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The Global Legal Monitor is an online publication from the Law Library of Congress covering legal news and developments worldwide. It is updated frequently and draws on information from official national legal publications and reliable press sources. You can find previous news by searching the Global Legal Monitor.

Several Pacific Countries Announce Bans on Single-Use Plastic Bags

(July 18, 2018) On July 11, 2018, it was reported that Niue was the latest Pacific Island country to announce a ban on single-use plastic bags, following the implementation of a similar ban in Vanuatu, and related announcements by Samoa and Papua New Guinea. (Niue Joins Growing Pacific Movement to Ban Plastics, RNZ (July 11, 2018).) In fact, the ban imposed by the government of Vanuatu extends to other single-use plastics, specifically plastic drinking straws and polystyrene food containers, and the government of Samoa is examining similar restrictions.

Last year, Fiji implemented a levy on plastic bags. (Environment and Climate Change Levy (Plastic Bags) Regulation 2017 (L.N. No. 61), FIJI GAZETTE SUPPLEMENT No. 29, 163 (Aug. 1, 2017).) Other Pacific jurisdictions that have implemented bans or other restrictions include American Samoa, the Marshall Islands, Northern Marianas, and the Micronesian state of Yap. (More Pacific Islands Step Up Battle Against Plastic, RADIO NEW ZEALAND (RNZ) (Aug. 1, 2017).)

The bans and other restrictions follow discussions, including at the June 2017 United Nations Oceans Conference, regarding plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean. The final “call for action” of that conference included the following statement: “Implement long-term and robust strategies to reduce the use of plastics and microplastics, particularly plastic bags and single use plastics, including by partnering with stakeholders at relevant levels to address their production, marketing and use.” (Our Ocean, Our Future: Call for Action, UNITED NATIONS OCEANS CONFERENCE (last visited July 11, 2018).)

Niue

Niue, a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand, has a population of around 1,600 people. (The World Factbook: Niue, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY (last updated July 11, 2018).) The chief executive of Niue Tourism told Radio New Zealand that the country would phase in a ban on plastic bags over the next twelve months, and that substitute reusable bags would be provided to each household, with assistance from the Niue and New Zealand governments. (Niue Joins Growing Pacific Movement to Ban Plastics, supra.) After the twelve month period, no plastic bags would be imported and there would be none for sale. (Niue Joins Growing Pacific Ban on Plastic Bags, DATELINE PACIFIC, RNZ (July 11, 2018).)

Vanuatu

The government of Vanuatu was the first in the Pacific to announce a ban on single-use plastic bags, along with plastic straws and polystyrene containers. The ban came into effect on July 1, 2018. Under the relevant order, made under the Waste Management Act No. 24 of 2014 (PacLII website), it is an offense to

  • manufacture, sell, give, or otherwise provide plastic shopping bags to other people (this does not include plastic bags that contain or are used to wrap or carry meat or fish as in this case plastic is needed for food safety and hygiene);
  • manufacture, sell, give, or otherwise provide polystyrene takeaway boxes to other people; and
  • manufacture, sell, give, or otherwise provide plastic straws to other people (this does not include straws that are an integral part of the packaging of a product—for example, a straw attached to milk or juice ‘popper’ boxes). (Plastic Ban, DEPT. OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION & CONSERVATION (last visited July 13, 2018); Waste Management Regulations Order No. 15 of 2018 and Waste Management (Penalty Notice) Regulation Order No. 17 of 2018, OFFICIAL GAZETTE No. 10 (Feb. 2, 2018).)

An individual who manufactures the relevant items can be penalized with a fine of 50,000 vatu (about US$450) for the first offense, and 80,000 vatu (about US$718) for a subsequent offense. Corporations face fines of 100,000 vatu (about US$890) (first offense) and 200,000 vatu (about US$1,780) (subsequent offense). Individuals caught selling, giving, or otherwise providing the items to others can be fined 20,000 vatu (about US$180) for a first offense and 50,000 vatu for a subsequent offense, while the fines for corporations are 50,000 vatu and 100,000 vatu. (Plastic Bansupra; Waste Management (Penalty Notice) Regulation Order No. 17 of 2018.)

Vanuatu is made up of 82 islands, with a population of around 283,000 people. (The World Factbook: Vanuatu, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY (last updated July 12, 2018); Vanuatu Bans Plastic and Fines Rubbish Dumpers, RNZ (Mar. 23, 2018).)

