WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 - An order issued this week by President George W. Bush will ease Cold War-era restrictions on the export of much of the computer hardware used by genomics and biotech firms overseas, in one case more than doubling the maximum processor speed allowed under current export guidleines.
White House officials on Wednesday announced that the Administration would relax export licensing requirements for American-made supercomputers and microprocessors like the ones used in data mining, genomic sequencing, and high-throughput proteomics research.
At least one leading American commercial computer exporter expects the policy change to smooth sales in potentially huge research markets like Asia.
Under federal trade regulations imposed during the Cold War, computer makers were required to obtain licenses before exporting any system capable of executing more than 85,000 Millions of Theoretical Operations per Second. The regulations applied to certain nuclear-armed and potentially rival nations including China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and Russia.
Bush's executive order will now require licenses for systems exceeding 190,000 MTOPS—more than twice the previous maximum. Furthermore, licensing regulations for single microprocessors—now applying to exported processors topping 6,500 MTOPS—will soon apply to chips exceeding 12,000 MTOPS.
The licensing rules were put in place during the technological race that accompanied the Cold War with the former Soviet Union. During that era, China, India, and the other countries on the potential rivals list were classified as ‘Tier 3' nations for the purposes of controlling the flow of high-capacity computers applicable to weapons design or sophisticated code breaking.
"These changes will advance the President's goal of updating the US export control system so that it protects US national security, and at the same time, allows America's high-tech companies to innovate and successfully compete in today's marketplace," read a White House statement announcing the changes.
One leading US computer maker said that it expects to benefit from the relaxed regulations.
"Easing these restrictions does create opportunities for vendors like us," said Sia Zadeh, the group manager for life sciences at Sun Microsystems. "It will help the life-sciences area."
The company makes several systems that "far exceed" the speed restrictions still levied on computer exports, Zadeh said in an interview.
The life sciences sector "is considered a billion[dollar]-plus market for us," Zadeh said. Sun, which shares the top life-sciences IT slots with IBM and Compaq, gleans about half of its total revenue from overseas sales, he said.