When Lawsuits Make Foreign Policy

By August 25, 2009Briefly Legal, Trade

The National Association of Manufacturers joined other business and pro-trade associations yesterday in filing an amicus brief in a prominent Alien Tort Statute case, Balintulo v. Daimer. The NAM’s Legal Beagle search engine describes the case:

The 220-year old Alien Tort Statute (ATS) continues to cause problems for American manufacturers that have done business with foreign governments with controversial human rights histories. This case involves a lawsuit brought in a U.S. court by South African nationals against various manufacturers. The plaintiffs allege that 85 companies aided and abetted the apartheid regime of South Africa prior to 1994 by supplying it with manufactured goods.

Our brief argues that courts should defer to the trade and foreign policy decisions of the U.S. Government and dismiss this suit. The Executive Branch long ago adopted a policy of commercial engagement with South Africa to promote foreign policy goals, and private companies need to be able to rely on that decision and others like it. Both the U.S and South African governments have objected to this litigation, and companies that engage in such trade to help advance our national policy could be exposed to years of litigation and adverse publicity. In many cases, negative publicity is the intended result of the ATS litigation, and the dismissal of such suits years later cannot undo the economic and reputational damage inflicted on manufacturers. Business relationships with China, Colombia, Indonesia, Nigeria and other countries could expose companies to ATS suits in the future.

The brief is available here. The National Foreign Trade Council distributed a news release yesterday on the filing, “Leading Business Groups Urge Federal Court to Dismiss South African Alien Tort Lawsuit.” Others filing as amicus are the U.S. Council for International Business, the Organization for International Investment and USA*Engage.

For more, see our post at Point of Law.

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