Regulatory intelligence for US exporters

Experts Argue for More Effective, Multilateral US Export Controls

Export control experts advocated for more effective U.S. controls, saying the U.S. should pursue more multilateral support and may need to rethink its strategy toward China. In a series of short essays published Aug. 13 by the Center for a New American Security, experts and former policymakers dive into how the controls can be more effective, what they should target, and how the controls are viewed by U.S. allies and adversaries.

In one essay, William Reinsch, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the U.S. needs to revamp its export control policy to address China. He said the U.S.’s policy, for “several decades,” has been relatively unchanged: to allow exports of “older technology but to keep adversaries a generation or two behind the United States technologically.” But Reinsch, who has formerly served as the Commerce Department’s undersecretary for export administration, said that policy will not work for China, which “has the capability to develop its own alternatives and has been clear in its intent to do so. That suggests U.S. policy has run out of gas and that it is time to rethink.” The Commerce Department did not comment.

Kevin Wolf, an Akin Gump lawyer and former assistant secretary of Commerce for export administration, underscored the importance of coordinating controls with allies. “Difficulties in getting quick or robust multilateral agreements do not mean that unilateral controls should be adopted instead,” Wolf said, “but rather that the government either must provide more resources to the process or add plurilateral efforts involving the countries with indigenous capabilities in the items at issue.” He also said export controls lose their effectiveness, and may undermine international trade systems, when they are used for “purely economic or trade policy objectives.”

Peter Harrell, a senior fellow at CNAS and former State Department official, also highlighted the importance of multilateral controls and said U.S. officials should make sure the restrictions do not harm U.S. industry more than their intended target. “U.S. leaders must consider how export controls can be used effectively, and the circumstances in which export controls may be ill-suited to a policy objective,” he said. “Policymakers also need to weigh unintended consequences.”

While the U.S. is clearly trying to impose export controls to limit China’s access to sensitive technologies, the strategy has flaws, said Ashley Feng, a former research associate with CNAS. “The expanded U.S. use of export controls has been both to safeguard the U.S. technological edge, and also to change China’s behavior,” she said. “These efforts have been ineffective, however, and have caused China to retaliate even outside the export control domain.” Feng said China is willing to strike back against U.S. restrictions and is modeling one tool, its so-called unreliable entity list (see 2005180032), after Commerce’s own Entity List.

“As the United States continues to use export controls to restrict products that can be exported to China,” Feng said, “China only will respond by strengthening its self-sufficiency in critical technologies and safeguarding its core national interests.”