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ASML lithography export licence revoked by Dutch Government following pressure from US

Written by Thu 4 Jan 2024

Image Credit: Reuters

The Dutch Government has partially revoked the export licence of Dutch semiconductor manufacturer, ASML, following pressure from the US Government to halt exports to China.

ASML was expected to export shipments of its NXT:2050i and NXT:2100i extreme ultraviolet lithography systems (EUVs) to China until January when new Dutch restrictions take effect. However, ASML had its license partially revoked by the Dutch Government, impacting a small number of customers in China.

“We do not expect the current revocation of our export license or the latest US export control restrictions to have a material impact on our financial outlook for 2023,” said ASML.

EUVs use lasers to assist in the creation of chip circuits. The lasers are used by chip producers like Samsung and Intel which are then implemented in technology like smartphones or military equipment.

ASML said it obtained further clarification of the scope and impact of the US export control regulations. The Dutch manufacturer added that the latest October 2023 export rules impose restrictions on certain mid-critical deep ultraviolet (DUV) immersion lithography systems for a limited number of advanced production facilities.

“ASML is fully committed to comply with all applicable laws and regulations including export control legislation in the countries in which we operate,” said the company.

Bloomberg reported US officials had previously contacted ASML requesting them to immediately stop pre-scheduled shipments of some of the machines to Chinese customers, citing people familiar with the matter who wished to remain anonymous.

US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, called the Dutch Government about the matter late last year. Bloomberg’s sources said shipments of a limited number of machines were cancelled following the US request. It was not clear how many were involved. 

China, ASML, and Lithography 

When asked about the Dutch Government’s decision to block exports ASML exports to China, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, urged the Netherlands to be impartial, respect market principles and the law, take practical actions to protect the common interests of both countries and their companies, and maintain the stability of international supply chains.

China has been ASML’s third-largest market following Taiwan and South Korea. In Q3 2023, the country accounted for 46% of the company’s sales.

In 2023, the US announced rules to restrict the exportation of ASML’s Twinscan NXT1930Di if it contained any US parts. 

Following the announcement, Dutch lawmakers challenged the Netherlands’ Trade Minister, Liesje Schreinemacher, about the appropriateness of the US-imposed rules regulating the export of an ASML chipmaking machine to China.

Reuters reported China is actively working to close the gap in lithography, driven by a large Government initiative aimed at establishing an independent semiconductor supply chain. 

Shanghai Micro Electronics Equipment (SMEE) is currently the sole identified manufacturer of lithography machines in the country, but it is perceived to lag significantly behind industry leaders such as ASML and Japanese counterparts.

US Bans Exports to China

In October, US export restrictions curbing the sale of high-end artificial intelligence chips to China came into effect on 16 November.

The new restrictions are aimed at preventing countries like China, Iran, and Russia from acquiring advanced AI chips like those designed by NVIDIA. They prohibit the sale of chips above a threshold of compute performance of connectivity. 

Since then, the US has been in talks with NVIDIA regarding the potential sale of AI chips to China, but stressed that the most advanced NVIDIA semiconductors cannot be sold to Chinese firms. 

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Written by Thu 4 Jan 2024

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