Trump's repeal of anti-corruption rules could give US companies advantage over industry peers, says Fasken Martineau white collar expert
On February 14, 2017, President Trump signed into law a joint resolution of Congress to repeal a critical anti-corruption rule for oil, gas and mining companies. The law was introduced by the House on January 30, 2017. It quickly moved to the Senate, where it was passed with the support of the Republicans and opposition of the Democrats.
The rule is referred to as the “Cardin-Lugar regulations” and was enacted by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, in accordance with the Cardin-Lugar amendment of 2010. The amendment, prompted by the 2008 financial crisis and high prevalence of corruption in developing countries, directed the Securities and Exchange Commission to issue a rule requiring oil, gas and mining companies listed on the U.S. stock exchange to disclose how much they paid to hosting foreign governments (above a certain threshold). The purpose of this amendment was to curb bribery and otherwise illicit payments made to governments in return for specific natural resource extraction projects.
The rule itself took a decade to finalize, and, up until the U.S. government’s recent decision to overturn it, was set to take effect next year. As the rule stood, it would require U.S. listed mining companies to file an annual report with the Securities and Exchange Commission, outlining the type and total amount of payments made to foreign governments (and the U.S. federal government) with respect to extractive projects. With the decision to repeal the Commission’s rule, there is therefore no indication that U.S.-listed companies will be subject to a reporting regime in the near future. That is, until the Securities and Exchange Commission creates a new rule. While the Cardin-Lugar regulations have been overturned, the Cardin-Lugar amendment has not been. This means that U.S.-listed companies will likely still be subject to reporting requirements at some point in time, as the Cardin-Lugar amendment requires the Securities and Exchange Commission to issue disclosure rules on extractive companies. However when this rule will be enacted, is yet to be determined. Given the length of time associated with enacting the original rule, it is unlikely that a new reporting regime will be established any time soon. In the meantime, U.S.-listed companies will be required to continue to track their payments, pursuant to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act , however, they will not be required to make this information public.
It is unlikely that other countries who have adopted legislation consistent with the Cardin-Lugar regulations will follow the U.S. government’s new direction in this field. The regulations have received widespread support from the world’s major extractive companies, and many companies have a reporting regime. It has led to the creation of a global standard of transparency in the extractive industry, with numerous countries including Canada, the UK and the EU, enacting similar legislation to help combat corruption and to increase accountability in corporate governance.
Canada continues to be one of the countries supporting transparency requirements in the extractive industry. The Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act for example came into force in June 2015 and contains broad reporting obligations for oil, gas and mining companies. The reporting obligations go even further than the Cardin-Lugar provision, to include not only entities included on Canadian stock exchanges, but also certain private companies.
A concern for Canadian and foreign companies who will maintain their reporting regimes is whether the repeal of the Cardin-Lugar regulations will place U.S.-listed companies operating in mining extraction areas at an advantage compared to companies subject to rigorous transparency requirements. Particularly for projects in developing countries such as Africa, where there is a problem with corruption and where succumbing to bribery could lead to the award of mining rights and subsequent contracts. While the Cardin-Lugar rule would not have ended corruption, it was expected to put pressure on those giving bribes and those receiving them, as they would be aware that they would have to report any payments made to government. With the repeal, there is the possibility that U.S.-listed companies could feel more inclined to engage with corrupt governments and be under less pressure to decline a bribe, which could put them ahead of competitors from Canada, the UK, the EU and elsewhere. Whether or not this will in fact cause such a shift in the thinking and conduct of U.S.-listed companies during their dealings with foreign governments is of course undetermined. However, there remains a concern for mining companies subject to these types of reporting regulations, when operating and competing against American companies in these areas.
Mining companies listed on both U.S. and foreign exchanges will still be subject to transparency requirements. While the U.S. may not have reporting requirements, U.S.-listed companies operating in Canada, UK and EU will still be required to comply with applicable transparency legislation. Therefore, if a company has reason to believe and is concerned that an American competitor is committing bribery or corruption, it should consider further investigation. The suspect company may be subject to other transparency requirements and anti-corruption legislation.
In conclusion, although the repeal of the Cardin-Lugar regulations signals that Canadian, UK and EU companies will have tougher reporting guidelines compared to their US neighbours, the playing field may have just become more complex, rather than uneven.
* Written by Peter Mantas, co-leader of Fasken Martineau’s White Collar Defense and Investigations group, and associate Anastasia Reklitis.