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The EU this week voted to adopt regulations pertaining to the sourcing of tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold (3TG) from conflicted regions of the world. The regulations, which require supply chain due diligence self-certification of tin, tantalum and tungsten, their ores, and gold originating in conflict-affected and high-risk areas, are mandatory for smelters and importers of raw materials and voluntary for downstream manufacturers whose products contain these minerals. The rules are scheduled to take effect in January of 2021.
The EU regulations are similar in scope to the so-called “conflict minerals” provision in the U.S. Dodd-Frank Act of 2010.

"One exemption that will expire on July 21, 2016 that some electronics manufacturers need to be aware of is 7(b):

Lead in solders for servers, storage and storage array systems, network infrastructure equipment for switching, signaling, transmission, and network management for telecommunications

This will expire on July 21, 2016 (as will some others). Any equipment placed on the market on July 22, 2016 or later in the European Union or any European Free Trade Association country (Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway or Switzerland) must not be dependent on this exemption in order to comply with the RoHS Directive substance restriction requirements. Note that “placed on the market” has a very specific meaning. If you do not know what that is, read section 2.3 of the recently revised Blue Guide.

But an application to renew exemption 7(c)-1 (“Electrical and electronic components containing lead in a glass or ceramic other than dielectric ceramic in capacitors, e.g. piezoelectronic devices, or in a glass or ceramic matrix compound”) was submitted before the deadline (and was not pulled, as was the application to renew 7(b)). Article 5, paragraph 5 of the RoHS Directive says:

The Commission shall decide on an application for renewal of an exemption no later than 6 months before the expiry date of the existing exemption unless specific circumstances justify other deadlines. The existing exemption shall remain valid until a decision on the renewal application is taken by the Commission.

Three important things to understand about this paragraph are:

  1. The Commission was, under normal circumstances, expected to make a decision by January 21, 2016 on whether 7(c)-1 or any of the other exemptions slated for exemption on July 21, 2016 that had renewal applications submitted on time. They did not.
  2. This is because of the rather prescient clause “unless specific circumstances justify other deadlines.” The “specific circumstance” is, in this case, the analysis bottleneck caused by the receipt of over 80 exemption renewal applications. The actual process is that an external consultant, Oeko Institut, manages the process to review the applications (which includes a public stakeholder comment period) and makes a recommendation to the Commission based on its technical analysis of the arguments presented for continuing the exemptions either as-is or modified.
  3. When a renewal application is submitted, regardless of its technical virtue, the exemption will remain valid until the Commission makes a decision on it."
Mark your calendar for April 1, 2016: If you have interest in optical technologies on the U.S. Munitions List (USML), you'll want to register comments by that day. (Otherwise, you may feel foolish to have missed an important opportunity!) A webinar on March 2 aims to educate you on the matter.
 
Proposed amendments to the U.S.’s International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) promise to have significant and far-reaching effects on optics and photonics. As part of the President's Export Control Reform effort, the Department of State plans to revise Category XII (fire control, rangefinder, optical, and guidance and control equipment). The goal: Describe more precisely articles on the USML that warrant control.