The government is set to relax penalties for the illegal export of strategic high-tech commodities (SHTC) to China by removing criminal liability imposed for illegal trade in controlled items, with the exception of 12 types of items related to semiconductor manufacturing equipment.
Perhaps as early as tomorrow, employees at Taiwanese firms that export items on the SHTC export control list to China without a permit will no longer be liable to be sentenced to up to five years in prison, but will still be subject to administrative penalties, including fines, temporary suspension of import and export permits and revocation of business registration.
The removal of criminal liability comes as the government proposes to revise the types of specific and strategic high-tech commodities that may be exported to restricted regions. Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan, Syria and China are classified as “restricted areas.”
Under the proposed revision drafted by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, China would be classed as a “non-restricted area” under normal circumstances, with the exception of exports of the following machinery used for semiconductor wafer processing: chemical mechanical polishers; photoresist strippers; photoresist developers; rapid thermal processors; deposition apparatus; cleaning equipment, dryers; electron microscopes; etching machines; ion implanters; photoresist coaters; and lithography equipment.
The Foreign Trade Act (貿易法) stipulates that exports or imports of SHTCs to “restricted areas” without a government permit shall be punishable with imprisonment of up to five years, detention or a fine of not more than NT$1.5 million (US$50,600).
Illegal exports or imports of SHTCs to “non-restricted areas” and without a proper permit can result in a fine of between NT$30,000 and NT$300,000, the suspension of exports and imports for a period of between one month and a year, or the revocation of registration licenses.
The proposed revisions, promulgated on Thursday, are due to take force tomorrow if there are no objections.
In a telephone interview, Chang Chun-fu (張俊福), deputy director-general of the Bureau of Foreign Trade, said the revisions were made in response to longstanding requests by local firms, as well as to bring the domestic rules in line with export control regimes in most countries/jurisdictions, such as the US, EU, Japan and South Korea.
Chang said he was “not positively sure” that no country was imposing criminal liability to prevent the transfer of materials or technology to China that could be used to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD), but “all the major countries separate export control regimes applied to China from those applied to Iran and North Korea.”
“We don’t have to apply export control rules to our firms that are stricter than other countries because that would put them in an unfair position,” Chang said.
Jeremy Shen (沈建一), deputy executive secretary of the Trade Security and Export Control Task Force at the bureau, said the revisions with respect to penalties did not amount to a loosening of the export control system.
“The items on the SHTC list remain the same, while trade in the items both with restricted areas and with non-restricted areas requires a permit in advance,” Shen said.
Because Taiwan is not a UN member, it has been outside various international arrangements to prevent the proliferation of WMD materials and know-how.