San Diego Union-Tribune

April 25, 2001

Panel seeks to disarm export restrictions on high-tech gear


WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan commission yesterday gave U.S. high-tech and defense firms reason to hope that they might soon get relief from export restrictions they contend are hurting them in the global market.

After a nine-month study, with input from Congress, the administration and industry, the panel concluded that U.S. and international weapons export practices harm both U.S. national security and the domestic economy.

Commissioners called on the administration and Congress to work at home and abroad for sweeping changes in the way weapons -- and sensitive technology that could be used in weapons -- are sold on the world market.

"The system for controlling the export of militarily sensitive goods and technologies is increasingly at odds with a world characterized by rapid technological innovation, the globalization of business and the internationalization of the industrial base, including that of defense companies," the commission's report said.

The major problems with the attempts to keep the latest technology from potential enemies is that commercial products increasingly are used in weapons and the United States no longer has a monopoly on such items, according to the commission, which was created by Congress.

Numerous studies have reached the same conclusion in recent years, and U.S. business leaders have complained that tight U.S. export controls curtail their foreign sales while allied nations sell the same items. Satellite and computer firms say restrictions are resulting in billions of dollars in lost sales.

This commission's report might have more influence than others.

The four co-chairmen span much of the political spectrum. They are Sens. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Reps. Christopher Cox, R-Newport Beach, and Rep. Howard Berman, D-Los Angeles.

The 19 other members include business executives and several individuals who have been nominated for key administration posts.

Enzi said that a bill he has co-authored with Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, to re-enact the lapsed Export Administration Act has been endorsed by the Bush administration. The act would set rules for export of dual-use goods.

But efforts to relax export restrictions will face opposition from conservatives who warn that U.S. technology could aid potential enemies, particularly China.

Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan administration defense official who now runs the Center for Security Studies, has attacked the Enzi-Gramm bill as the "Hi-Tech for China bill."

Gaffney said the bill, still awaiting Senate action, would result in "the emasculation . . . (of) what remains of U.S. controls on the sale of sensitive equipment and know-how."

But Cox, who led a congressional study several years ago that said China's ballistic missile program had benefited from U.S. satellite-launching technology, denied that the commission's recommendations would help China.

"That might be the case if what we were proposing was liberalizing the process," Cox said. "What we're proposing is making it more effective."