US President George Bush has promised “a more efficient and transparent export license process” for weapons and defence technology, following pressure from 18 trade unions.

Union officials have complained of long waits for export licenses, inconsistent decisions for similar applications and outdated restrictions on technology that is now available from overseas sources.

The US State Department is making five changes to the licensing process, including a 60-day deadline for decisions on most routine defence export license applications, and upgrading to an electronic system.

The department will also produce more financial intelligence support, enabling it to make timely decisions.

The Commerce Department is making six reforms to its processing of “dual-use” items that have both military and civilian uses.

It will revise rules on intra-company transfers of sensitive items and rules restricting the export of encryption products.

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The department plans to increase transparency by publishing advisory opinions on the internet and listing foreign parties that warrant higher scrutiny.

By Elizabeth Clifford-Marsh