President Bush, in a move welcomed by American business interests, has ordered a sweeping liberalization of U.S. controls on the sales of advanced computers, telecommunications systems and other high-technology products to NATO allies and Japan.
The presidential order was issued after Bush vetoed legislation governing export controls because it imposed mandatory trade sanctions against nations that use chemical or biological weapons. Many business interests favored the bill for other elements, including those that eased restrictions on sales of technology products around the world.
Bush vetoed the bill Friday night on the procedural ground that it "would severely constrain presidential authority in carrying out foreign policy." The president used an executive order to allow sanctions for the use of poison gas and require the liberalization of export control rules. By doing so, the administration preserved presidential discretion while bowing to the wishes of lawmakers on the poison gas issue and business interests on export controls, officials said.
On the export control side, the president ordered the end of license requirements for the sale of products that have both civilian and military uses to Japan and America's NATO allies. This should help American companies selling in Europe, where strict enforcement of U.S. export controls was seen as a barrier.
The new order also eases restrictions on sales of computers and supercomputers to reflect new technological advances. Under the order, older models will be dropped from the control list as more advanced technologies are developed.
"We tried to see that American industry got what it wanted and needed from the bill. It was a conscious policy decision to help American industry," said an administration official.
Business generally reacted positively, although representatives of high-technology companies said the ongoing fights within the administration between the Commerce and Defense departments could still blunt the president's order.
"When the Department of Defense wants to undermine executive orders, it has been able to do so in the past," said William T. Archey, international vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Ed Black, vice president and general counsel of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, called the presidential order "a reasonably good solution to a nasty situation." Debra Waggoner, trade manager of the American Electronics Association, complimented Bush for making "a real attempt to listen to the business community."