U.S. Relaxes Computer Export Restrictions

WASHINGTON (08/04/2000) - U.S. computer vendors are set to reap the benefits of a further relaxation in government restrictions on exports of high-performance computers.

Announced by the White House late Thursday, the easing of the restrictions paves the way for the sale without prior government approval of significantly more powerful computers to customers in about 50 countries, including China and Russia.

Under the new regulations, U.S. vendors will be able to export computers that are twice as powerful as the ones they are allowed to sell currently to about 50 so-called tier 3 countries, a category which also includes India, Pakistan and Vietnam, the White House said in a release.

In addition, the new regulations also make no distinction between military and civilian customers in tier 3 countries. The new performance ceiling on exports to tier 3 countries was set at 28,000 million of theoretical operations per second (MTOPS). Individual licenses will be required for all end users who want to buy computers above that level.

Computer export restrictions to tier 2 countries, including nations in Central and South America, that have closer relations with the U.S., were also eased.

The U.S. computer industry has lobbied extensively for the easing of restrictions on exports, claiming that the regulations do not keep pace with developments in the computer industry. [See "ITI Pushes For Further Export Control Relaxation," Jan 31.]The nearest allies of the U.S., including countries such as Canada, Japan and those in Western Europe, are placed in the tier 1 category. Exports to those countries face no restrictions.

Under the new rules, Argentina will be moved from tier 2 to tier 1, and Estonia will be moved from tier 3 to tier 2. The decision on Estonia requires a 120-day congressional notification period before it becomes effective.

Also under the new rules, exports without an individual license - those that don't require government review - are permitted up to 33,000 MTOPS to tier 2 countries, which include all countries in South and Central America, South Korea, Slovenia, most African countries and most fo the 10 ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries.

The tier 2 individual licensing level will be changed from 33,000 MTOPS to 45,000 MTOPS. MTOPS is the U.S. government's yardstick for measuring the computer power of exported computers. By way of comparison, the forthcoming 64-bit Itanium processor from Intel Corp. can perform 5,600 MTOPS, according to the company.

The new regulations made no changes to the near-embargo on computer exports to Iraq, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan and Syria, the countries that make up tier 4.

The relaxation is the fifth revision to U.S. export control parameters since 1993. The White House said it reflected the Clinton Administration's efforts to ensure effective controls on militarily sensitive technology while taking into account the increased availability of commodity products, such as servers and workstations.

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