Comments needed now from photonics industry on revisions of U.S. export rules

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A 60-day comment period beginning today offers an opportunity for the photonics industry to provide vital input on proposed regulations controlling export of important technologies under Category XII of the U.S. Munitions List, which governs commodities covered by International Traffic in Arms Regulations. The proposal has broad implications for the U.S. optics and photonics industry both now and into the future, say analysts including those at SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics.

The reforms will have a direct and lasting impact on industry and our academic community.

A comment period was opened today on U.S. export regulations covering a wide range of key photonics technologies – regulations that some in the industry say are hampering global competitiveness of U.S. industry. To help the community understand and comment, SPIE will host a webinar on 12 May on the proposed changes to U.S. Munitions List (USML) Category XII, which governs the commodities covered by International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

For the next 60 days, the U.S. Department of Commerce is accepting comments on proposed new Category XII rules which govern ITAR. The rewrite is part of an overarching Export Control Reform (ECR) initiative undertaken by the Administration, explained Jennifer Douris, a lobbyist for SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, and a member of the Sensors and Instrumentation Technical Advisory Committee (SITAC) of the Bureau of Industry and Security in the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Category XII covers many of the optics and photonics commodities and components controlled under ITAR.

The comment process is seen as the best opportunity for exporters, manufacturers, and researchers to influence revisions in regulations that control photonics exports.

“Most of the other categories have already been addressed, but the Administration has saved Category XII for last due to its complexity and importance to both industry and the military,” Douris said.

The ECR initiative was launched in 2009 with the expressed purpose of building higher walls around fewer items, she explained. “The reasoning behind this was to allow for better protection of what the military would consider to be its ‘crown jewels’ while recognizing the economic realities that are important to industry. This approach is meant to strengthen our national security, while improving the competitiveness of U.S. businesses.”

“I believe that the ECR revisions to Category XII must allow for future growth of the photonics and optics industry while protecting technologies especially designed for the military,” said Jim McNally, chair of the SPIE Engineering, Science, and Technology Policy (ESTeP) committee. “Many of the commodities and components controlled by the USML might more appropriately be placed on the Commerce Control List (CCL). The reforms will have a direct and lasting impact on industry and our academic community. I urge all parties to participate in the comment period.”

SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs noted that the economic impacts being seen by industry are becoming more serious by the day.

“The stakes are high for our industry,” Arthurs said. “Outside of a few major contractors, the Department of Defense does not and cannot invest enough R&D funds to sustain and grow businesses. Federal budget actions have kept R&D funding virtually flat, while market opportunity grows rapidly.”

Meanwhile, he said, non-U.S. companies with similar products are selling freely, and using the motto "ITAR-Free" to do so. “Many are prudently investing the resulting revenue back into their companies, feeding the potential for rapid growth” Arthurs said. “This scenario comes at the detriment of the U.S. industry’s growth and the high-paying jobs that come with it.”

Registration is now open for the SPIE webinar on 12 May:

The complete 124-page announcement regarding the comment period can be found in the Federal Register here:

Remarks by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in 2010 provide background on the program and the need for regulation reform.

In addition to hosting the webinar giving guidance on commenting, SPIE has hosted briefings at SPIE Photonics West in San Francisco and SPIE DSS in Baltimore to review with community members the proposed changes in detail, including implications for manufacturers, exporters, and research universities.

About SPIE

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The Society serves nearly 256,000 constituents from approximately 155 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional networking, and patent precedent. SPIE provided more than $4 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2014.

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