Is Japan stealing a march on its rivals when it comes to investment by TSMC?

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TSMC, the Taiwanese chip manufacturer, has made a number of significant announcements in recent years regarding chip manufacturing overseas.

But while investments in the US – in particular its new factory in Arizona – and in Germany have been making the headlines it appears that Japan is increasingly drawing the attention of TSMC as a new production base.

Industry sources claim that ongoing problems in recruiting staff to its Arizona facility, where it has not only struggled to recruit qualified workers but has also faced pushback from unions on efforts to bring in workers from Taiwan, mean that the company has growing confidence in Japan as a manufacturing base.

TSMC is currently building an $8.6 billion fab as a chipmaking hub on the island of Kyushu, which is on track to start producing mature-technology chips in 2024.

Again, sources suggest that the chipmaker is considering adding capacity and a second fab in Japan.

An expansion by TSMC would give a boost to efforts by Japan to regain its lost status as a chip manufacturing powerhouse and would also help to support its automotive and electronics industries.

The company’s plans to produce advanced chips at its Arizona plant has been affected by a shortage of skilled workers which in turn has forced it to push back production at the fab by a year to 2025.

The US, Japan and Germany have all offered TSMC billions of dollars in subsidies to support the construction of new fabs.

But could Japan be stealing a march on its rivals?  According to sources TSMC views Japan as a more natural fit in terms of work culture, and its government is easy to deal with while it also offers a network of chip equipment and materials suppliers.

With TSMC investing billions in fabs in Germany and the US doubts have been growing over work culture and the actual costs of investment which have proved in the US to be 50 per cent higher than in Taiwan, compared to initial estimates that suggested it would be 20 per cent more expensive.

While costs will be an issue in Japan it retains plenty of significant advantages over its competitors.