 amendments a year to the sanctions regime,” Hiio said.

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