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How the U.S. justifies & enforces sanctions on countries like Iran and how other countries try to get around the sanctions

Summary:
See The Dollar Underpins American Power. Rivals Are Building Workarounds. Iran sanctions spur Europe and India to devise systems to trade with Tehran without using the U.S. currency by Justin Scheck and Bradley Hope of The WSJ. Excerpts: "In congressional testimony in March, Treasury Department undersecretary Sigal Mandelker said that “those who engage in activities that run afoul of U.S. sanctions risk severe consequences, including losing access to the U.S. financial system and the ability to do business with the United States.”"The dollar’s status dates back to the end of World War II, when the U.S. economy was the world’s most robust and dollars were plentiful. The currency’s liquidity, and the efficient U.S. banking system anchored by the Federal Reserve, mean trading in

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See The Dollar Underpins American Power. Rivals Are Building Workarounds. Iran sanctions spur Europe and India to devise systems to trade with Tehran without using the U.S. currency by Justin Scheck and Bradley Hope of The WSJ. Excerpts:

"In congressional testimony in March, Treasury Department undersecretary Sigal Mandelker said that “those who engage in activities that run afoul of U.S. sanctions risk severe consequences, including losing access to the U.S. financial system and the ability to do business with the United States.”"

The dollar’s status dates back to the end of World War II, when the U.S. economy was the world’s most robust and dollars were plentiful. The currency’s liquidity, and the efficient U.S. banking system anchored by the Federal Reserve, mean trading in dollars is much less expensive and more convenient than using other currencies, says Craig Pirrong, a University of Houston professor who studies payment systems.

Here’s how it works: A Canadian lumber company sells boards to a French buyer. The buyer’s bank in France and the seller’s bank in Canada settle the payment, in dollars, via “correspondent banks” that have accounts at the Fed. The money is transferred seamlessly between the banks’ Fed accounts because their status as correspondent banks means they are seen as safe counterparties.

The use of these accounts, the U.S. says, means every transaction technically touches U.S. soil, giving it legal jurisdiction. Because using most other currencies is relatively inconvenient and expensive, many countries and companies will do whatever the U.S. requires to maintain access to dollars."

"It is needed because U.S. sanctions bar dollar transactions with Iranian banks, even on deals for unsanctioned goods. Once operational, Instex’s [Europe's workaround] members could expand it to cover any trade with Iran."

"The system aims to bypass the dollar by using the same mechanism underlying the age-old hawala money-transfer system popular in the Middle East and Asia, under which people pay cash in one office and a recipient draws the equivalent funds at a distant locale without money actually moving.

This is how the Instex system would handle the sale of medicine by a German company to an Iranian buyer: The German exporter wouldn’t get paid by the buyer, but by another European company that is separately importing goods from Iran. Similarly, in Iran, the buyer of the medicine would pay the exporter of the other goods. No dollars at all would be involved, which means the U.S. would have no jurisdiction."

"In 2013, less than 7% of trade between China and Russia was in yuan and rubles, the bank ING Groep reported last year. In 2017, it was more than 18%."

"Even if such alternative systems catch on, the dollar is likely to dominate international trade for years to come. In 2016, the most recent year for which data are available, the dollar was involved in 88% of the daily trades in the $5 trillion-per-day foreign-currency market"

"The euro is handicapped by political uncertainty in Europe, and the yuan by Chinese restrictions on currency flows and unease about that nation’s economy. Further bolstering the dollar’s standing is its role as the world’s main reserve currency, held by central banks globally. That creates a strong incentive to keep the currency stable and liquid.

“The rest of the world can’t do without the U.S. dollar,” says Daniel Drezner, a Tufts University professor who used to advise the U.S. Treasury."

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