AIA Presses Obama on Export-Control Reform

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WASHINGTON — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to introduce legislation this month that could lead to a House-Senate conference next year during which lawmakers consider language easing restrictions on U.S. commercial communications satellite exports.

In June, the House passed legislation in the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for 2010 and 2011 that would give the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama authority to remove commercial satellites from the State Department’s Munitions List. Until now, the bill has awaited consideration by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, though congressional and industry sources say the panel hopes to take up companion legislation before year’s end.

“We see this as a move toward reasonableness that I think is a very encouraging sign about the way Congress is approaching this,” Marion Blakey, president of the Arlington, Va.-based Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), said of the House legislation during a Dec. 3 conference call with reporters. “It’s being considered on the Senate side as well.”

AIA sent Obama a letter Dec. 2 urging him to consider specific actions that would lead to looser restrictions on U.S. technology transfers to foreign countries.

Obama put export-control reform on the White House agenda in August when his press office, the National Security Council and National Economic Council would lead an interagency review of the U.S. export-control regime. It was the first official indication the Obama administration gave that it would advance export-control reform, a polarizing topic that pits national security hawks against a U.S. aerospace industry that has seen its global market share suffer since a 1999 crackdown on U.S. commercial satellite exports.

Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has yet to consider companion legislation to the House version of the bill, though congressional aides expect the panel to introduce both a U.S. State Department authorization bill and a separate security assistance act  before the end of the calendar year. The House addressed security assistance and the State Department in a single bill, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act.

Although the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is not likely to include satellite export-control provisions in either of its forthcoming bills, aides said the House language on commercial communications satellites would be raised when House and Senate conferees meet to hash out any differences between their bills prior to final passage.