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Rights groups push to block UAE arms sale; South Korean institute defends trade pact with China; Morocco mining giant vows to challenge US tariff decision: Monday’s Daily Digest

29 rights groups join fight against UAE arms sale

Photo via jgorzynik / Shutterstock

An international coalition of 29 human groups have signed onto a letter to Congress and the State Department to stop a proposed $23 billion arms sale to the United Arab Emirates that includes advanced F-35 fighter jets, armed drones and bombs. The letter points to civilian casualties from the UAE’s interventions in Libya and Yemen as key reasons to block the sale. It was spearheaded by the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) and is notably signed by several groups from the region, including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and the Yemeni organization Mwatana for Human Rights.

“The planned arms sales to the UAE, a party to the conflicts in Yemen and Libya, would fuel continued civilian harm and further exacerbate these humanitarian crises,” the letter states. “Delivery of the sales would undermine U.S. national security interests by fueling instability, violent conflict, and radicalization in the Middle East and North Africa and would also send a signal of impunity for the UAE’s recent conduct, which includes likely violations of international law.”

The letter goes on to call on Congress to pass resolutions of disapproval against the sale and on the incoming Joe Biden administration to end US support for the war in Yemen. The UAE in turn has dispatched its lobbyists to argue that its track record of cooperation with US anti-terrorism missions in the region make it worthy of being the first Arab country to field the F-35.

Foreign Lobby Report first reported that the letter was being drafted on Nov. 18. Its release comes as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding a closed hearing on the proposed sale this evening with State and Defense officials.

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New lobbying filings

Africa

Liberia: The Liberian International Ship & Corporate Registry (LISCR) in Virginia collected $45 million in taxes and fees on behalf of the government of Liberia during the six months through October. The registry in turn received $3.5 million for services rendered. Liberia is the world’s second most popular “flag of convenience”, behind only Panama, allowing more than 3,700 foreign-owned ships to register under its flag. Earlier this year the company hired Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) for help with outreach to US officials (read more on his activities here).

Nigeria: Mercury Public Affairs has terminated Adam Bramwell‘s registration as a foreign agent for Indigenous People of Biafra leader Nnamdi Kanu, an exiled activist advocating for independence for the predominantly Christian southeastern region of Nigeria. Bramwell is a former chief of staff to Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Chris Coons (D-Del.).

Americas

Colombia: The nonprofit Colombian Coffee Federation in New York received $1.3 million from its Colombian parent during the six months through October to monitor the proper use of US-registered trademarks, in particular “100% Colombian Coffee” and “Juan Valdez.”

Haiti: Zharina Arnaldo is no longer lobbying for the Presidency of the Republic of Haiti via Mercury Public Affairs as of Nov. 20.

Virgin Islands: The British Virgin Islands Tourist Board in New York spent $785,000 promoting travel to the Caribbean territory in the six months through April, according to a belated lobbying disclosure.

Asia

Hong Kong: The Hong Kong Trade Development Council in New York paid Virginia-based Jacobs Global Trade & Compliance $195,000 for “legal advice and related services on trade-related matters” in the six months through October. The council hired the firm in April 2019 amid rising US-China tensions (read our interview with the council’s regional director Ralph Chow here). Also registered as foreign agents for the council are:

  • Venable (since 2009);
  • Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld (since 2012);
  • Legislative Strategies (since 2015); and
  • BGR Government Affairs (since April 2019).
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Japan: The Embassy of Japan in Washington paid government relations consultant Maia Comeau‘s Comeau & Company $92,000 for congressional consulting work in the six months through October. The firm did not disclose any political activities during the period, however. The embassy hired Comeau in April 2019 for outreach to US congressional members and staff and relevant private sector organizations.

The Consulate General of Japan in Atlanta paid Taylor English Decisions $20,000 for communications and public relations advice in the six months through October. The Atlanta law firm has represented the consulate since 2018.

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Malaysia: Kobre & Kim partner Robert Henoch is no longer registered as a foreign agent for fugitive financier Jho Low as of Oct. 31, according to a new lobbying filing. Low is accused of embezzling $4.5 billion from Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

South Korea: The Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI) in Washington is challenging the widespread narrative that this month’s signing of a regional trade pact by 15 Asian nations is a major coup for China and a blow to US influence in the Asia-Pacific. Last week the US branch of the government-funded Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP) distributed two opinion pieces from KEI’s Director of Academic Affairs Kyle Ferrier that offer a different point of view. “While it makes for good headlines, framing the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as a coup for China is misleading,” Ferrier wrote in a piece for the Asia Times that argues that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), not China, was “in the driver’s seat” in negotiating the pact. The other, published in Asia-Pacific current affairs magazine The Diplomat, argues that the pact could improve strained relations between South Korea and Japan, two key US allies in the region, and give both market economies greater leverage in future trade talks with China.

