US semiconductor export control moratorium ends… What about Korean semiconductor factories?

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If extension is not granted for Samsung, SK, etc., individual review is required.
Delay in import of semiconductor equipment, concerns over technology leakage
There is a high possibility of an extension, but… Industry: “We desperately need to find a fundamental solution”

Next month marks one year since the U.S. government banned the export of semiconductor equipment by American companies to Chinese semiconductor manufacturers in an effort to prevent China from securing semiconductor technology.

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Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix’s Chinese factories have been allowed to import equipment without individual screening for the past year because this export control measure was postponed for one year. But sooner or later this grace period will end.

Although the industry sees a high possibility that the U.S. government will extend the moratorium, some are raising concerns about the sustainability of Korean semiconductor companies’ business in China.

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According to the industry on the 30th, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) announced export control measures on advanced computing semiconductor technology used in the military field as well as the development and maintenance of supercomputers on the 7th of last year (local time).

In particular, if an American company sells cutting-edge semiconductor manufacturing equipment to a Chinese company that produces semiconductor chips above a certain level, it must obtain individual permission. The criteria for ‘above a certain level’ are ▲DRAM of 18 nanometers (㎚) or less ▲NAND flash of 128 layers or more ▲Logic chips (16㎚ to 14㎚) using FinFET technology, etc.

In the case of foreign companies such as Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix, an agreement was reached with the U.S. Department of Commerce to receive equipment needed for semiconductor production facilities in China for one year without separate permission from the United States. However, as the deadline for receiving equipment without a permit review expires early next month, follow-up measures such as extending the grace period are necessary.

◆There is a high possibility of export control being postponed… Industry: “We can’t relax”

Currently, the possibility of the U.S. government suspending export controls is not confirmed.

In particular, the semiconductor industry is in a state of tension because Chinese companies such as Huawei are succeeding in producing 7-nano semiconductors on their own and the U.S. government believes that this could increase the level of regulation. Although the NAND flash produced by Samsung Electronics’ Xian factory in China is a legacy (mature) product, it is known to account for 40% of the company’s total production.

SK Hynix also produces 40% of its total DRAM production at its Wuxi factory and 20% of its total NAND flash production at its Dalian factory, which it acquired from Intel.

If Korean semiconductor companies in China are also subject to equipment export controls, local production in China may face difficulties.

The U.S. Department of State requires that semiconductor production facilities in China be individually reviewed if they are owned by a foreign company. Korean semiconductor companies have not been reviewed due to the grace period, but the new regulations are causing great inconvenience. In particular, in each equipment transaction, there is a significant burden of having to check whether the end user and intended use are transactions that require permission from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Some are concerned that Korean semiconductor companies’ equipment and facility technology may be leaked during the U.S. government’s review process.

◆Even if it is extended, it is risky… ‘Attention’ to long-term fundamental solution

Above all, the industry is raising concerns about the business structure of ‘sustaining’ Chinese business every year even if US export controls are extended. Since the memory semiconductor industry is a ‘timing industry’ that falls behind the competition if opportunities for product development and mass production are missed, a long-term solution must be prepared.

Accordingly, the Korean government and industry are said to request an ‘indefinite moratorium’ from the US government through the ‘verified end user (VEU)’ method. This is a method that allows the import of specific equipment without a deadline or separate permission, only to companies that have been pre-approved by the United States.

The governments of both Korea and the United States are holding last-minute discussions, including this, ahead of the end of the grace period next month. However, even if the new VEU method is introduced, it is still unclear how much the voices of Korean semiconductor companies will be accepted in designating the ‘equipment list’. This is because the United States is reluctant to import cutting-edge semiconductor equipment into China, so there may be differences of opinion on the list of permitted equipment.

Some say that there will be no major problems for Korean companies’ semiconductor business in China, given that the US’ China regulations are not intended to directly harm Korean memory semiconductors.

An industry official said, “If Korean semiconductor companies’ business in China stagnates and memory supply and demand problems arise in the global market, the damage may ultimately fall on American companies as well.” “This is why the U.S. Department of Commerce has no choice but to listen to the position of Korean semiconductor companies.” “He said.

Source: Donga

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