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Semiconductors

EU commissioner visits Japan and South Korea to discuss Chips Act

Critical worldwide semiconductor shortages stem from China-US tension

European Commissioner Thierry Breton has been seeking Asian support for the EU's new semiconductor strategy. 

TOKYO -- A top official from the European Union concluded meetings in Tokyo on Tuesday as part of an effort to secure international partnerships for the proposed European Chips Act.

"The epicenter of the geopolitics of semiconductors is here in Asia, and that's why I'm here," said Thierry Breton, the EU commissioner for internal market.

Breton's exchanges with counterparts in Japan and tomorrow in South Korea come as the global shortage of semiconductors hampers European companies, from automakers to broadband providers.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, announced the Chips Act earlier in September as the bloc's strategy to secure chip components, bring production onshore and invest in research.

"These components are becoming so precious, so critical, that we are seeing some political impact," said Breton.

Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, Breton pointed to tension between the U.S. and China as a key reason for the global supply crunch. Both powers are shoring up domestic chipmaking capabilities, with the Biden administration proposing similar legislation to support onshore semiconductor production.

"We are in the same context -- we are in the midst of huge tension which has not decreased between the U.S. and China," Breton said.

Breton touted Europe's leaders in semiconductor research. These include Belgium's Internuniversity Microelectronics Center (IMEC), which is developing 2-nanometer chip technology.

Breton said IMEC's 2-nanometer technology has attracted interest from chipmakers in South Korea and Taiwan, which can produce about 43% of the world's chips at present. South Korea's Samsung is one of three companies able to manufacture chips with under 10-nanometer circuitry.

Japan has meanwhile seen its share of the global chip market fall from half to 10% in the past 30 years. Breton met in Tokyo with Nobuhiro Endo, chairman of NEC, one of Japan's remaining semiconductor champions.

The EU's Indo-Pacific strategy released earlier this month stopped short of proposing a formal pact with Taiwan, despite a report from the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee calling for a bilateral investment agreement with the island.

"We send a lot of equipment from Europe to Taiwan [and] we have very productive discussions with Taiwanese companies," Breton said. "Our strategy on the Indo-Pacific is free from our approach to Taiwan -- we are going to continue our cooperation with strategic sectors."

Digital partnership agreements with Japan, South Korea and Singapore were also included in the EU's Indo-Pacific strategy. Breton said his discussions in Tokyo laid out deliverables on 5G technologies, quantum computing, artificial intelligence as well as semiconductors for the next bilateral digital summit in the spring.

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