US And Allies Planning To Trim List Of Banned High-Tech Products

Henry Gottlieb
The Associated Press

January 21, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The United States and its allies, in a move likely to please exporters, plan to cut the number of high technology products banned for sale to the Soviet Union while exploring ways to tighten controls on goods left on the list, a U.S. official said Thursday.

Discussion of the list and new controls will come at an end-of-the-month meeting in Paris of the Coordinating Committee on Export Controls (COCOM), the agency established by NATO and Japan to coordinate national efforts to keep Soviet bloc countries from getting military usable technology.

For years, exporters of computers and other high-tech products from allied countries have complained that many of the products on the embargoed lists are readily available to the Soviets from non-COCOM countries in Europe and Asia.

They also assert that the list has not kept pace with advances in military technology, resulting in lost sales of products no longer used in high tech weapons systems.

A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the COCOM meeting in Paris would dwell on what he termed "streamlining" the list of sensitive products. He said items removed from the list would be "at the lowest level of technology, leaving only those things that are significant to military use."

"That will be the ultimate test," the official said.

The U.S. delegation to the conference will be led by Deputy Secretary of State John C. Whitehead, the No. 2 officer in the State Department, a former investment banker familiar with the exporters' arguments.

While the United States agrees the list of products can be pared, it is eager to get the allies to institute tougher penalties on companies that violate COCOM restrictions that will remain.

Concern about the tightness of the system was heightened last year when the governments of Japan and Norway disclosed that companies in their countries sold high-tech computer and manufacturing equipment on the embargoed list that the Soviets could use to make submarine propellers so quiet they could escape detection by allied listening devices.

The companies involved, Toshiba Corp. and Norway's government-owned Kongsberg Vaapenfrabrikk, were penalized for the sales and both countries took steps to increase the penalties for companies and individuals guilty of future violations.

For example, Norway increased possible jail terms for COCOM violators from six months to five years and lengthened the statute of limitations from two years to 10 years.

The hope, the U.S. official said, is to get uniformly high penalties in all the countries for export control violations.

"We want to press a bit for better enforcement to increase our standards of effectiveness," the official said.

U.S. willingness to cut the list is a key ingredient in any reduction plan because the United States has traditionally taken the toughest line on the issue.

West German Foreign Minister Hans Deitrich Genscher, following meetings in Washington with top trade and commerce officials, told reporters Thursday: "We are in agreement we should cut the COCOM list.... A number of items should no longer be on the list, and control should be more effective" of the remaining items.

Donald Hasfurther, director of East-West trade at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said exporters would welcome reductions in the COCOM list.

"We have argued that the list is too long and encompasses items available in other countries and items no longer applicable for military use," Hasfurther said.

He said reducing the list would help enforce controls on remaining items because "they could then focus on stopping exports of equipment that is truly sensitive."

In a related development, the Commerce Department announced Thursday that U.S. companies which want to export high-technology goods to non-Communist nations will be able to apply to do so electronically in the future by linking in with a government computer.

Commerce Secretary C. William Verity said the new system should allow the agency to process 1,000 applications a day _ up from 400 a day under the previous system.

At a ceremony at the Commerce Department, Verity pushed a key on a computer terminal to approve the first such application, for the export of a $12,000 Hewlett-Packard computer system to Italy.

Copyright 1988. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.