Congress, Other

Another attempt at export control reform legislation

A bipartisan group of House members announced Wednesday that they have introduced legislation to reform satellite export controls. The legislation, HR 3288, would restore to the White House the ability to determine what satellite components should be on the US Munitions List (USML), while maintaining a prohibition on exports of such items to China and several other nations (Iran, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, and Cuba). Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced the bill with eight co-sponsors, four Republicans and four Democrats.

The legislation is welcomed by the satellite industry, unsurprisingly; the Satellite Industry Association endorsed the bill Wednesday in a statement calling it critical for “updating an outmoded and overly-restrictive regulation instituted more than a decade ago”. That’s a reference to the late-1990s legislation that moved satellites and related components onto the USML, and thus falling under the umbrella of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

While the bill is welcome, what are the prospects of it actually becoming law? At a meeting of a export control working group of the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) last month, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), an advocate of export control reform but also a China hawk, said he would support such legislation provided it had exceptions prohibiting exports to nations like China. However, that same meeting suggested that satellite-related export control reform still has an uphill battle, as Congress awaits the administration’s export control reform proposals as well as delivery of a final version of a report looking at the national security implications of moving satellite export control reform.

It’s also worth nothing that this is not the first time such legislation has been introduced. In the previous Congress, the State Department authorization act included a provision (Section 826 of HR 2410) that also returned to the President the ability to take satellites and their components off the USML, while continuing a prohibition against such exports to China. That bill passed the House but died in the Senate.

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