Proposed Fed Rule Would Have Put Optics & Photonics Products On Restricted Export Control List, Preventing Companies From Bringing High-Tech Products To Foreign Markets
Schumer Successfully Urged Feds To Go Back & Revise Rule To Ensure Photonics Industry Would Not Be Disadvantaged By Overly Restrictive Regulations
Schumer: Feds Will Go Back To The Drawing Board To Rewrite Rule & Better Promote the Growth of Job-Creating Rochester Industry
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced the Department of Commerce, and Department of State will rewrite a proposed federal rule that would have put restrictive limits on optics and photonics exports and effectively prevent American companies from selling the photonics industry’s non-security sensitive technology to foreign markets. The proposed rule came after Schumer successfully aided Rochester’s efforts to become the new American Institute for Manufacturing (AIM) Photonics. As a result, Schumer went to bat for Rochester photonics companies that would have been harmed by the proposed rule. If the rule was implemented in its proposed form, Schumer said optics and photonics labs in Rochester would have been unable to export certain products around the world.
“Putting overly restrictive controls on optics and photonics products – just as the American Institute for Manufacturing (AIM) Photonics is gaining steam – would have been disastrous for Rochester,” said Schumer. “That is why I urged the federal government to go back to the drawing board and rewrite the rule so this thriving industry is not forced to move production overseas or cut jobs just as it is getting started.”
Specifically, the rule aimed to place certain products on an export control list that would have put strict limits on the type of products that could be exported. Schumer said this rule was misguided, as optics and photonics technology can be used for commercial, non-military purposes, including in life-saving healthcare products. Implementing the rule would also put this industry as a significant competitive disadvantage and force optics and photonics production overseas. Following Schumer’s push, these federal agencies have agreed to go back to the drawing board and revise this rule so as to not threaten the optics and photonics industry, which has experienced significant growth in Rochester. The rule will now be revised to protect sensitive technology and national security interests, while ensuring optics and photonics products can be exported around the world.
Following Schumer’s push, these federal agencies have agreed to go back to the drawing board and revise this rule so as to not threaten the optics and photonics industry, which has experienced significant growth in Rochester. The rule will now be revised to protect sensitive technology and national security interests, while ensuring optics and photonics components used in commercial non-military products can be exported around the world.
Schumer said that this proposed rule would subject companies like those in Rochester, which produce lasers and infrared components in devices for commercial, non-military use, to unfair regulations that could greatly inhibit their international competitiveness. Schumer said many of the components produced by the optics and photonics industry, which may have initially been used in military technology, are used in products such as laser components in healthcare devices. In July, Schumer asked DOD, Commerce Department, and State Department to carefully rewrite the proposed rule in a way that more precisely delineates which parts and components fall under the USML and which could fall under the less restrictive Commerce Control List (CCL).
Schumer said that this proposed rule would subject companies in the Rochester Finger Lakes region like Optimax Systems, Inc which is a manufacturer of precision optics located in Wayne County New York. Optimax employs more than 250 people with growth projections to create more than 25 jobs each year for the next 5 years. This company will produce photonics components for defense, semiconductor, medical and aerospace markets, which includes producing the camera lenses for the Mars Rovers and the Pluto probe called New Horizons.
Rick Plympton, CEO of Optimax said, “The news of a new second draft regulation is encouraging since the first draft included proposed changes that reached beyond the traditional munitions list to broadly include components for lithography equipment such as optical mirrors, aspheric optics and excimer lasers. These limitations could impede commercial product sales and relationships that Optimax has been developing.”
Schumer has long advocated for the optics and photonics industry, which has served as an anchor of economic growth across Upstate New York. Earlier this month, Schumer successfully secured $110 million for the University of Rochester (UR), New York Polytechnic Institute (SUNY Poly), and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) to establish a state-of-the-art advanced photonics and manufacturing institute. The site will be part of a broader initiative launched in 2014 by the Obama Administration to establish manufacturing and photonics institutes around the country. The UR-SUNY Poly-RIT AIM Photonics center will focus on developing various integrated photonics products, many of some of which were at risk of being prevented from spreading to foreign markets if the proposed rule was implemented.
A copy of Schumer’s original letter to the DOD, Commerce Department and State Department appears below:
Dear Secretary Pritzker, Secretary Kerry and Secretary Carter:
I write to express my concerns regarding the recently proposed rule published for Category XII of the U.S. Munitions List (USML). The optics and photonics industries in my state has informed me that the proposed rule would significantly limit their ability to export their parts and components for commercial, non-military use. I ask that the Department of Commerce and the Department of State thoroughly review comments submitted to the record and work with stakeholders in the optics and photonics industries, as well as academia, to rewrite the proposed rule in a way that more precisely delineates which parts and components fall under the USML and which could fall under the Commerce Control List (CCL). New USML regulations must be carefully devised to both strengthen our national security and allow for future growth in rapidly advancing high-tech industries.
The U.S. optics and photonics industry in my State is concerned that if the proposed rule to Category XII of the USML is implemented, some of our nation’s most innovate industries would be restricted from growing and producing more good paying jobs. The optics and photonics industry employs over 175,000 people at over 900 companies nationwide, including over 15,000 workers across 100 companies based in the greater Rochester New York area, producing cutting-edge military and commercial technology.
I am concerned that the proposed Category XII USML rule diverges from the Export Control Reform (ECR) Initiative objectives of better protecting highly sensitive US military technology, while allowing for increased export growth in less sensitive technology used in commercial items. Laser and infrared components, for example, are used in Category XII USML devices, but also have commercial uses in life saving healthcare products. These components should have the appropriate avenues for export approval to allow for their needed use in healthcare and to support U.S. production. Restrictive and confusing USML regulations could have the unfortunate effect of driving U.S. production of USML components abroad.
Specifically, I am concerned that the proposed rule does not properly differentiate between items that fall under the USML and items that could fall under the Department of Commerce’s Control List (CCL). As you know, in 2013 as part of the ECR Initiative, the Department of Defense and the Department of Commerce agreed upon the “specially designed” for military use definition that was intended to simplify the distinction between USML items and dual-use (commercial and military) items that could fall under the CCL. I urge you to consider using this definition in Category XII where it is appropriate.
Again, I ask that you thoroughly review submitted comments and work with stakeholders in the optics and photonics industries, as well as academia, to rewrite the proposed rule. The proposed Category XII USML rule would include many rapidly advancing technologies that could be appropriately used for commercial purposes around the world. We must strike a balance between protecting our sensitive military technology and preventing unfair barriers for exporting technology in job growing industries.
Thank you for your time and attention on this important issue. I look forward to working with you to further the ERC Initiative.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator
ITAR regulations (as they stand) have hampered the Optics/Photonics Industry for a very long time. The stringency of these regulations are part of the reason that the US has not been able to keep up with other countries with leading edge products and innovations marketed for world comsumption. Hopefully, lawmakers will realize this and make some significant changes in ITAR.