The House yesterday swiftly approved a four-year extension of the Export Administration Act that would increase penalties for illegally exporting U.S. technology and goods in an effort to reduce the flow of sensitive equipment to unfriendly nations.
At the same time, the measure would ease requirements for exports to allied nations.
The $167 million bill, approved by voice vote after little debate, goes to the Senate, where its chief House sponsor, Rep. Don Bonker (D-Wash.), said he expects approval.
The export act expired more than a year ago when House and Senate conferees deadlocked over whether extension legislation should include greater Defense Department review of technology export licenses and trade sanctions against South Africa for its policy of apartheid.
The stalemate ended this year when supporters of the South Africa sanctions decided to include them in a broader anti-apartheid measure and the Reagan administration worked out a compromise to cover the Pentagon's role in export licenses.
The act is designed to increase trade while preventing the exportation of goods and technology to unfriendly nations that could use them against the United States.
More than 200 categories of goods and technologies, including computers, are subject to export license requirements for national security reasons, foreign policy considerations or concerns about possible supply shortages.
The House-passed bill would provide new enforcement powers for the Commerce Department and the U.S. Customs Service to help clamp down on illegal exports. Commerce agents would have new authority, including arrest and search-and-seizure powers, to enforce the law.
In addition, the measure would add forfeiture as a penalty for violating the national security provisions of the act, and would withdraw export license application-and-use privileges for 10 years from those convicted of violating the Arms Export Control Act or certain espionage statutes.
The legislation also would make it a violation to conspire to or attempt to breach export controls, or to evade the law by exporting to one country with the knowledge that the goods were destined for another, restricted third country.
In response to complaints from many export businesses of unacceptable delays, the bill would eliminate licensing requirements for the export of "low technology" to NATO and Japan, which have their own controls on the exportation of sensitive technology and goods to communist countries. Low technology would include such items as personal computers.
Bonker said this "decontrol" of low-level technology would reduce the number of U.S. export licenses by as many as 30,000 a year.
The legislation would provide expedited licensing of middle and high technology -- more advanced computers and other technology that could be converted to military uses -- to U.S. allies.
In other areas, the measure would:
* Restrict the president's power to impose embargoes of agricultural goods. This was in response to President Jimmy Carter's controversial grain embargo of the Soviet Union for its December 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.
* Require the president to report to Congress before imposing new foreign policy export controls. The measure would protect existing export contracts from new export controls imposed by the president unless there was a "breach of the peace" that posed a serious threat to the United States.
* Extend restrictions on the export of Alaskan North Slope crude oil until Sept. 30, 1990. The legislation specifies that the oil may be exported only with congressional approval.
* Reimpose certain export controls on goods sent to Iraq and South Africa; the controls were lifted by President Reagan in 1982 and 1983. Iraq would be added again to the list of countries found to be actively aiding international terrorism. And U.S. firms exporting goods to the South African police or military would first have to obtain an export license.