Samoa

In June 2018, the government of Samoa stated that it “aims to ban single use plastic bags and straws. It is also intended that styrofoam food containers and cups will be banned once environmentally friendly options have been identified and are in use. It is proposed that alternatives to single-use plastic bags include reusable paper bags and reusable cloth bags.” (Plastic Bag Ban Initiative Consultations, MINISTRY OF NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT (last visited July 13, 2018).) The initial ban would come into effect in January 2019. (Id.Samoa Looks to Ban All Single-Use Plastic, RNZ (June 23, 2018).)

Samoa has a population of around 200,000 people. (The World Factbook: Samoa, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY (last updated July 12, 2018).)

Papua New Guinea

In April 2018, it was reported that the government of Papua New Guinea would impose a full ban on importing or manufacturing all plastic shopping bags, with a one-month grace period before enforcement started. (PNG Imposes Full Ban on Plastic Shopping Bags, RNZ (Apr. 18, 2018).) This followed a ban on importing or manufacturing nonbiodegradable plastic bags that came into effect in 2014. (Id.)

The Minister for Environment and Conservation and Climate Change indicated that “the Environment (Ban on Non-Biodegradable Plastic Shopping Bags) Policy 2009 and the Environment (Control of Biodegradable Plastic Shopping Bag) Regulation 2011 implemented by CEPA [Conservation and Environment Protection Authority] since 2014 had not been effective, as the problems of plastic littering continues to worsen every day.” (Environment Levy Imposed on Plastic Bags, PAPUA NEW GUINEA POST-COURIER (Apr. 16, 2018).) He said that “[s]ome people are taking advantage of the fact that biodegradable plastic[s] are allowed for import, and import non-biodegradable plastic shopping bags amounting to several tonnes which is now becoming a great concern because plastic bags pose a significant threat to our fish and marine resources and our health and wellbeing.” (Luke Kama & Lemach Levari, Plastic Bag Ban, THE NATIONAL (Apr. 17, 2018).) Those who wished to continue importing or manufacturing plastic bags would be required to pay a levy in order to cover the cost of managing the associated waste. (Id.)

Papua New Guinea has a population of around 7 million people. (The World Factbook: Papua New Guinea, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY (last updated July 12, 2018).)

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Italy: New Legislation Creates Center to Monitor State-Regional Financial Agreements on Indebtedness

(July 17, 2018) On June 28, 2018, new legislation came into effect in Italy creating the Center for the Monitoring of Regional Agreements to provide oversight related to the indebtedness of the regions and local entities. (Decree No. 67 of the President of the Council of Ministers of April 23, 2018, Regulations on the Amendments to Decree No. 21 of the President of the Council of Ministers of February 21, 2017, on the Criteria and Modalities for the Implementation of Article 10, Paragraph 5 of Law No. 243 of December 24, 2012, on Recourse to Indebtedness by the Regions and Local Entities, Including the Implementation Modalities of the Substitutive Power of the State, in Case of Inertia or Delay, by the Regions and the Autonomous Provinces of Trent and Bolzano (Decree No. 67), GAZZETTA UFFICIALE [OFFICIAL GAZETTE] [G.U.] No. 135, June 13, 2018 (in Italian), G.U. website.)

Motivation for the New Legislation

Decree No. 67 was issued by the President of the Council of Ministers as a response to the constitutional issues debated during a constitutional legitimacy case held at the Italian Constitutional Court concerning the impact of certain budgetary commitments by the Italian state, the regions, and other local entities. (Decision No. 247/2017 of October 11, 2017, of the Italian Constitutional Court in a Constitutional Legitimacy Case Lodged by the Autonomous Provinces of Bozano and Trent, and the Autonomous Regions of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and the Veneto Region, G.U. No. 49, Dec. 6, 2017 (in Italian), Conference of the Regions and Autonomous Provinces website.)

New Oversight Mechanism

The new legislation creates the “Center for the Monitoring of Regional Agreements” as a mechanism to verify compliance with the financial agreements executed between the state and the regions. (Decree No. 67, art. 1(1)(e).) The Monitoring Center is located at the Ministry of the Economy and Finances’ Department of General Accounting of the State (id.) and is composed of high-level officials from the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Ministry of the Interior, as well as representatives from numerous government unions (id. art. 1(3)).

In order to monitor compliance with regional agreements and verify the full use of the financial allocations approved for the implementation of investments, the Monitoring Center must use available data and information in accordance with several criteria listed in the new legislation and other indicators that the Center may select on its own initiative. (Id. art. 1(19) & (20).) The Center is also empowered to prepare general principles and strategies for the full use of financial allocations and investments by local authorities. (Id. art. 1(22).)

