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Shaheen hosts discussion on export controls reform

Holly Ramer, Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- Overhauling outdated restrictions on military exports will help New Hampshire businesses continue to increase their activity overseas, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said Monday.

New Hampshire companies exported nearly $3.5 million in goods in 2012, and figures through March of this year show a 14 percent increase, Shaheen said at a forum at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. But they need more help to maintain that growth, she said.

"New Hampshire has a very strong reputation for the quality of the defense manufacturing base we have here, and Granite State businesses have contributed to creating the strongest, most dynamic, most competitive defense industry in the world today," she said. "Yet, as the Pentagon's budget begins to level off, our manufacturing base needs to think about what other opportunities there are to tap into new commercial and defense markets."

Joining Shaheen was Rose Gottemoeller, the State Department's undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. Both women described the Obama administration's efforts to rebuild the nation's export control structure, which they called complex, antiquated and difficult for businesses to navigate.

"It just doesn't work the way it should," Shaheen said. "At the root of the problem is the simple fact that we control too much."

Under recently announced changes, the export process for U.S. manufacturers will be simplified when the Commerce Department, rather than the State Department, gains the authority to control the export of thousands of "dual-use" items that could be used either for military or commercial purposes. The goal is to treat nonsensitve products differently from things like jet fighters and missile launchers.

"The line between what is military and what is dual-use is becoming ever thinner," Gottemoeller said.

Shaheen described the experience of a Merrimack company that makes aviation products. Despite having licenses to sell entire systems overseas, if a customer wants a spare part, it must get a new license, which can take up to eight weeks.

"You can imagine how difficult it is to compete in the aviation business when you can't guarantee repairs for six to eight weeks," she said. "Some companies are simply thinking about giving up on exporting altogether."

Marcel Piet of ArgenTech Solutions in Durham described his frustration in trying to bid on a U. N. contract for support services related to unmanned aerial vehicles to be used to protect refugee camps in Congo. The company knew it couldn't get the necessary license before the bid deadline but requested an advisory opinion in January. It still hasn't gotten an answer, he said.

"As a result of that, this small business was not able to submit a bid for a $60 million contract, supporting the United Nations," he said. "Is there anything that can be done for rapidly emerging technologies so we don't get bypassed?"

Gottemoeller said she would look into his case and that more broadly, the planned export control reforms should help prevent such experiences.

"We have to have a system that's more light on its feet so we can address the types of problems you're talking about," she said.