Korean IC makers to suffer from photoresist shortage

July 08, 2019 //By Julien Happich
After the US-China trade war initiated by US president Trump on allegations of spying leveraging Huawei’s networking equipment, comes another trade war likely to add further complications to the global semiconductor industry, this time affecting South Korean chip makers thus far unaffected by US-China commercial tensions.

As reported by Korean news outlet etnews, the Japanese government is now regulating the sales of four types of photoresists to Korean chip makers, precisely at the wavelengths most needed for photolithography in wafer processing fabs, between 15nm and 193nm and between 1nm and 15nm.

Since Japan reportedly produces around 90% of photoresists worldwide, this ban would make it near impossible for South Korean tech giants such as Samsung Electronics, SK Hynix and LG Display to source them from elsewhere in high volumes.

In the first five months of this year, South Korea bought $103.52 million of photoresists from Japan and $28.44 million of hydrogen fluoride, an etching gas used for wafer processing also being regulated. The new regulation is seen by South Korea as a disguised retaliation for recent claims the country made to be compensated by Japanese companies involved in war crimes during the wartime mobilization of 1937-1945 when South Korea was still under Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945).

The new regulation comes on top of new tariffs on South Korean high-tech products exports to Japan, and increasingly in return, Japanese brands are being listed for boycott by consumers in South Korea.

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