Update: US denies restricting exports of some Nvidia AI chips to 'Middle East' countries

Update: US denies restricting exports of some Nvidia AI chips to 'Middle East' countries
The denial from the US Commerce Department comes after it was reported that the US would be extending restrictions on the export of Nvidia and AMD AI chips to some Middle East states.
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One year ago, Nvidia said US officials told it to stop exporting the same two computing chips for AI work to China [CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty]

The US Commerce Department has denied reports that the US has restricted chip sales to the Middle East following reports that the US had increased its restrictions on the export of Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) artificial intelligence chips beyond current restriction to China.

The department, which administers licensing requirements on exports, said on Thursday through a spokesperson that the US "has not blocked chip sales to the Middle East" and declined to comment on whether it had imposed new requirements on specific US companies.

Nvidia said in a regulatory filing this week that the new curbs, which affect its A100 and H100 chips designed to speed up machine-learning tasks, would not have an "immediate material impact" on its results.

Rival AMD also received an informed letter with similar restrictions, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters, adding that the move has no material impact on its revenue.

US officials usually impose export controls for national security reasons. A similar move announced last year signaled an escalation of the US crackdown on China's technological capabilities, but it was not immediately clear what risks were posed by exports to the Middle East.

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In a separate statement, Nvidia said the new licensing requirement "doesn't affect a meaningful portion of our revenue. We are working with the U.S. government to address this matter."

Last September AMD said it had received new license requirements that would halt exports of its MI250 artificial-intelligence chips to China.

Nvidia, AMD and Intel have since then all disclosed plans to create less powerful AI chips that can be exported to the Chinese market.

Nvidia, which gave no reason for the new restrictions in the filing dated 28 August, last year said US officials informed them the rule "will address the risk that products may be used in, or diverted to, a 'military end use' or 'military end user' in China."

Nvidia this week did not specify which countries in the Middle East were affected. The company derived most of its $13.5 billion in sales in its fiscal quarter ended 30 July from the United States, China and Taiwan. About 13.9 percent of sales came from all other countries combined, and Nvidia does not provide a revenue breakout from the Middle East.

"During the second quarter of fiscal year 2024, the USG (US government) informed us of an additional licensing requirement for a subset of A100 and H100 products destined to certain customers and other regions, including some countries in the Middle East," Nvidia said in the 28 August filing.

Last year's announcements came as tensions bubbled over the fate of Taiwan, where chips for Nvidia and almost every other major chip firm are manufactured.

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In October 2022, the Biden administration went a step further when it published a sweeping set of export controls, including a measure to cut off China from certain semiconductor chips made anywhere in the world with US equipment. The move vastly expanded Washington's reach in its bid to slow Beijing's technological and military advances.

Japan and the Netherlands followed up with similar rules earlier this year.

Without American AI chips from companies like Nvidia and AMD, Chinese organizations will be unable to cost-effectively carry out the kind of advanced computing used for image and speech recognition, among many other tasks.

Image recognition and natural language processing are common in consumer applications like smartphones that can answer queries and tag photos. They also have military uses such as scouring satellite imagery for weapons or bases and filtering digital communications for intelligence-gathering purposes.

(This story has been updated to include a response from the US Commerce Department, as well as additional information)

(Reuters & The New Arab Staff)