Whenever the United States complains about its trade imbalance with China, China responds that it would buy more goods and services from the United States were it not for U.S. export controls that either prevent or restrict those purchases. Export controls serve important national security and foreign policy goals and the United States will not be eliminating them any time soon. Nonetheless, there has been a general recognition among U.S. industry and government officials that the present controls are more restrictive and cumbersome than they need to be.
There have been many attempts at export control reform in the recent past, but those initiatives usually died in inter-agency squabbles. The Obama Administration is determined to change that pattern through strong support for the reform process from the very top. President Obama, during his State of the Union address on January 27, linked export control reform to economic recovery, stating:
Third, we need to export more of our goods. Because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America. So tonight, we set a new goal: We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America. To help meet this goal, we’re launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls consistent with national security.
Another change from prior attempts at export control reform is that, according to statements made by Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell at a January 27 Pentagon press conference, the leadership of the Defense Department now is committed to working with other agencies and Congress "to make meaningful and lasting changes to our export controls." Mr. Morrell noted that Defense Secretary Gates "believes that [export control reform] is imperative to keep our nation competitive in this global economy." He further noted in response to questions that:
[W]hat is required here is not, you know, tinkering around the edges of what is a rather cumbersome, antiquated, outdated, bureaucratic set of rules and regulations governing the export of technology. [Defense Secretary Gates] believes you need to conduct a wholesale reform of export controls, really starting with a blank sheet of paper. And …he fully supports and is willing to go to bat for [the initiative of the President].
John Boehner, the Republican party leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, stated in a news conference on January 28 that he believes there could be bipartisan support for legislation to overhaul the export controls. With the Defense Department and both political parties supporting reform, the chance for meaningful reform of the U.S. export control system may be greater now than it has been in many years.
Chinese companies should not expect a drastic loosening of restrictions on exports to China right away. As President Obama noted in his State of the Union address, any reform of export controls must be consistent with national security. While administrative agencies and members of Congress are in principle in favor of eliminating unnecessary restrictions on exports, they also are sensitive to concerns that loosening of export controls, particularly with respect to China, might undermine national security. We expect export control reform to go forward, but only in areas where a consensus is reached that a loosening of controls would not undermine national security.
One of the areas where export control reform may most increase the ability of Chinese companies to buy products from the United States is the commodity jurisdiction process, which determines whether a product or technology should be controlled as a "defense article" by the State Department under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations ("ITAR") or by the Commerce Department under the Export Administration Regulations ("EAR"). This jurisdiction issue is critical to whether a product can be exported to China because Congress has banned all products controlled under the ITAR from being exported to China. By contrast, products subject to control under the EAR generally can be exported to China, often without the need for an export license.
The commodity jurisdiction process currently is extremely cumbersome, which means that military controls often remain on technologies that may have been developed originally for the military long after these items have become predominantly commercial. Reform of the commodity jurisdiction process could mean much greater opportunities for Chinese companies to buy U.S. products.
根据五角大楼发言人Geoff Morrell 在1月27日新闻发布会上的发言，与以往的出口控制改革不同，美国国防部领导人此次决心和其他政府部门及国会一起致力于实现“意义深远、效果持久的出口控制改革。”Morrell先生说国防部部长盖茨“相信迫切应当[进行出口控制改革]以确保我国在国际经济中的竞争力。”他在回答问题时进一步指出：“您知道这里需要的不是在繁琐、久远、过时、官僚的控制科技出口条规的外围转来转去。[盖茨部长]相信应当进行全方位改革，从白纸开始。同时，他完全支持并愿意[为总统的创新计划]挥棒。”