SHANGHAI, China As China's largest semiconductor equipment show gets underway, an industry lobby group is once again criticizing the Washington's policies on granting export permits for advanced chip-making gear that would be used in Chinese factories.
"The Wassenaar Arrangement . . . is in need of repair. It is not a consistent approach," said Stan Meyers, president and CEO of Semiconductor Equipment Manufacturing International (SEMI), which is hosting Semicon-China.
The United States and a consortium of about 30 other countries, under an agreement known as the Wassenaar Arrangement, closely regulate the export of products that could be used to enhance the military capabilities of another country, such as semiconductor equipment.
China is one of the countries targeted by the guidelines, with its fabs restricted to technology that lags behind the state of the art by at least one generation. The Wassenaar Arrangement's guidelines are not binding, so participating countries may still make individual decisions about whether to grant export licenses for sophisticated technology.
SEMI has lobbied for loosening of the trade rules laid out in Wassenaar, an effort that intensified as the equipment industry entered its worst downturn three years ago. Recently, the US government said it would support a relaxation of export controls for U.S.-made assembly and test equipment in China starting in 2005.
Meyers acknowledged that progress, but said it wasn't enough. "There has been some acceleration in the U.S. in terms of [export] licensing but we still have a very long way to go to improve that situation," Meyers said.
The China market for new semiconductor equipment was $1.16 billion in 2003, according to SEMI. In contrast, Taiwan companies spent $2.9 billion and the global market totaled $22.2 billion.