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Solving the microchip shortage

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As companies begin to feel the sting of an ongoing semiconductor shortage, leaders in the United States, the European Union and Asian nations are scrambling to ease the snags in the supply chains for chips — and reshore manufacturing of these vital components.

This National Press Foundation briefing will explain how the chip market got so concentrated, how major economies, including the United States and China, came to outsource this critical component to Taiwan, and why new semiconductor plants are so expensive to build, at US$15 billion each.

We’ll learn about plans by the Biden administration to strengthen the semiconductor supply chain, and plans in Congress to direct US$52 billion in emergency spending toward domestic chip manufacturing.

We’ll also discuss whether the chip shortage is uniting the US and the EU, which battled over trade during the Trump administration but are now set to announce a partnership aimed at reinforcing the supply of semiconductors in both regions.

The global tech sector is heavily dependent on just a handful of semiconductor manufacturers, dominated by the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC). As tensions between China and Taiwan increase, that supply chain looks increasingly risky. While Intel Corp. in the US and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. in South Korea remain major players, it’s TSMC that companies have come to rely on for the advanced logic chips they need to power everything from mobile phones to smart refrigerators to cars. In the words of a Bloomberg reporter in this overview of the issue: “Everybody wants TSMC to do their best stuff.”

Opinion is divided about whether the chip shortage is starting to ease. Goldman Sachs forecasts improvement but the head of Intel says it could take up to two years to resolve. Meanwhile, Ford Motor Co. is among the latest to announce manufacturing slowdowns because of chip shortages, which it said would cost about US$2.5 billion in 2021. Stellantis NV is laying off workers in Detroit because it can’t get chips for its Jeeps.

This briefing will help journalists who are not familiar with the semiconductor crisis explore how the chip bottleneck could slow tech advances, roil national security and hit consumers and businesses in their pocketbooks. Speakers include:

  • Alex Capri, Research Fellow, Hinrich Foundation and Visiting Senior Fellow, National University of Singapore Business School
  • Debby Wu, Asia Tech Reporter, Bloomberg News, Taipei City, Taiwan
  • Mung Chiang, Dean of College of Engineering, Purdue University