By: Keil Ritterpusch – Vice President – Compliance – FD Associates, Inc.
On April 19, 2023, the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry & Security (“BIS”) issued a $300 million civil penalty to Seagate Technology LLC of Fremont, California (“Seagate US”) and Seagate US’s Singaporean affiliate, Seagate Singapore International Headquarters Pte. Ltd. (“Seagate Singapore”) for the export from abroad to Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. (“Huawei”) of approximately 7,420,496 foreign manufactured Hard Disk Drives (“HDDs”) for a total sales price of $1,104,732,205.
BIS determined, through an extended investigation into sales by Seagate US and Seagate Singapore to Huawei and through the review of technologies and equipment used by Seagate affiliated companies manufacturing HDDs, that all HDDs manufactured by Seagate in China, Northern Ireland, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand were “subject to the EAR” when sold to Huawei (directly or by downstream parties where Seagate had knowledge). BIS reached this conclusion by applying the Export Administration Regulations’ (“EAR’s”) Foreign Direct Product Rule (“FDPR”) specific to transactions involving Huawei entities, EAR § 734.9(e)(1), to the sale of foreign manufactured HDDs by Seagate US foreign affiliates.
Specifically, BIS found that Seagate HDDs manufactured outside the United States were manufactured using technology originating in the United States that was controlled for export by Export Control Classification Number (“ECCN”) 3E991, among other ECCNs, and that Seagate plants manufacturing HDDs abroad used ECCN 3B992 inspection equipment for detecting defects on HDD substrates and media. From information on Seagate US’s website, all Seagate HDDs are listed as EAR99 items. The use of this technology and equipment alone made all of their products, when sold to Huawei, “subject to the EAR”.
In reviewing information on the civil penalty imposed by BIS in BIS’s public announcement of the penalty, the BIS Order, the Settlement Agreement, and the Proposed Charging Letter (“PCL”) for the civil penalty, it is clear that two major aggravating factors were at play in this case. The first was that all of Seagate’s competitors publicly stated after August 2020 that they would not sell HDDs to Huawei. The second aggravating factor was that Seagate not only continued to sell to Huawei, but substantially increased its sales and entered into long-term supply agreements with Huawei.
Nothing in the published documents references any defenses claimed by Seagate for the sale of its foreign manufactured HDDs to Huawei. However, we can deduce that Seagate determined – albeit informally — that its foreign manufactured HDDs were “not subject to the EAR”. What the Seagate civil penalty case says for any worldwide party who sells products to Huawei or any of the 48 other Entity List entities with special FDPR Rules in EAR § 734.9(e)(2) is that the bar for determining whether your foreign manufactured products are “subject to the EAR” is very low. BIS declared emphatically in the press release for the Seagate civil penalty that companies:
“need to evaluate [their] entire manufacturing process to determine if specified U.S. technologies, [equipment] or software [are] used in building the essential tools used in production” and if specific U.S. technologies, equipment, or software are used directly in the manufacture of products outside of the United States.
Given that Huawei was added to the Entity List with a special FDPR in August 2020 and more than 45 entities were added to the Entity List with similar (if not more expansive) FDPR requirements in October 2022, this major compliance action by BIS should be a warning. BIS’s Director of Export Enforcement John Sonderman stated this expressly in the public release for the Seagate civil penalty:
“Those who would violate our FDP rule restrictions are now on notice that these cases will be investigated and charged, as appropriate”
 The “Huawei FDPR” was moved from Footnote 1 to Supplement No. 4 to Part 744 of the EAR to EAR § 734.9(e)(1) on February 3, 2022 (87 FR 6033), with a further revision to the “Huawei FDPR” by BIS on October 13, 2022 (87 FR 62186).