India’s Chemical Exports Worry U.S. Officials

Indian companies are still a chemical proliferation threat, U.S. officials say, despite the Indian government’s effort to rein them in.

The threat was demonstrated graphically in April, when a U.S. intelligence official displayed two sales brochures from an Indian company called Transpek Private Ltd. to a gathering of American exporters. The first brochure, published sometime before India began tightening its export control laws in 1990, frankly advertised dual-use chemicals for mustard gas. A later brochure omitted mention of mustard gas precursors, but offered procurement services. While India now controls more than 30 poison gas ingredients, Indian companies may still be contributing to proliferation by obtaining chemicals outside the country and brokering deals not covered by Indian export law, the official said. “This is a trend we are seeing in many cases.”

India has made incremental progress in controlling dual-use chemicals. In 1990, India controlled only three chemicals useful for poison gas, which were produced in India and also exported. In mid-1992, under U.S. pressure, it added two more chemicals to its control list. Shortly before signing the Chemical Weapons Convention in January 1993, India began to control the export of all CWC-listed chemicals. The export of some chemicals, such as mustard gas and the nerve gases Sarin and Tabun, is prohibited. The export of other dual-use “precursor” chemicals used in the final stages of poison gas production requires a license.

Although U.S. officials view these controls as a positive step, one senior official complains that they “fall short of where we would like them to go.” The United States wants India to require licenses for the export of all 54 chemicals listed by the Australia Group, a consortium of 25 countries that have agreed to combat chemical weapon proliferation. The Australia Group controls about 20 more chemicals than the Chemical Weapons Convention.

India’s inefficient government and business corruption make it difficult to enforce controls. “It takes some time to stop some of these business people from doing what they have always done,” says one State Department official. So far, no company has been punished for illegal exports under the new law, according to an Indian spokesman in New Delhi. However, he stressed that India is carefully reviewing export license applications to ensure the government is “absolutely certain about the legitimate civilian use of the chemical.” U.S. officials say India seems willing to crack down on violators if shown evidence of illegal sales.

India appears on the U.S. Commerce Department control list (supplement 5 to Part 778 of the Export Administration Regulations) which names countries and projects of concern for chemical and biological proliferation. India has the world’s eighth largest pool of dual-use chemical suppliers, according to Canada’s Chemical Weapons Convention Verification: Handbook on Scheduled Chemicals. India does not control the following chemical precursors that are controlled by members of the Australia Group:

Potassium Fluoride
Dimethylamine Hydrochloride
Hydrogen Fluoride
Methyl Benzilate
Potassium Cyanide
Potassium Bifluoride
Ammonium Bifluoride
Sodium Bifluoride
Sodium Fluoride
Sodium Cyanide
Phosphorus Pentasulphide
Sodium Sulphide
Triethanolamine Hydrochloride