Flemish export licences for sensitive nuclear goods worth 56 million euros in 2011

During a seminar on 19 June 2012 the Flemish Peace Institute presented its annual report on the Flemish foreign trade in dual-use items to the Flemish Parliament. Dual-use items, such as nuclear goods and chemicals, are products that are used for civil applications, but which can also be used for the development of weapons of mass destruction. During the presentation of the annual report analysing the Flemish trade in dual-use items in 2011, attention was focused mainly on the export of nuclear goods, the export of sensitive products to Iran, and the division of competences in Belgium.

Flanders issued export licences for nuclear goods worth 56 million euros in 2011

In 2011 Flanders approved licences worth nearly 56 million euros for the export of sensitive nuclear goods. The largest portion of this (55.6 million euros) was destined for EU Member States. Export licences for nuclear goods were also granted for export to Japan, the US, Brazil, Jordan, Taiwan and India. For these exports individual licences were issued: one licence per transaction.

What is remarkable is that in 2011 two global licences were issued as well for the export of sensitive nuclear goods. A global licence does not refer to a specific individual transaction, but allows a Flemish exporter to export certain products that have been specified in advance to all destinations in the countries included in the licence. As a result of the global licences issued, in 2011 the export of Flemish nuclear goods to, among others, Malaysia, Algeria, Morocco, Russia, Singapore, Turkey and South Korea was permitted.

Licences for the export of sensitive products to Iran worth 24.6 million euros issued over the past five years

Where the control of exports of dual-use items is concerned, Iran is in the centre of attention. Although exports to Iran are monitored closely, it is not exceptional for sensitive products to be exported to the country. Since 2007 a total of 42 licences have been issued by the Flemish authorities for the export of dual-use items to Iran. Together, these had a value of 24.6 million euros. It concerns, for instance, chemical production equipment, toxic chemical precursors or heat treatment furnaces.

Since 2007 trade with Iran has been increasingly limited out of fear that the country might develop nuclear weapons. Trade with Iran in products that are on the traditional EU list of dual-use items has been prohibited since 2010. Additionally, the EU has drawn up a further list of products for which a licence must be applied for if one wants to export them to Iran. 'The Flemish authorities seem to be monitoring this closely', says Tomas Baum, Director of the Peace Institute. 'Two exports to Iran were refused in 2011 on the basis of these further regulations. For one export, however, a licence was issued.'

A Belgian tangle of nuclear competences

Nuclear goods are an important and extremely sensitive category of dual-use items. Nuclear materials are used, for instance, in the energy sector or in medicine, but they can also be used to build nuclear weapons. The TV report on Belgian nuclear weapons in the Panorama series has recently made clear that this is a real risk.

In Belgium, the competence in the area of trade in dual-use items has been regionalised together with the competence related to the arms trade: since 2003 the three regions have been responsible for the enforcement of the regulations with respect to trade in dual-use items. The licence applications are processed by the Strategic Goods Monitoring Unit and signed by the competent regional minister. Specifically for the trade in nuclear goods, the federal authorities also play a role in the licensing procedure: before a licence can be applied for at the regional level, prior authorisation from the federal minister responsible for energy is required. The latter is advised by CANVEK, the federal Advisory Committee on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

'We find that the collaboration between the Flemish and the federal level does not always go smoothly', says director Tomas Baum. 'For instance, the information exchange between the Flemish region and the federal authorities about what is happening in the international nuclear control regimes, has not been formally organised.' Therefore, the Peace Institute advocates intensive cooperation for the control of exports of nuclear goods. 'What is most important is that the export control is sound, so that Belgian nuclear goods does not end up in the wrong hands', Baum concludes.

The full report 'Flemish foreign trade in dual-use items 2011' (in Dutch) is available via this link. (English version will be available in July 2012)