U.S. eases supercomputer export controls

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U.S. export controls on faster computers and semiconductors to some countries were eased with yesterday's publication of revised regulations by the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Export Administration.

The revised export controls alter the export classifications of some countries, loosening restrictions on computers and semiconductors shipped to those nations. The revisions now in effect were published yesterday in the Federal Register. President Bill Clinton recommended the policy changes last month. This is the third revision of U.S. export controls since Clinton took office in 1993.

Restrictions remain in place for so-called Tier III countries, which are India, Pakistan, Israel, China, Russia and 44 others. The export regulations rank countries into four tiers, with specific restrictions related to the different levels. For instance, the Tier IV countries of Iraq, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Cuba, Sudan and Syria are under a "virtual embargo" of U.S. computer exports. No changes in that category are planned.

Congress must approve easing restrictions on exports to Tier III countries, and even after such approval, changes require a six-month waiting period, according to a department spokesman. However, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) has proposed legislation that would reduce that review period to 30 days.

Clinton said at the time he proposed the changes that they are needed because the strict U.S. export controls hurt the competitiveness of U.S. companies. Rapid advances in technology have led to ever-faster computers and semiconductors working their way into mainstream markets. Export restrictions were intended in large measure to keep supercomputers and other advanced machines from U.S. companies out of the hands of nations inclined to use such technology for nefarious means.

"What was controlled in 1993 as a supercomputer is now less powerful than the most-used laptops," Commerce Secretary William Daley said at the July press briefing, where the new policy was proposed.

Among other changes, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Brazil were moved from Tier II to Tier I. Those countries now join Western Europe, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand in the least-restricted classification. They may obtain U.S. exports of all computers without prior U.S. government review, but companies have to keep records on higher-performance machines and provide documents about those shipments to the U.S. government when directed to do so.

The full text of export controls, along with a wealth of related information, including details for companies that want to apply for licenses, is available at the Bureau of Export Administration's Web site. The Department of Commerce in Washington is on the Web at www.doc.gov.

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