Albuquerque Business First: OP-ED: Export reforms could help NM companies grow

By:  U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich

Last month, President Barack Obama took a major step to help American businesses break free from outdated regulations and controls — a step that could open up new export opportunities for New Mexico businesses while improving their bottom line.

The president issued an executive order that seeks to update the requirements businesses have to obtain specific licenses to export or import certain commodities for national security reasons. These export and import controls have not been comprehensively updated in 36 years. Our current export control system was designed to address the challenges of the Cold War. It is spread across seven government departments and controls items on two separate lists with fundamentally different structures and scope.

Under this antiquated system, New Mexico businesses engaged in manufacturing, exporting or brokering any item on the United States Munitions List must register with the State Department and pay a minimum annual fee of $2,250, whether or not they seek to export during the year. In 2010, the federal government required a specific license for 10 percent of all exports from New Mexico due to something being on that list, and companies were required to pay additional fees for those specific licenses.

Currently, no agency collectively knows what has been licensed or denied by the U.S. government, nor do they operate with the same information technology system. Meanwhile, seven enforcement agencies actively seek to identify export control violations that result in monetary penalties or imprisonment. The very nature of an inefficient and obsolete system creates confusion, duplication and wasted resources.

National security must always be the highest priority. Thus, we must continue to protect sensitive technologies. But surely we can prioritize our controls so that a bolt on an aircraft, satellite or vehicle is not controlled in the same manner as the aircraft, satellite or vehicle itself.

A key feature of the president’s ongoing export control reform initiative is dispensing with the current requirement of controlling everything equally, whether the item is an entire aircraft or a nut or bolt used on that aircraft, regardless of the individual item’s significance to national security. Other features of the initiative include a single export control licensing agency, a single enforcement coordination agency and a single integrated information technology system.

If implemented properly, the president’s export control reform initiative has the potential to streamline this process while better protecting our most sensitive items and eliminating additional fees and paperwork for New Mexico businesses.

As a member of the House of Representatives, I helped introduce legislation to eliminate unnecessary export controls on U.S. satellite and satellite-component manufacturers. The provisions were included in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013, which was signed by the president on January 2. These common-sense changes in policy will enable America’s aerospace companies to compete on a level playing field, broaden their customer base and help re-enforce America’s high-tech leadership in the world.

New Mexico proudly hosts a number of aerospace entities — Air Force Research Laboratory, the Operationally Responsive Space office, the Space Test Program, the  National Aeronautics and Space Administration — and a sizable and growing aerospace industry, including Spaceport America. It is critical that we continue to invest in these programs while creating the conditions for private industry to prosper.

I am committed to ensuring New Mexico is at the forefront of this new and expanding industry. In the United States Senate, I will continue the work of strengthening our national security and bolstering New Mexico’s economic competiveness. Prioritizing and modernizing our export control system is one way to do that.

Martin Heinrich is a Democratic senator representing New Mexico in Congress.