Japan Partly Removes Restrictions on Photoresists Exports to South Korea

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