EC 'could become a haven for arms trade'

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THE introduction of the Single Market will turn the European Community into a sanctuary for unscrupulous arms traders unless member countries improve controls on weapon exports.

A report by Saferworld, a British-based foreign affairs think-tank, has highlighted concerns that European arms exporters will find it easy to circumvent controls under the unified market which starts tomorrow.

The Single Market will weaken national controls over the export of weapons and dual-use machinery, which can have both military and civilian applications. It was revealed during the Matrix Churchill trial, in which three executives were charged with breaching arms sanctions against Iraq, that the Government had encouraged the businessmen to disguise the military nature of their machines as 'dual-use'.

After the Single Market has started, it will be easy for companies to exploit this category in obtaining licences. The community can exercise export control only along external borders. Some countries, such as Greece and Portugal, are notoriously lax.

Paul Eavis, editor of the report, said: 'At a time when the West is having to send troops and spend resources on conflicts around the world, the EC is effectively loosening controls on components of weapons of mass destruction and advanced weapon systems.'

The report recommends that the EC take the initiative in policing the arms trade. The UN Security Council has been unable to agree a coherent strategy for policing sales. The five major arms exporters within the EC, including Britain, account for nearly 20 per cent of the world's weapon exports.