Sunday, December 7, 2008

Export controls are hard to enforce

The Boston Globe reports on the export to Iran of an oil exploration tool developed at Schlumberger's labs near MIT: Oil firm sidesteps sanctions on Iran. American law prohibits Americans or American based firms from exporting such equipment, but a multi-national firm incorporated outside of the U.S. can manage to do so if it is careful. It appears that, while oil-field technology isn't as fungible as oil itself, it is difficult to control its international movement with national laws.

"Since 1995, federal regulations have barred Americans from exporting goods, technology, or services to Iran, and also prohibited non-Americans from directly exporting US-made equipment there."

"Citing concerns that Iran was using its oil revenues to fund terrorism and to finance a nuclear weapon, Clinton issued an order in March of 1995 that prohibited any US citizen or company operating on US soil from assisting Iran's oil industry. At the time, many policymakers believed that the United States had a monopoly on cutting-edge oil technology, and that the sanctions would prevent Iran from developing its oil fields"
"Minette, who had developed the similar tool for a Schlumberger rival and who now owns his own consulting company, said he, too, was not surprised that Schlumberger has brought the device to Iran.
"These folks have got lots of lawyers," he said.
Even if Congress were to find a way to close the loophole in the sanctions law, he said, Schlumberger could simply shift the manufacturing of the tool to its production centers overseas, beyond the reach of US laws. And, indeed, Schlumberger already has shifted some of its oil-service manufacturing to a production center in France, where US sanctions do not apply.
"Would it be possible to stop Iran from getting that particular tool?" Minette pondered. "If the world wanted to, yes, but the world doesn't want to. The United States does not have control.""

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