Committees on Arms Export ControlsLetter to the Chair of the Committees from the Rt Hon Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills
Thank you for your letter of 18 July to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, requesting further information about export licences to Syria. I am replying as the Minister with statutory authority for strategic export controls and I apologise for the delay in responding.
Much of the information the Committees have requested is likely to be commercially sensitive, or has been provided in confidence to the Government by the licence applicant. I understand the Committees will want to publish this letter. Accordingly, I have limited my answers below to the information that it would be appropriate to make public but I have asked my officials to provide you with further information on a classified basis. I trust that this is acceptable to the Committees as the best balance between transparency and the protection of sensitive information.
“Chemicals used for industrial/commercial processes”—two Standard Individual Export Licences (SIEL)
These licences were issued on 17 and 18 January 2012 and authorised the export of dual-use chemicals to a private company for use in industrial processes. The chemicals were sodium fluoride and potassium fluoride.
These chemicals have legitimate commercial uses—for example, sodium fluoride is used in the fluoridation of drinking water and the manufacture of toothpaste; and potassium fluoride has applications in the metallurgical industry and the manufacture of pesticides. However they could also be used as precursor chemicals in the manufacture of chemical weapons which is why they are included on the Australia Group chemical weapons precursors list and are listed in Annex I of Council Regulation 428/2009, meaning a licence is required for their export from the EU.
In these cases the chemicals were to be used for metal finishing of aluminium profiles used for making aluminium showers, windows, etc. Each licence application was assessed against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, including whether there was a clear risk that they might be used for internal repression or be diverted for such an end-use. The licences were granted because at the time there were no grounds for refusal.
Subsequently, the European Union imposed new sanctions on Syria via Council Regulation (EU) No 509/2012 which came into force on 17 June 2012. The sanctions included prohibitions on the sale, supply, transfer or export of certain dual-use items and chemicals (including sodium fluoride and potassium fluoride) which might be used for internal repression or in the manufacture of items which might be used for internal repression. As a result, these licences were revoked on 30 July 2012.
“Heading sensors for hydrophone arrays, hydrophone arrays”—one Open Individual Export Licence (OIEL)
This licence for dual-use goods was issued on 10 June 2010. The goods are for use by the UK company’s own seismic vessels which may be awarded work acquiring seismic data in various countries’ territorial waters or in waters close to various countries, including Syria. The need for the licence to cover multiple destinations was the reason an OIEL was granted rather than SIELs for each individual destination. The UK company will supply its vessels with the equipment via one of the countries specified on the OIEL but the goods will not enter local commerce or be supplied to the Syrian government. The licence application was assessed against the Consolidated Criteria, including an assessment of the risk of diversion to the Syrian government. The goods are not caught by sanctions and there are no grounds to revoke the licence or to remove Syria as a permitted destination.
Given the nature of the goods and their end-use, the Committees’ assertion that these goods would lead to the “improvement of Syria’s anti-submarine warfare capabilities” is inaccurate and misleading. As ever, should the Committee have concerns of this nature my officials stand ready to discuss them with you before those concerns are made public so that our work in this area is not misunderstood.
“Equipment employing cryptography—one Standard Individual Export Licence” (SIEL)”
This SIEL was issued on 20 May 2010 and has now expired. This licence was for standard telecoms equipment for commercial use at a land-based oil field in Syria. The goods were controlled because they contained some cryptographic (information security) functionality which is usual for this type of equipment. The licence application was assessed against the Consolidated Criteria, including an assessment of the risk of diversion to the Syrian military or security forces. The licence remained consistent with the Consolidated Criteria until its expiry; there was no basis for revocation.
“All- wheel drive vehicles with ballistic protection”—two Standard Individual Trade Control Licences (SITCL) and one Open Individual Trade Control Licence (OITCL)
One SITCL was issued on 26 January 2012 and the other on 12 March 2012. The second SITCL was for insurance relating to the supply of the vehicle under the first SITCL. The OITCL was issued on 18 October 2011. All of these licences relate to the supply of civilian vehicles fitted with ballistic protection to be used for the protection of foreign diplomatic staff in Syria. The licence applications were assessed against the Consolidated Criteria, including an assessment of the risk of diversion to the Syrian military or security forces and in view of the EU sanctions against Syria- such supply is exempted from EU sanctions on humanitarian or protective grounds. In any event the vehicles have not been delivered because the countries in question have closed their Missions in Syria and withdrawn their diplomatic staff.
Note: In these cases trade licences were issued because they authorised the supply by a UK entity of vehicles from an overseas country to another overseas country, ie they were for activities controlled under the UK’s trade controls. An export licence (SIEL or OIEL) is only appropriate where the goods are to be exported from the UK.
“Components for general industrial production equipment”—one Standard Individual Export Licence (SIEL)
This licence was issued on 3 October 2011 and was for gearboxes for machines used in the production of olive oil. These goods do not normally require an export licence and are not caught by sanctions but in this case were made licensable under the WMD End-Use controls because of concerns that they may be diverted to a programme of concern in Syria. The licence application was assessed against the Consolidated Criteria, including an assessment of whether there was a clear risk that they might be used in a programme of concern or be diverted to the Syrian military or security forces. The licence was granted because there were no grounds for refusal.
“Personal Protective Equipment”—one Standard Individual Export Licence (SIEL)
This licence was issued on 20 July 2010 and has now expired. It permitted the export of radiation contamination monitors with calibration source and accessories for the measurement of naturally occurring radioactive material at a petroleum plant. These goods do not normally require an export licence and are not caught by the sanctions in place against Syria but in this case were made licensable under the WMD End-Use controls because of concerns that they may be diverted to a programme of concern in Syria. The licence application was assessed against the Consolidated Criteria, including an assessment of whether there was a clear risk that they might be used in a programme of concern or be diverted to the Syrian military or security forces. The licence was granted because there were no grounds for refusal.
I hope you find this information useful.
6 September 2012