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Photonics Commercialization Efforts Stall at the Border

Photonics Spectra
Jan 1999
Robert C. Pini, News Editor

As photonics manufacturers transfer their once-military technologies into global industrial and medical markets, they face a bevy of sometimes confusing -- and potentially expensive -- export restrictions.
In the days of Cold War tensions, the border between East and West was cloaked with spy-novel intrigue, and exporting was a black-and-white matter. For photonics manufacturers, seeking an export license was a predictable, if onerous, part of doing business abroad.
Today export controls on high technology are more relaxed, and they evolve quickly. Global moves to revise controls have considerably eased restrictions. This has reduced the bureaucracy, and now complying with government regulations appears to be easier than ever.
Don't be misled. Compliance is not fool's play. Today's political situation makes export licensing less predictable in some ways than in the past. With a change in export policy, manufacturers can suddenly find that an old customer has been blacklisted. Or an export license application review can be more discretionary, with an unexpected denial.
To understand how these export control laws affect the marketplace, Photonics Spectra talked with dozens of manufacturers and government sources throughout the world. For some manufacturers, controls limit access to international markets and take a bite out of potential business. For others, the export licenses are just a time-consuming hurdle. But for all companies, a liberalized exporting environment requires them to stay abreast of regulatory changes if they are to avoid costly violations.

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