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European Union: 5th Anti-Money Laundering Directive Enters into Force

(July 16, 2018) On July 9, 2018, the amendment of the European Union (EU) Anti-Money Laundering Directive (5th AMLD) entered into force. The AMLD obligates certain entities to fulfill customer due diligence requirements when they conduct business transactions and have in place policies and procedures to detect, prevent, and report money laundering and terrorist financing. The amendment

  • brings custodian wallet providers and virtual-currency exchange platforms within the scope of the AMLD,
  • interconnects the national central beneficial ownership registers,
  • enhances access to these registers,
  • lowers thresholds for the use of anonymous prepaid cards,
  • establishes centralized mechanisms to identify holders of payment or bank accounts, and
  • sets stricter standards for financial transactions with high-risk third countries.

Member States must implement the new rules into national law by January 10, 2020. (Directive (EU) 2018/843 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2018 Amending Directive (EU) 2015/849 on the Prevention of the Use of the Financial System for the Purposes of Money Laundering or Terrorist Financing, and Amending Directives 2009/138/EC and 2013/36/EU (5th AMLD), 2018 O.J. (L 156) 43, EUR-Lex website; Directive (EU) 2015/849 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 May 2015 on the Prevention of the Use of the Financial System for the Purposes of Money Laundering or Terrorist Financing, Amending Regulation (EU) No 648/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council, and Repealing Directive 2005/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and Commission Directive 2006/70/EC (4th AMLD), 2015 O.J. (L 141) 73, EUR-Lex website).

Definition of Virtual Currencies and Custodian Wallet Providers

The amendment defines “virtual currencies” as “a digital representation of value that is not issued or guaranteed by a central bank or a public authority, is not necessarily attached to a legally established currency and does not possess a legal status of currency or money, but is accepted by natural or legal persons as a means of exchange and which can be transferred, stored and traded electronically.” A “custodian wallet provider” is defined as “an entity that provides services to safeguard private cryptographic keys on behalf of its customers, to hold, store and transfer virtual currencies.” (5th AMLD art. 1, para. 2(d).) As previously mentioned, the new rules extend the customer due diligence requirements to custodian wallet providers and virtual-currency exchange platforms.

Central Beneficial Ownership Registers

Another change to improve transparency concerns the national central beneficial ownership registers in the EU Member States. Beneficial owners are defined as “any natural person(s) who ultimately owns or controls the customer, and/or natural person(s) on whose behalf a transaction or activity is conducted.” (4th AMLD art. 3, para. 6.) The amendment requires that the central beneficial ownership registers for corporate or other legal entities are available to any member of the general public. (5th AMLD art. 1, para. 15(c).) The previous version of the AMLD made access for members of the general public dependent on demonstrating a legitimate interest. (4th AMLD art. 30, para. 5.) Information on beneficial owners of trusts will for the first time be available to the general public, but only to those who show a legitimate interest. (5th AMLD art. 1, para.16(d).) Previously, only competent authorities, Financial Intelligence Units, and entities subject to the customer due diligence rules were granted access to beneficial ownership information on trusts. (4th AMLD art. 31, para. 4.) When a trust is the beneficial owner of an entity, information will be accessible to persons that file a written request. (5th AMLD art. 1, para.16(d).)

Furthermore, in order to facilitate cooperation and information exchange between the Member States, the amendment requires Member States to connect their central registers via the “European Central Platform.” (5th AMLD art. 1, para.15 (g).) The interconnection of the central registers via the European Central Platform must be completed by March 10, 2021. (Id. art. 1, para. 42.) Beneficial ownership information must be available through the national registers and the interconnected European Central Platform for at least five years and no more than ten years after the entity has been removed from the register. (Id. art. 1, para.15 (g).)

Use of Anonymous Prepaid Cards

Furthermore, the amendment of the AMLD lowers the monetary thresholds for identifying the holders of prepaid cards to address risks linked to their use in financing terrorist activities. Payments carried out with anonymous prepaid cards online will be allowed only when the transaction amount does not exceed €50 (about US$59). (5th AMLD recital 14; art. 1, para. 17(b).) In-store use of an anonymous prepaid card must not exceed an amount of €150 (about US$176). (Id. art. 1, para. 7(a).)

Centralized Automated Mechanisms for Payment and Bank Accounts

The amendment obligates EU Member States to establish centralized registries or electronic data retrieval systems to identify natural or legal persons holding or controlling payment accounts, bank accounts, and safe-deposit boxes. (Id. art. 1, para. 19.) The national Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs) must be allowed direct, immediate, and unfiltered access to that information. Technical aspects of the interconnection of the centralized registries is to be worked out by the European Commission by June 26, 2020. (Id.)

