Japan to Lift Restrictions on Chip Material Exports to South Korea
(Bloomberg) -- Shares of Korean electronics makers surged after Japan said it’ll roll back export restrictions of key semiconductor materials, laying to rest concern about the fragility of an important link in the tech supply chain.
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SK Hynix Inc. jumped as much as 7.3%, the biggest intraday rise in more than two months Friday. Samsung Electronics Co. rose more than 2% and LG Electronics Inc. gained as much as 1.7%
Japan said it plans to ease licensing requirements on fluorinated polyimide, hydrogen fluoride and photoresists — all essential ingredients for the manufacture of displays and semiconductors that go into gadgets including Apple Inc. iPhones. The announcement was made during the first formal summit between the two nations’ leaders held on Japanese soil in more than a decade.
Japan began requiring licenses to export the compounds to South Korean firms in 2019, amid a dispute over compensation for Korean workers forced to work in Japanese mines and factories during its 1910-1945 colonial rule over the peninsula.
The curbs roiled South Korea’s biggest companies, prompting Seoul to file a complaint to the World Trade Organization. While the restrictions did little to affect shipments of the materials, they were perceived as a threat to hurt Seoul economically, and helped drive the two US allies further apart.
A breakthrough came last week after South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said companies from his country, rather than Japanese ones, would finance a foundation set up to address the forced labor dispute. South Korea has also said it will drop its complaint to the World Trade Organization.
The thaw has only begun, however. Japan hasn’t decided when it will ease the export restrictions. Nor has it decided whether to categorize South Korea a most-favored trading partner again, Japan’s Trade Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters Friday.
The three materials that had most concerned Seoul are controlled almost wholly by Japanese companies such as JSR Corp., Shin-Etsu Chemical Co. and Tokyo Ohka Kogyo Co. — a left-over legacy from when Japan led the world in semiconductor technology in the 1980s.
Tokyo had expressed concerns about South Korea’s export controls when it tightened exports on the three chemical products. At the time, some politicians claimed that there were unauthorized re-shipments of the chemicals to other countries, but Seoul disputed the allegations. Seoul’s export controls have since improved, Japanese trade ministry officials said.
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