Japan has approved the export of hydrogen fluoride to Samsung despite the material currently being under trade restrictions in relation to South Korean companies.
Hydrogen fluoride, also known as etching gas, is used for the cleaning and etching of silicon wafers, which are a core component for making the company’s semiconductor chips.
Japan initially cited national security concerns as the reason hydrogen fluoride was banned, with the country’s officials later clarifying that the material could be used to make poisonous gases.
The approval to export hydrogen fluoride will allow Samsung to start using the material early next year, South Korean national broadcaster KBS said.
Earlier this month, Japan approved the export of two separate batches of photoresist — another trade-restricted material — to Samsung, which is used for its EUV chip-making process.
Japan’s trade restrictions currently block the export of three materials — hydrogen fluoride, photoresist, and fluorinated polyimide — to South Korea, meaning that fluorinated polyimide is the only banned material to not receive approval for export to Samsung.
Prior to Japan’s decision to approve the export of hydrogen fluoride, Samsung had started looking for alternative import routes and testing other materials for its semiconductor production processes. The approval will likely abate Samsung’s investor and client concerns as the production of memory chips, an important commodity in the global tech industry, will not be affected by supply chain issues in the short term.
Despite the approval, the trade tension between the two Asian countries continues to escalate. Japan removed South Korea from its favoured trading partner list at the start of the month, while South Korea retaliated by pulling out of an intelligence sharing agreement with Japan.
Japan’s decision to impose trade restrictions against its Asian neighbour has widely been seen as retaliation against South Korea’s high court order in 2018 for Mitsubishi to provide compensation for its use of South Korean slave labourers during World War Two.
The delisting of South Korea as a favoured trade partner may have long-term consequences for the global production of tech goods.
Samsung boss JY Lee is reportedly planning talks with Japanese business leaders to discuss how to go forward with Japan’s export restrictions.
Samsung leader JY Lee has told the company’s semiconductor and display businesses to make contingency plans in the event that the trade dispute between South Korea and Japan continues to drag on.
The Japanese government is also seeking consultation on whether South Korea should be removed from its ‘white country list’.
Among the affected industries are the telecommunications, semiconductor manufacturing, and mobile phone manufacturing sectors.