Taiwan says US vaccine aid would help shield its chip industry as Biden seeks information sharing to ease supply crunch

Covid-19 vaccines, Covid-19 vaccine, Joe Biden

A senior Taiwan official said US assistance securing more Covid-19 vaccines could serve to protect the critical semiconductor industry at a time of tight chip supplies globally and a rising number of coronavirus cases on the island.

“While for now the uptick hasn’t had an impact, if it lasts too long there could be logistical problems,” James Lee, director general of Taipei’s cultural and economic office in New York, said in an interview Thursday. “That’s why it’s urgent. We hope the international community can help release vaccines as soon as possible to help control the outbreak.”

Beyond the humanitarian plea for help fighting the pandemic, Lee’s argument may resonate because of deep concern in US government and business about the shortage of chips used in everything from mobile phones to automobiles.

Taiwan is facing hundreds of untraceable infections after a year of being one of the biggest success stories of Covid-19 containment. The new surge has been confined so far mainly to the greater Taipei area and hasn’t affected the operations of Taiwan’s major technology companies, including Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), as most of their operations are located farther south.

Taiwan’s government earlier this week pledged to try to keep the world supplied with chips and projected a limited impact from its worst outbreak so far. Keeping up production is critical not just for Taiwan’s growth, but because the island is the world’s main supplier of advanced computer chips.

The concentration of chip manufacturing in Taiwan and a global shortage fuelled in part by the Covid-19 pandemic has quickly become a geopolitical issue, with governments around the world racing to secure additional supplies and vowing to build their own locally-based chip-manufacturing industries.

Although Taiwan has ranked among the top places in the world in its handling of the pandemic, it has been slower to acquire and distribute shots. So far, only 315,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine have been delivered to Taiwan.

Taiwan’s envoy in Washington, Hsiao Bi-khim, said on Friday that she has been trying to ensure that Moderna shots the government has ordered arrive in June. The island’s government is also in talks with the White House to get a portion of the 20 million US doses President Joe Biden has pledged to donate on top of the 60 million AstraZeneca shots.

Separately, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the Biden administration is exploring how to help semiconductor producers and buyers share supply chain information to alleviate the global chip supply crisis, and urged Congress to swiftly pass legislation to fund domestic production.

“There’s a lack of transparency right now in the supply chain,” Raimondo said on Thursday following a day of meetings with companies. “We are trying to figure out what role the government can and should play in increasing that information sharing and forecasting so we can alleviate the short-term crunch.”

Raimondo convened executives from the biggest chip makers, automakers and technology giants as a global semiconductor shortage weighs on those industries. The summit drew so much interest that it had to be split into two separate sessions, people familiar with the planning said.

Covid-19 vaccines, Covid-19 vaccine, Joe Biden

US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo met with industry executives to discuss the sharing of supply chain information to alleviate the global chip supply crisis. Photo: AP

Among the attendees were executives from companies including Apple, Google, Ford Motor Co, General Motors, AT&T, Cisco Systems, Verizon Communications, Samsung Electronics, Qualcomm, General Electric, GlobalFoundries and TSMC.

“This meeting was not about how do we fix the near term cause everybody knows that’s not something you can put a magic wand over to fix,” said Thomas Caulfield, chief executive officer of GlobalFoundries, who attended the meeting. “But let’s go do the things today that will fix this strategically, cause that’s the only thing we can do with industrial policies and governments getting involved. Everybody absolutely agreed to that.”

Participants said they saw the meeting mainly as an opportunity to communicate their concerns to the highest level in the US government.

Thursday’s meeting also comes as Biden prepares to welcome South Korean President Moon Jae-in to the White House on Friday. The US has been looking to South Korea’s advanced semiconductor industry as Washington seeks to secure supply chains in its trade battles with China.

In a push for better collaboration on the shortage, Raimondo on Friday will hold a meeting with South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee on supply chain issues. The meeting is also expected to include executives of South Korean chip companies.

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