Congress reviews high-tech export policy
Congress is expected soon to begin ironing out a joint version of amendments that may put new teeth into the law that restricts exports of strategic high technology to Soviet bloc and other countries.
The proposed amendments to the Export Administration Act are an attempt to come to grips with the increasing importance ''dual-use'' high technology is playing - not only in America's strategic arsenal, but also in the growing arsenal of the Soviet Union. Dual-use technology is equipment with both military and civilian applications.
The law, which empowers the US Commerce Department to restrict trade when national security might be harmed, is designed in part to prevent US silicon chips, computer equipment, and other high-technology components from being diverted from their intended civilian uses and finding their way into Soviet weapons systems.
The proposed amendments are also an attempt to confront the problems these same export regulations pose for American high-technology companies, some of which depend on money earned in overseas sales to help drive their own research and development efforts in the United States.
High-tech industry executives complain that export controls on their goods have been enforced inconsistently. They say overzealous enforcement of the export regulations have hurt US business internationally.
One of the proposals under consideration by Congress is the establishment of a technical advisory committee at the Commerce Department to determine if certain restricted American high-tech goods are freely available on international markets through foreign sources.
If the goods are determined to be freely available, they would then be taken off the restricted list in the US, permitting a more competitive posture for US high-tech companies overseas. One version of the measure would grant the committee up to 18 months to make such a determination of ''foreign availability.''
Also at stake in Congress is an intra-Washington turf battle between the Defense Department and the Commerce Department. The fight is over whether Commerce will have to share its authority with the Pentagon to limit strategic exports to US-allied nations and trading partners.
Currently, the Pentagon has authority to review license applications to ship strategic goods to the Soviet Union or communist-bloc nations. But a Senate proposal would grant the Defense Department similar review authority for strategic goods bound for certain countries friendly to the US. President Reagan is said to favor this proposal. It would include a provision to create a new title at the Pentagon: undersecretary for strategic trade.
The provision is apparently aimed at preventing the illegal diversion to the Soviet Union of US-manufactured technical equipment from countries friendly to the US.
Late last year, authorities in West Germany and Sweden stopped shipments of advanced American computer equipment as they were being diverted to the Soviet Union.
The computers, said by the Pentagon to be capable of improving the accuracy of Soviet missiles, were legally exported under a Commerce Department-issued license to a firm in South Africa. The equipment was subsequently illegally diverted to West Germany and Sweden, where it was intercepted before it was to be re-diverted to the Soviet Union.
Pentagon officials criticized the Commerce Department's handling of the case. They said it points up the need for Pentagon review of strategic exports that might be diverted from allied countries.
High-tech companies are concerned, according to industry officials and observers, that Defense Department review will mean more paper work for them and thus longer bureaucratic delays in receiving licenses.