POLITICS

Vince Cable Urged To Ensure British Exports To Syria 'Are Not Converted For Military Use'

30/08/2013 10:57 BST | Updated 30/08/2013 12:53 BST
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British Business Secretary Vince Cable addresses delegates at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in central London on November 19, 2012. Britain's biggest employers' group vowed on Monday to argue against a vote for Britain to leave the EU, in any referendum on European Union membership amid dwindling support for the country's place in the bloc. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Vince Cable has been urged by human rights campaigners to tighten the rules around "sensitive" British exports to Syria to ensure they are not used for military purposes, amid concerns that President Assad had used chemical weapons for internal repression.

This comes days after the business secretary suspended 49 export licences for British businesses trading with Egypt due to fears that amid the country's democratic instability, the exported products ranging from helicopter spare parts and communications equipment could be used for "internal repression"

Cable said: “The UK position is clear: we will not grant export licences where there is a clear risk that goods might be used for internal repression."

MPs voted against military intervention in Syria in a tightly-run vote, with David Cameron warning that the Assad regime could use chemical weapons "on a larger scale, and with impunity".

According to official trade figures, the UK exported nearly £2.2m of "chemicals and related products" over the three months of April to June 2013.

Syria received nearly £624,000 in British exports of "machinery and transport equipment” to Syria during the same period and just over £200,000 in parts for "nuclear reactors and boilers" over May and June 2013.

Amnesty International UK's arms control expert Oliver Sprague told the Huffington Post UK: “Where licences have been issued because the products are sensitive, it’s important that extra safeguards are put in place to ensure that materials are not at risk of being converted for military use or other unintended uses. We’d like to know if that has been done.

"If there’s the slightest risk attached to any of these exports, then the UK should move quickly to cancel the export licences.”

European Union member states adopted trade sanctions against Syria back in 2011, which restricted the sale of arms and related material.

Despite this, a heavyweight report by MPs suggested that Britain had sold industrial materials to Syria that could have been used to make chemical weapons, despite human rights concerns.

The Commons Committees on Arms Exports Controls (CAEC) said supplies of sodium fluoride, which could be used to produce chemical weapons, had been exported to Syria in the last few years.

"The scale of the extant strategic licences to...countries of human rights concern puts into stark relief the inherent conflict between the Government's arms exports and human rights policies," said CAEC chairman Sir John Stanley.

The UK exported £8.7m worth of goods to Syria in the first 6 months of 2013 and imported £1.4m, of which the majority were textile fibres.