High-Risk Third Countries

Finally, the amendment sets stricter standards for financial transactions with high-risk third countries, meaning non-EU countries that have been identified by the European Commission as having strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering or counterterrorism regimes. If a country is on that list, enhanced due diligence requirements must be performed by the companies conducting business with such a country. The AMLD harmonizes the enhanced due diligence obligations across the EU, but Member States may require companies to perform one or more additional mitigating measures. (Id. recital 12; art. 1, para. 11.)

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Australia: New South Wales Enacts Bill to Amend Relationship References in Legislation

(July 13, 2018) On June 15, 2018, the governor of New South Wales in Australia gave assent to the Miscellaneous Acts Amendment (Marriages) Bill 2018 (NSW). (Miscellaneous Acts Amendment (Marriages) Bill 2018, PARLIAMENT OF NEW SOUTH WALES (last visited July 12, 2018); Miscellaneous Acts Amendment (Marriages) Act 2018 No 28 (NSW), New South Wales Government website.) The Bill makes amendments to several statutes and other instruments in order to update terms and definitions related to marriage, parentage, and change of sex. The changes follow the passage of the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017 (Cth) by the Commonwealth (federal) Parliament, which legalized same-sex marriage in Australia. (Kelly Buchanan, Australia: Same-Sex Marriage Bill Passes, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Dec. 13, 2017).)

For example, the Bill changed the definitions of “spouse” in several statutes by inserting the following wording: “the person to whom a person is legally married (including the husband or wife of a person).” (Miscellaneous Acts Amendment (Marriages) Act No 28 (NSW) sch 1.) Other amendments removed redundant references to spouses and de facto partners being of either the same or opposite sex. (Parliament of New South Wales, Miscellaneous Acts Amendment (Marriages) Bill 2018: Explanatory Note, at 3.) Amendments related to parentage were made to statutes such as the Adoption Act 2000 (NSW) and the Guardianship of Infants Act 1916 (NSW), including clarifying “that parents who are in a same sex marriage are not considered step parents of their children for the purposes of the definition of step parent in the [Adoption] Act.” (Id.)

The Bill also removed restrictions from the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 (NSW) “so that persons who change their sex and are married may have that change of sex recorded on the Births, Deaths and Marriages Register.” (Id. at 4.) Previously, a person could not record a change of sex unless they were not married, since a same-sex marriage was not legal. (See Change of Sex, NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages (last updated June 22, 2018).)

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China: Government Indicates All Virtual Currency Platforms Have Withdrawn from Market

(July 12, 2018) On July 6, 2018, the People’s Bank of China indicated that the platforms trading virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin, and dealing with initial coin offerings (ICOs) in China have “basically all safely withdrawn from the market.” Chinese authorities had identified 88 virtual currency trading platforms and 85 ICO platforms since September 2017 when they started to crack down on ICOs and trading of virtual currencies on exchanges. (Woguo Xuni Huobi Jiaoyi Pingtai Jiben Shixian Wu Fengxian Tuichu [Chinese Virtual Currency Platforms Basically Achieve Risk-Free Withdrawal], XINHUA (July 6, 2018).)

In September 2017, Chinese authorities issued an order to completely ban the practice of raising funds through ICOs—the equivalent of initial public offerings for new virtual currencies—and imposed restrictions on the primary business of virtual currency trading platforms. Since then, such platforms have essentially been shutting down their trading business in China. (LAW LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, GLOBAL LEGAL RESEARCH CENTER, REGULATION OF CRYPTOCURRENCY IN SELECTED JURISDICTIONS 30–31 (June 2018).)

Recently, the government has taken more measures to combat “new varieties of illegal financial activities” that arose after the domestic transactions were shut down. Platforms “going overseas,” for example, would allow Chinese investors to participate in overseas transactions. Up until May 2018, the authorities blocked 110 websites dealing with virtual currencies or ICOs, according to the Xinhua report. (Woguo Xuni Huobi Jiaoyi Pingtai Jiben Shixian Wu Fengxian Tuichu, supra.)

Furthermore, the authorities have pressed payment institutions to strictly implement the requirement of not providing services related to virtual currencies. As a result, Alipay, a big third-party mobile- and online-payment platform, closed approximately 3,000 accounts found to be dealing with virtual currencies. In addition, the public security authority has reportedly investigated over 300 offenses related to virtual currencies. (Id.)

China was once the most active market for Bitcoin trading on exchanges, and Bitcoin traded with Chinese yuan used to account for over 90% of the global trading in Bitcoin. In the wake of the regulatory measures the government has instituted since September 2017, Bitcoin traded with Chinese yuan has dropped to under 1% of global Bitcoin trading, according to the Xinhua report. (Id.)

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