WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Pentagon and State Department announced jointly on Tuesday an easing of restrictions on sale of U.S. munitions abroad.

In some instances, a single license will cover an entire weapons program involving several subcontractors. And the licenses will be valid for eight years, not the current four years.

The new rules apply to deals with the NATO allies, Japan and Australia. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is due to make an announcement Wednesday at a meeting with allied foreign ministers in Florence, Italy.

It also applies to joint ventures.

American companies will be able to compete more effectively with European firms and are enthusiastic about the changes, officials told reporters at the State Department.

The new regulations also will make it easier for the allies to share equipment in conflicts such as the one in Kosovo. U.S. forces found licensing restrictions sometimes stopped them from providing allies with American technology, the officials said..

In some instance, licenses will be issued within 10 days. Companies cleared for a project may not have to be licensed for a second one under the new rules.

The officials said controls on allies' transfer of U.S. weapons and technology to other countries would be tightened under the new arrangement.

At the same time, though, a list of so-called third countries eligible to receive U.S. technology will be drawn up.

NATO, Australia and Japan account for more than $17 billion, or 68 percent, of U.S. export licenses.

The State Department currently reviews about 45,000 license applications a year, of which about 12,000 are also reviewed by the Pentagon because of security concerns.