This article is more than 1 year old

Trade ministers flag researchers as possible vector of tech sanction-busting

G7 meeting agrees that sales bans are here to stay

A meeting of G7 trade ministers has flagged researchers as a possible route through which tech trade sanctions are being circumvented.

Japan hosted a virtual meeting of trade ministers on Tuesday, attended by reps from Italy, Canada, France, the USA, the UK, Germany, and the EU.

The statement [PDF] published after their chat states that the ministers and the nations they represent "reaffirm that export controls are a fundamental policy tool to address the challenges posed by the diversion of technology critical to military applications as well as for other activities that threaten global, regional, and national security."

That's diplo-speak for a desire to continue bans on tech exports to Russia, China, and Iran.

Next comes an affirmation that "We continue to work with other states in strengthening effective and responsible export controls in a way that keeps pace with rapid technological developments."

Which is a polite way of saying the G7 is checking on other nations to ensure they're not being used to facilitate sanctions-busting activity. So is a following sentence in which the G7 ministers "reiterate that strong enforcement to counter evasion of export controls is an essential element and we will continue to cooperate on this issue."

Together those statements nod to the difficulty of stopping gray market exports that have, for example, seen networking kit from US vendors continue to appear in Russia thanks to resellers in Turkey and Asia.

Next, the minsters decided to "affirm the importance of cooperation on export controls on critical and emerging technologies such as microelectronics and cyber surveillance systems to address the misuse of such technologies by malicious actors and inappropriate transfers of such technologies through research activities."

The advanced persistent threat gangs that receive tacit support from China and North Korea fall into the category of malicious actors, so it's not hard to see why the G7 wants tech export bans to stop them getting their hands on forbidden products.

The mention of "inappropriate transfers of such technologies through research activities" suggests G7 members worry that seemingly legitimate technology sharing with universities or other research organizations could be a front for government activity.

China is credibly accused of ongoing IP theft campaigns, and sanctions mean Russia needs to find new ways to build tech it can no longer buy.

Yet despite the very cool relationships both nations enjoy with the rest of the world, academic and open source collaboration continues. The G7 trade ministers appear to have the former on their radar.

The ministers also expressed a collective desire to accelerate work on the World Trade Organisation's joint initiative on e-commerce – an effort to develop global rules for e-commerce that respect existing trade rules while also facilitating online business. The initiative is especially concerned with helping smaller businesses to engage in e-commerce without being tied up in global trade red tape.

"The outcome should be high standard and commercially meaningful," the ministerial document states. "We affirm the importance of promoting inclusive and sustainable trade, recognizing the challenges faced by micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and underrepresented groups, such as women and Indigenous Peoples." ®

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like