Separately, the progressive Center for International Policy (CIP) in Washington has registered as a foreign agent of the Korea Foundation, a Korean think tank that is partly funded by South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Henri Feron, a senior fellow on East Asia and International Law at CIP, has been awarded a one-year, $30,000 grant to conduct a study aimed at identifying a “a middle ground for all three conflict dimensions in Korea — the Korean War, the Korean Peninsula in Sino-American rivalry, and nuclear weapons.” The center objected to registering with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) but felt compelled to under the department’s increasingly expansive interpretation of the law in recent years.

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Taiwan: The US mission of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party received $65,000 from party headquarters in Taipei during the six months through September. While the COVID-19 pandemic “significantly curtailed” its activities, director Michael Fonte disclosed meetings with Congressional Research Service Asian Affairs specialist Susan Lawrence and officials at the Spanish and Indian embassies in Washington as well as a July 14 phone call with State Department Office of Taiwan Coordination Director Dan Biers to discuss “current issues in Taiwan politics.”

Europe

Ireland: The New York office of the Friends of Sinn Fein organized Zoom briefings between the president of the Irish political party, Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Fein Representative to North America Ciaran Quinn and members of the Congressional Friends of Ireland Caucus on June 16 and Oct. 1 to discuss “Irish unity, legacy agreements, Brexit and [the] latest political developments in Ireland.”

Middle East

Kuwait: Kuwaiti global logistics company Agility Public Warehousing Company KSCP paid SGR Government Relations and Lobbying $26,000 during the six months through September for media outreach in an almost decade-old defamation lawsuit brought by Kuwaiti rival KGL. The case arose from allegations of KGL business links to state-owned Iranian entities. Both Agility and KGL hold US government contracts in the Middle East.

Morocco: Morocco’s largest company is vowing to fight the US Commerce Department’s preliminary determination to impose countervailing duties on the import of Moroccan phosphate fertilizer. OCP, which is 94 % owned by the Moroccan government, has assembled a team of five lobbying and public relations firms to fight a complaint of unfair government subsidies by Tampa-based rival the Mosaic Company. “We continue to strongly believe there is no basis for the imposition of any duties on Moroccan fertilizer imports to the U.S.,” the company said in a statement distributed on its behalf by Fleishman-Hillard. “Such duties will hurt American farmers by denying them access to a reliable source of vital crop nutrients – and they come at a time when U.S. agriculture is already struggling with a multi-year downturn in earnings.”

Separately, Pennsylvania firm ThirdCircle received $240,000 from the Embassy of Morocco in the six months through October to promote the use of Moroccan locations and facilities by the US film industry and help arrange delegations to Morocco by state and local officials for meetings with government
officials and business and trade representatives. ThirdCircle is led by Richard Smotkin, a former Comcast lobbyist who made headlines two years ago when the New York Times revealed that he had helped arrange a visit to Morocco by Scott Pruitt, then chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, soon before Rabat hired him on the $40,000-a-month contract. Finally, SGR Government Relations and Lobbying disclosed $90,000 in payments for work on behalf of the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation as a subcontractor to JPC Strategies during the six months through September.

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Qatar: The Embassy of Qatar paid Pennsylvania firm ThirdCircle $240,000 during the six months through October to assist “in arranging for state and local elected officials to participate in delegations traveling to Qatar for meetings with government officials, business and trade representatives, and representatives of other organizations and institutions.” Separately, SGR Government Relations and Lobbying received $240,000 from Venable for lobbying on behalf of the Embassy of Qatar during the six months through September. The firm reached out to multiple US media outlets during the period.

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Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia’s $382 billion sovereign wealth fund paid New York’s KARV Communications $1.14 million in the six months through October for “investor and public relations advice and counsel” including on “relationship-building to various stakeholders in business and the media.” The Public Investment Fund notably owns Neom, Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion planned futuristic megacity.

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Turkey: Mercury Public Affairs employee Zharina Arnaldo has ceased representing the Turkey-US Business Council (TAIK), effective Nov. 20.

United Arab Emirates: New York public relations firm KARV Communications received $240,000 from the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah during the six months through October for public affairs and communications advice, business development guidance and oversight of the www.rakinfo.ae website.


In other news

Nike and Coca-Cola are among the companies lobbying Congress to weaken a bill that would ban US imports of goods made with forced Uyghur labor in China’s Xinjiang region, the New York Times reports.

The Associated Press has a deep dive into the client list of Imaad Zuberi, the bipartisan political donor who pleaded guilty last year to campaign finance violations, failing to register as a foreign agent and tax evasion.

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