© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The logo of Samsung Electronics is seen at its office building in Seoul, South Korea, March 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/


By Byungwook Kim and Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – A week-long strike by truck drivers in South Korea has disrupted shipments to China of a key cleaning agent used by makers of semiconductor chips, the Korean International Trade Association (KITA) said on Tuesday.

It was the first sign that the strike was affecting the global supply chain of chip production, having already cost South Korean industry more than $1.2 billion in lost output and unfilled deliveries.

KITA said a Korean company that produces isopropyl alcohol (IPA), a chemical used in the cleaning of chip wafers, faced difficulties in shipping to a Chinese company that in turn supplies wafers to chipmakers.

About 90 tonnes of the material, or a week’s worth of shipments, have been delayed, the trade body said in a statement.

It corrected an earlier statement that production had been disrupted, and clarified that the Chinese firm does not supply wafers to Samsung Electronics (OTC:) Co Ltd’s chip production operations in China.

Also facing problems because of the strike are IPA shipments by a major South Korean petrochemical company from its plant in the port city of Yeosu.

Only an “essential amount” is being let through, said a person familiar with the matter, who sought anonymity and declined to identify the company because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The truckers’ union, which is protesting against soaring fuel prices and demanding guarantees of minimum pay, vowed to continue the strike after four rounds of talks with the government failed to find a resolution.

In a statement on Tuesday, it also condemned the transport ministry for being “neither willing to talk nor capable of resolving the current situation”.

Transport Minister Won Hee-ryong ruled out acceptance of any demand that sought to use the national economy as a hostage.

“The government will continue to listen to reasonable arguments but strictly respond to illegal actions in accordance with laws and principle,” Won said, according to a ministry statement.

Analysts expect the strike’s impact on domestic chipmakers to be limited, however, saying that both Samsung (KS:) and the world’s second largest memory chip maker, SK Hynix, usually keep on hand materials sufficient for three months or more.

“Both drastically increased inventory since Japan’s export curbs on chip material in 2019 highlighted the issue,” said Ahn Ki-hyun, senior executive director of the Korea Semiconductor Industry Association.

Small business owners voiced concern about the havoc a lengthy strike could deal to the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, as the truckers had launched their action less than two months after social distancing norms were lifted.

“Small business owners are waiting helplessly,” a dozen lobby groups such businesses said in a joint statement, adding that shipments of liquor, food, farm and fisheries products had been blocked.

An official of HiteJinro Co Ltd, the biggest brewer of soju, the South Korean liquor, said its shipments were cut about 40% by the strike.

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