Part II: USCC Hearing on Export Controls – Kevin Wolf’s Insight

Late last week China Tech Threat published a blog outlining the testimony given by Jeremy Pelter, Acting Undersecretary and Deputy Undersecretary, Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) at a U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) hearing entitled “U.S.-China Relations in 2021: Emerging Risks.”

While Mr. Pelter gave insight into BIS’ actions from a current leadership position, Kevin Wolf, former BIS official and noted export control lawyer presented another view. Mr. Wolf, a veteran of the bureau, developed the sanctions on ZTE. He is currently an attorney at Akin Gump where he advises clients on regulations related to export administration, arms control, trade, foreign investment, and foreign asset control.

In his testimony to USCC, Mr. Wolf offered suggestions on how the US could better meet its objectives with unilateral and multilateral controls. Wolf observes: “To put it more simply, unilateral controls are quick and responsive, but are usually eventually counterproductive and ineffective. Multilateral controls under the current system are eventually effective, but are either slow in creation given the need for regime member consensus or impossible, if not based on traditional, destination-agnostic non-proliferation objectives.”

Most notably, Mr. Wolf gives four key recommendations for the Biden Administration to ensure export controls are administered in the most effective way. He notes that the Administration should:

  • Develop “an actionable definition what ‘national security’ means in the context of using export controls to address China-specific policies that are outside the scope of traditional non-proliferation objectives.”

  • Work with “close allies in countries that produce the core technologies of concern to convince them to (a) expand their legal authorities to impose controls for reasons not related to traditional non-proliferation objectives and (b) align their China- and other country-specific licensing policies and enforcement priorities for already-controlled items.”

  • “Provide clear direction, robust funding, and political support to the export control agencies to implement the objectives of ECRA’s emerging and foundational technologies provision based on the (a) the standards and process set out in ECRA and (b) agreed-upon definition of ‘national security’ to address threats outside the context of traditional non-proliferation-related concerns.”

  • “Remember to give adequate attention and resources to all other export control issues, such as (a) running an efficient licensing system, (b) controlling and enforcing the export of dual-use items that have proliferation-related uses elsewhere in the world, and (c) reducing unnecessary barriers on controlled trade with close allies.”

Mr. Wolf makes it clear through his testimony that he believes the incoming leadership of BIS must have a clear understanding of the role export controls will play in the fight against Chinese aggression in the technology space. At China Tech Threat, we agree with this sentiment and believe that national security must take priority when looking at way to address China-specific export controls and export control policies. Follow along at as we dig deeper into the future of BIS and its leadership.