Susannah Cogman and Jeremy Sher comment on the EU’s recent easing of the Zimbabwe sanctions regime.

On 19 February 2013, the European Union (“EU“) took a small step towards easing its sanctions regime in relation to Zimbabwe.  Twenty one individuals and one entity were removed from the EU’s list of designated persons, and the travel ban imposed on six members of the Government was suspended.  These twenty one designated persons had been subject to the EU’s asset freezing regime under Council Regulation (EC) No 314/2004.  These amendments have effect from 21 February 2013. 

Media reports indicate that Belgium called for the removal of the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation from the list of designated persons.  However, this call was rejected by other ministers until at least one month before free and fair elections take place.

The relaxation follows agreement reached between the political parties in Zimbabwe on a final draft constitution and the announcement of a referendum, which the EU welcomed as adding further momentum to the reform process and paving the way for the holding of peaceful, transparent and credible elections in 2013.  The EU Foreign Affairs Council (“FAC“) confirmed its commitment – dependent on the political reform process – to further relaxations and the FAC’s ‘Conclusions on Zimbabwe’ include that:

 “… the EU, consistent with its incremental approach, stands ready to further adjust its policy to recognise progress as it is made by the Zimbabwean parties along the [South African Development Community] Roadmap. As stated in the Council Conclusions of July 2012, a peaceful and credible constitutional referendum would represent an important milestone justifying an immediate suspension of the majority of all remaining EU targeted restrictive measures against individuals and entities”.

In the interim, and notwithstanding the limited relaxations of last week, businesses should continue to exercise caution in relation to dealings in Zimbabwe and take appropriate steps to ensure compliance with the EU/UK’s sanctions regime.  Other regimes, such as those imposed by the United States, Canada and Australia may also apply, whether to a company and/or its affiliates, or its directors and/or employees in their individual capacities.  Moreover, the reportedly close connections between public officials and business activities may raise corruption risks, reinforcing the need for appropriate risk mitigation strategies.