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Obama mulls easing arms export curbs
by Staff Writers
Washington (UPI) Apr 23, 2012

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The Obama administration is seeking to greatly reduce approval processes for arms exports as part of a strategic move to help the U.S. defense industry recover export revenues lost through domestic and foreign cutbacks.

Congressional procedures have come in the way of some defense U.S. exports in recent years and cost U.S. defense businesses contracts that have then gone to competitors.

Although the United States remains the world's largest defense supplier, its defense industry is seen losing out to competitors that have simpler processes for exports.

The administration's efforts are aimed at expanding the U.S. market share, currently less than one-third of the market, defense industry sources said. More overseas orders for the U.S. industry would create jobs and contribute to Obama's aim of doubling defense exports within the next three years.

During last year's visit to Latin America, especially Brazil, the president supported U.S. defense industry initiatives to win contracts in the region. Boeing is competing against France and Sweden in a Brazilian air force upgrade program that includes the multibillion dollar purchase of 36 fighter jets.

Brazil this week repeated calls for more relaxed U.S. rules for technology transfers. Congressional controls have prevented U.S. defense suppliers from renewing contracts with Latin American countries which are increasingly turning to alternative suppliers, including Russia and European Union.

U.S. defense suppliers are keen to compete for a multibillion-dollar Indian government contract for the supply of at least 126 fighter jets, 10 large transport aircraft and other equipment. A potential contract would be worth at least $16 billion, defense industry data indicated.

Obama called for easing rules in 2009 to permit the administration to export defense equipment to U.S. allies or to countries important to U.S. strategic aims. Analysts said defense exports to India would be part of an overall defense and security strategy in the South Asia region.

As part of the reforms, the Obama administration wants to push for a new agency that will coordinate often competing or conflicting lists of defense equipment that can be exported. The lists are maintained in different departments, including the Departments of State and Commerce.

The strongest resistance to any easing of export curbs has come from Republican elements inside and outside Congress. Critics of the plan say the easing of defense export controls may benefit enemies of the United States and also benefit China, which is keen to develop its own arms industry.

The Obama administration isn't the first executive to see the benefits of export control reform. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also pressed for reforms but found themselves pitted against opposition in Congress.

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