US moves on Australia, Britain defense trade

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The US Senate on Tuesday took a key step to approve delayed treaties that would speed up military trade with Australia and Britain by eliminating most export licenses.

Australia and Britain are two of the closest US allies and Washington rarely restricts defense trade with them. But US regulators still need to sign off on sales, creating a hurdle that military firms say holds up business.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee recommended approval of the two treaties, which were signed in 2007 but have languished before Congress. The full chamber still needs to ratify the treaties.

Senator John Kerry, the committee's chair, called the treaties' approval "a critical step toward enhancing our cooperative efforts to combat the mutual threats we face."

"These treaties help make cooperation between the United States and two of its closest allies more streamlined, efficient and effective by removing unnecessary bureaucratic delays," said Kerry, a member of Obama's Democratic Party from Massachusetts.

The treaties were negotiated under former president George W. Bush, who signed the one with Australia with then prime minister John Howard during a visit to Sydney.

The Obama administration supported the treaties, but some lawmakers were concerned that the language was not sufficiently clear to protect US high-tech secrets.

The administration has launched a review of export controls on weapons, saying they are badly in need of simplification.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates complained in April that US rules were so byzantine that they undermined alliances, while doing little to prevent sensitive technology from falling into the hands of determined foes.

© 2010 AFP

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