No hydrogen fluoride, one of the three chemicals under strict export regulations by Japan, arrived in South Korea last month while imports jumped six-fold from Taiwan, data from customs office showed.
Japanese exports to Korea of the chemical used to clean circuits in the chipmaking process used to average 3,000 tons a month prior to the curbs but dropped to 529 tons in July, the first month Japan mandated the case-by-case permit, and hit zero in August.
On July 4, Tokyo tightened export controls of three materials – hydrogen fluoride, photoresist and fluorinated polyimide – that are necessary to produce semiconductors and display panels, dealing a heavy blow to Korea’s key export items. Japanese exporters must seek approval from authorities every time they ship the three chemicals to Korea, a process that could take up to 90 days.
Japan later upped the stakes by stripping Korea of its fast-track export status, expanding the scope of the restrictions to more than a thousand items. In response, Korea downgraded Japan from its own preferential trade partner list.
Japan’s move was widely viewed as retaliation for Korean court rulings that ordered Japanese companies to compensate victims of wartime forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of Korea. Earlier this month, Seoul filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization for Japan’s “discriminatory” and “politically motivated” actions targeting Korea.
In early August, Japan cleared the way for the first shipments of photoresist bound for Korea since the revised trade guideline. There were also reports that Japan endorsed exports of etching gas to Samsung Electronics’ chip facility in Xian, China, which was not captured in domestic data.
On Aug. 30, Tokyo permitted its first shipment of hydrogen fluoride to Korea, in what was seen as a move to prevent tensions from escalating further.
Japan is responsible for nearly 70 percent of the global production of high-purity hydrogen fluoride. The etching gas is vital in the chipmaking process as it is used to remove unnecessary parts on the circuit boards.
Korean companies have been on an aggressive hunt for Japanese substitutes since the export controls. Imports of high-purity hydrogen fluoride from Taiwan have particularly surged, with shipments jumping to 1,320 tons in August from 234 tons in June.
While this may be a reflection of Korea’s efforts to diversify its supply chain, it may be a way to indirectly access Japanese supplies as many Japanese companies are located in Taiwan, suggested Korea International Trade Association.
Samsung Electronics and LG Display have also started deploying local substitutes of hydrogen fluoride in their manufacturing lines.
*Original article online at https://pulsenews.co.kr/view.php?year=2019&no=736048