• The Associated Press

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Japan may strengthen its export control laws to try to curb illicit trade in weapons-related technology, but is set to remove Libya from its export blacklist, officials said Wednesday.

The proposed overhaul comes in the wake of several high-profile crackdowns involving Japanese companies suspected of illegally supplying machinery that could be used to manufacture weapons of mass destruction to North Korea and Iran.

Under current foreign trade laws, Japanese exporters must obtain government permission to export sensitive technology to North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Libya, but shipments valued under 50,000 yen are exempted.

The government is now considering requiring exporters to clear with it sensitive exports of any value to those countries, and getting rid of the exemption, according to Naoyuki Hasegawa, director of the Trade Ministry’s security export control division.

Separately, Japan is also considering removing Libya from the list, Hasegawa said. The possible move comes in the wake of Libya’s 2003 declaration that it had given up what had been a secret nuclear, biological and chemical weapons program, handing over drawings of a crude nuclear bomb to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The government expects to introduce the changes later this year, according to Hasegawa.

A series of recent allegations against Japanese exporters have brought to light the role Japan may play in supplying high-tech machinery to the international trade in arms-related technology. Japan’s technological prowess as Asia’s most advanced economy makes it an attractive shopping ground for countries and others eager to build nuclear weapons.

Last month, executives of Japanese precision instruments maker Mitutoyo were arrested over the export, without proper government authorization, of two three-dimensional measuring devices that can be converted for use in developing nuclear weapons to its subsidiary in Malaysia in 2001.

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