Marking a thawing of relations between the Japanese and South Korean governments, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has partially removed export restrictions on photoresists to South Korea. As a result, Japanese companies can now obtain a ‘bulk’ license to supply three years’ worth of photoresists to companies like LG, Samsung, and SK Hynix rather than seek approval for each shipment. However not all restrictions have been removed: exports of fluorinated polyimides and high-purity hydrogen fluoride from Japan to South Korea are still restricted.

Earlier this year the Japanese government imposed restrictions on exports of three industrial chemicals to South Korea as a consequence of a long-lasting political conflict. Starting early July, Japanese manufacturers were required to get approvals for individual exports when shipping fluorinated polyimides (used both for LCDs and OLEDs), photoresists, and high-purity hydrogen fluoride (used to make chips, such as LSI, DRAM and NAND devices). And with Japanese companies providing 70% - 90% of the global supply of these chemicals, South Korean firms such as LG, Samsung, and SK Hynix had no other practical options. So the trade restrictions certainly made lives of both South Korean and Japanese companies a lot harder, though it's not clear how much the relatively short-lived policy actually hurt South Korea’s high-tech sector.

Ultimately, it would seem that the two countries have since then been able to find some common ground and increase exports/imports. The Japanese government announced the relaxed rules late last week, with all of this coming shortly ahead of a Tuesday meeting between prime minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean president Moon Jae-in.

In the meantime however, this is just the first step in a larger process of resuming more normal trade relations between the two countries. South Korea and its high-tech manufacturers are still on the receiving end of export restrictions on fluorinated polyimides and high-purity hydrogen fluoride, as those rules remain in place. South Korean authorities are still looking to get the rest of the restrictions removed and to build on this "partial progress" as part of a more fundamental resolution fo the issue.

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Sources: Reuters, The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry

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  • drexnx - Monday, December 23, 2019 - link

    this whole move was extremely short-sighted on the part of the Japanese. These fabs need those chemicals, and if they can't get them from Japan reliably, someone else will start making them and take advantage of the upheaval. Most likely someone in the PRC.
  • MarcusMo - Monday, December 23, 2019 - link

    Knowing nothing about chemicals, how hard are these specific chemicals to produce in large quantities?
  • Cullinaire - Monday, December 23, 2019 - link

    In regards to these chemicals in particular, the Japanese specialized in making them in especially high purity which is required for semiconductor production. That's why this was a big deal.
  • TomWomack - Monday, December 23, 2019 - link

    Very pure hydrogen fluoride will require building a specialised factory with piping lined with ultra-high-purity Teflon, and will probably require building a hydrogen fluoride distillation tower which is not a piece of chemical process engineering anyone would volunteer to do (though marginally easier than trying to start off super-pure by distilling your liquid fluorine). A few years of expensive R&D and the significant risk that you miss something in the pilot plant and the first full-scale factory fails to produce saleable product - it's not an area in which you could do much in the way of field-expedient repair.
  • drexnx - Monday, December 23, 2019 - link

    funny enough, the PRC is where most TFA/PTFE lined valves are made.

    handling HF isn't THAT bad... it's not foreign to any petrochem CE who's done anything with an HF alky unit.

    (the polyimides should be the easiest of the three to produce)
  • Santoval - Saturday, December 28, 2019 - link

    I have no idea how difficult it is to make fluorinated polyimides (apparently they are low k dielectric polymers) but as others mentioned it is particularly hard to make hydrogen fluoride at high purity. It is a substance that can kill you in multiple ways and I believe it is also highly hydrophilic. It mops up every bit of moisture because it wants to form hydrofluoric acid. That is still dangerous but easier to work with, but the semiconductor industry prefers its anhydrous form (hydrogen fluoride) because it's more suitable for their needs.
  • Doh! - Monday, December 23, 2019 - link

    The actual impact for the export restriction has been minimal at most. The Korean companies (LG, Samsung, SK) already have switched suppliers from the Japanese companies to other Korean companies that have ramped up production of these specialized chemicals (passed the qualification process as well).
  • drexnx - Monday, December 23, 2019 - link

    so METI pointlessly shot their chemical industry in the foot and gave an opening for competitors to get their material qualified
  • jackcoke - Tuesday, December 24, 2019 - link

    Blame Shinzo Abe. Dude's always been a hard-liner when it comes to foreign relations.
  • s.yu - Saturday, December 28, 2019 - link

    Blame Abe? You have not the slightest idea how this played out do you, this is the only time Japan didn't yield to SK's extortion, by going through historical junk asking for "compensation" that SK previously signed treaties, numerous times, to bury, because each time they got what they wanted.

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