South Korea may bring the US’ request for data disclosures by local chipmakers up for discussion at a working-level bilateral dialogue, South Korean Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Moon Sung-wook said Tuesday, amid growing unease here over the impact of the US’ strategic interest in the chip industry.
“The industry is taking this very sensitively, so the government would discuss the matter (with the US side), if needed, to verify,” the minister told The Korea Herald, adding that a meeting is planned to follow up on the South Korea-US summit held in May.
“I can’t tell you when, but we’ll deliver the voices from the industry. The talks would begin from the working level and go up,” he said after attending a meeting with chip industry executives at a hotel in Seoul. It was held on the sidelines of a launch ceremony for an industrywide body for Korean chipmakers aimed at increasing cooperation within the industry and enhancing their competitiveness.
The minister’s comments came after US authorities in a virtual meeting on Thursday requested chipmakers around the world provide information regarding their production, including sensitive trade secrets such as order backlogs, technology nodes and estimated sales, for the purpose of addressing the current auto chip shortage.
Following the meeting, the US Commerce Department posted a list of questions on the Federal Register homepage, asking companies to answer them by Nov. 8.
In earlier interviews with The Korea Herald, officials of major Korean chipmakers expressed concerns over sharing such sensitive data. Some officials have called the move “unprecedented” and “unthinkable.”
The Korean minister said he discussed the matter with around 30 executives in the Korean semiconductors industry during the meeting, and mentioned the government will take a realistic and practical approach through its partnership with the US.
Presidents Moon Jae-in and Joe Biden in their May summit pledged to enhance the countries’ economic partnership in the key strategic industries of chips, batteries and vaccines.
In July, the two sides agreed to create an exclusive channel for discussion on supply chains and trade of technologies as a follow-up measure of the summit.
As for the newly formed industry body encompassing the country’s two major chipmakers Samsung Electronics and SK hynix, it is expected to serve as a bridge between the Korean government and private stakeholders to discuss a wide range of pending issues arising from the global chip war.
The US move to pressure chipmakers to share key data is one of the topics the body will address.
In South Korea, chips account for one-fifth of its total exports. The country has seen a rising need for close consultation between government and industry representatives to better respond to global headwinds in the chip market, as major powers including the US compete to realign global supply chains to their benefit. In May, Seoul unveiled the K Semiconductor Strategy, which includes its first special act intended at providing tailored support to the local chip industry.
Tuesday’s event drew around 30 industry executives, including Samsung Electronics President Lee Jung-bae and SK hynix CEO Lee Seok-hee, where they discussed the progress of major agendas included in the government policy package.
SK hynix CEO Lee said, “It’s too soon to comment about the US government’s questionnaire, but the company will take a look at it.”
Lee added the request to provide such information is “voluntary.“
During the meeting, the minister and industry officials also talked about achievements of the government plan for the chip industry.
The Korea Semiconductor Industry Association said the institution had executed 86 investment projects that amounted to 22 billion won ($18.6 million) from the semiconductor fund created in May.
An additional 25 billion won in investments will be made in supplier ON Semiconductor to help increase production of automotive chips, including power management chips, the association said.
Samsung said it signed an agreement with the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology to establish a new academic department to nurture a new workforce for the industry. KAIST plans to mentor 131 students with semiconductor majors in 2022 and triple its budget for the semiconductors department.
By Song Su-hyun and Kim Byung-wook (email@example.com) (firstname.lastname@example.org