On 28 September 2021, European Commissioner Thierry Breton embarked on a ‘Tech & Chips Tour’ of Japan and South Korea. Mr Breton met with political leaders and CEOs of major technology companies, with semiconductor-related issues high on the agenda.
Taking place against the background of global chip shortages, this tour reflects the EU’s desire to strengthen cooperation and trade relations in the Asia-Pacific region. And more specifically, the EU is seeking to increase the resilience of supply chains, particularly in semiconductor technology.
Constructive Discussions in Japan
Mr Breton’s tour started in Japan, where he met political and business leaders. They included Japanese ministers responsible for trade, economic and digital issues. In addition, the Commissioner held talks with Nobuhiro Endo, Chairman of the Board of NEC; the CEO of Fujitsu, Takahito Tokita, and Mr Toshiki Kawai, the CEO of Tokyo Electron (TEL), one of the major Japanese semiconductor companies.
Throughout his tour, Mr Breton emphasised the importance of the region for the semiconductor industry. In a tweet, he described Asia as the “epicentre of the geopolitics of semiconductors”. He also tweeted about constructive exchanges in preparation for the upcoming EU Chips Act.
Supply Chains and Cooperation with South Korea
The positive theme continued on the South Korean leg of the visit. There Mr Breton met senior leaders from chip maker Samsung and political leaders including Moon Sung Wook, the Minister of Trade, Industry & Energy. Following the talks, Mr Breton indicated that the EU and South Korea will strengthen cooperation on chip supply chains and research.
Besides semiconductor issues, the Tech & Chips tour provided an opportunity for discussion on topics relevant for the wider Electronic Components & Systems (ECS) industry. Among these were communication technologies (5G/6G), cloud & edge computing, standardisation, cybersecurity, data and AI.
New EU Indo-Pacific Strategy
The tour also underscores wider EU interests in Asia and beyond. Earlier in September, the EU External Action Service, announced that the EU is “… stepping up its strategic engagement with the vital Indo-Pacific region”.
In the digital domain, this translates into an ambition to explore opportunities for new Digital Partnership Agreements (such as the existing one with Japan) with partners who share the EU’s concerns and values. The EU is also seeking to “strengthen cooperation on research and innovation with like-minded regional partners under the ‘Horizon Europe’ programme”.
The EU – a Trusted Brand
EU President, Ursula von der Leyen, spoke of the importance of Asia and the EU Indo-Pacific strategy in her 2021 State of the Union address. She also referred to a new ‘Global Gateway’ initiative, which aims to position the EU as “a trusted brand around the world”.
Although each of these various strategies and initiatives has specific goals, cooperation based on shared values and resilient supply chains are recurring themes. As the EU goes forward with its ‘green and digital’ recovery and a sustainable digital transformation, these seem set to be priorities for Europe in the digital world.