Supporting industry compliance with arms and export controls: perspectives from Sweden and Singapore

9 October 2019 Janine Green-Holmen and George Tan Swee Cheng Supporting industry compliance with arms and export controls: perspectives from Sweden and Singapore

Experts from around the world recently came together in Vienna to exchange opinions on how to strengthen public-private collaboration on regulating the trade of weapons and other dangerous goods. Janine Green-Holmen and George Tan Swee Cheng attended the event and shared their thoughts with us.

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your professional background.

Janine: My name is Janine Green-Holmen. I’m part of the Swedish Export Control Society, where I’m the Vice Chairman. The Swedish Export Control Society was established in 1994 on the initiative of the industry. The purpose is to support companies’ export control administrators and managers responsible for the adherence to export control legislations – for example, Swedish, EU and US. Its members are dealing with export control issues in companies, organisations or authorities. I have been a member of the board since 2008 and Vice Chairman since 2014. I have also been one of the course leaders since 2008 and have worked on export controls for 19 years at companies based in Stockholm.

George: I am George Tan Swee Cheng from Singapore. I have my own consulting firm. At the same time, I also run a non-governmental organisation called the Centre for Asia Pacific Trade Compliance and Information Security. I provide export control consultations in the Asia-Pacific region.

Why is it important to ensure that international norms and standards are followed when it comes to arms and exports?

Janine: It has become so important. I have been in the business for 19 years, and I know exactly what it was like 19 years ago. There was very little knowledge in different countries, but nowadays it’s growing. There is still a need for more awareness when it comes to trade compliance. It doesn’t matter where we are. There are new companies that pop up, and they need to know these standards and be aware of them. How would they know what to do otherwise and what is required from them?

George: Export controls are extremely important, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. Most countries have some basic legislations on arms and export controls. However, enforcement is not that strict, so you can still see a number of illegal exports of small weapons. In certain Asian countries, some small arms are easily available in the market, which shows that they are not well- controlled domestically.

What are your experiences of how your country has approached strategic trade controls? What are the challenges – and what have been some of the successes?

Janine: In the Nordics, we have a lot of knowledge, a lot of organisations and a lot of awareness about strategic trade controls in many countries. The Swedish Export Control Society helps companies. When changes of laws and regulations are due to be made, we gather comments from all members and share them with the authorities, for example. We also keep our members up to date with these changes through seminars, webinars and the ‘Swedish Update (an annual event organised by the Swedish Export Control Society, where export control managers - mainly from Sweden, but also other parts of Scandinavia - meet, listen to and discuss the latest developments in export control). Compared to other parts of the world, trade compliance knowledge has been well established in the Nordic countries, but there are new entities that we have to reach out to, and this is important both from the authority perspective and from the industry perspective.

George: The main challenges that I have seen are first the lack of awareness in small and medium-sized enterprises, and second the fact that countries find it very difficult to enforce trade controls. These are the two main challenges that most countries in the Asia-Pacific region are facing. At the same time, the relationship between the authorities and industries needs to be strengthened, as many industries do not feel comfortable talking to government agencies. This is a legacy from the past, and it is the responsibility of the agencies to open up a space for dialogue.  

You attended a meeting in Vienna where you met with experts from around the world to discuss this topic. What were some of the most interesting parts of the meeting?

Janine: I think it’s so good to meet like this, to share knowledge and experience, and to make the authorities and companies understand each other. Nowadays in a global world we have to cooperate, and having meetings like this is a way of making sure the issues around trade compliance are discussed and the relevant regulations are understood.

George: I found the meetings in Vienna, as well as later in Switzerland, very fruitful. We had very open discussions. The discussion around the resource manual [recently published by Saferworld] was one of the highlights, and I believe it gave the participants some ideas on how they can use this manual in their actions to comply with export controls. This was also the first time for me to learn in-depth about the export controls system in Switzerland, and this was an eye-opener for me.

What are some concrete steps that governments and industry can take to ensure that weapons and dual-use goods aren’t diverted or used for illicit purposes?

Janine: Coming back to the Swedish Export Control Society, I still think that it is crucial to have good relationships with the authorities and to help spread awareness of the importance of export controls to companies within the country. It is really worth it to put regular meetings in place and to share information with each other. It helps the authorities and it helps us – the industry – too. If resources allow it, this is really something that everybody should do as much as possible. We also get enquires from colleagues from other parts of the world who want to hear how our Society has been built up, how it works, what we do and what we offer – the membership and everything. We are here to share our experience. The Society has been working for so many years, and we put a lot of effort into giving our members what they want and what they need.

George: Regarding measures to prevent diversion or illicit use of strategic goods or weapons, the core will be a close working relationship between government agencies and industries – there is no other way that this ultimate goal of strategic trade controls can be achieved. There are still many countries where the government agencies have not openly discussed with their industries how they should work together, and I think those agencies should take the first step to getting into a conversation with the industry. To facilitate such conversations, one idea I have is to set up some non-governmental organisations and clubs to create a platform where people from industries can feel free to exchange their views with government agencies. This will further enhance the working relationship between the two parties.

How can tools like our strategic trade control resource manual improve coordination between governments and industry?

Janine: I plan to share the resource manual with the Board of the Swedish Export Control Society, which houses several other companies. I think the resource manual is fantastic. It is something that I would have liked to have had 19 years ago when everything was completely new to me. I would have loved to have had this toolkit in front of me.

George: The resource manual will definitely help industry and governments to work together – but having a resource manual is just the first step. I think it is more important that governments and industries look at these tools and see what is relevant to them and how they can tailor them to their respective situations. In other words, government agencies should think about how they want to use the tools, and industries should think about how they want to establish their internal compliance programmes based on the tools. Only with these concrete steps can the resource manual help to enhance strategic trade management.

This is the second piece in a series of interviews with government officials and representatives from business and civil society communities, which forms part of our work on preventing weapons and other dangerous goods from being acquired by illicit end users, or being used for illicit purposes. Read the first interview on experiences from Malaysia and South Korea here.

Photo: Sarah Starkweather/Flickr