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Our Take on International Trade

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Bipartisan Coalition of House Lawmakers Introduces Legislation to Give Commerce Department Authority to Impose Export Controls on Advanced AI Systems

On May 8, 2024, a bipartisan coalition of House lawmakers introduced the Enhancing National Frameworks for Overseas Restriction of Critical Exports Act (the “ENFORCE Act”).  The bill, primarily aimed at addressing the threat posed by the Chinese military, seeks to update the Export Control Reform Act of 2018 (the “ECRA”) to give the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) the authority to impose export controls on certain advanced artificial intelligence systems and other national security-related emerging technologies that could pose a threat to U.S. national security.  

Specifically, the ENFORCE Act would amend the ECRA to give BIS the authority to control the activities of U.S. persons that relate to covered AI systems or other national security-related emerging technologies. The bill would also allow BIS to require licenses for the export of such systems or technologies.  Until BIS issues implementing regulations that would include a definition of covered AI systems, the bill's definition of the term primarily covers any AI system that “exhibits, or could foreseeably be modified to exhibit, capabilities in the form of high levels of performance at tasks that pose a serious risk to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

In recent years, BIS has imposed strict export controls on advanced semiconductors and related items used to create the most powerful AI systems.  Proponents of the ENFORCE Act note that the bill is designed to build on these controls by giving BIS the clear legal authority to control the transfer of the AI systems themselves.

The bill was introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party Chairman John Moolenaar (R-MI), Ranking Member Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), and Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA).  Although China policy has been a rare area of bipartisan agreement in this Congress, it is unclear at this time whether the ENFORCE Act will garner enough support to advance through the legislative process, particularly as lawmakers increasingly turn their attention to the upcoming election cycle.

“The U.S. government has the tools it needs to keep critical hardware with national security ramifications out of the hands of our adversaries’ militaries,” said Chairman McCaul. “But we don’t have those same clear tools to keep the software that powers advanced technologies – the AI systems themselves – from them. I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation that will close those loopholes. For far too long, the law has lagged behind technological advances. That stops today.”