By Joo Kyung-don
SEOUL, Sept. 30 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is a key partner for Europe's semiconductor scheme, and local chipmakers are welcomed to benefit from its plan, a high-ranking European Union (EU) official said Thursday, as the bloc seeks to expand its presence in the technological race by joining hands with the Asian side.
Thierry Breton, the EU commissioner for internal market, said he will discuss opportunities and future objectives regarding the European Chips Act and the Indo-Pacific Strategy, including digital partnership agreements with South Korea, home to major chipmakers like Samsung Electronics Co. and SK hynix Inc.
He was scheduled to talk with South Korean ministers and also meet with Samsung's foundry business chief Choi Si-young and SK hynix CEO Lee Seok-hee while touring their facilities during his two-day visit.
"Everybody understands semiconductors are extremely important part of our industrial strategy," Breton said in an interview with reporters in Seoul. "I think it's fair to say that geostrategy of semiconductors is not in the U.S. or in Europe, but it's here in Asia. Of course, Korea is a very important partner in this matter."
Breton's visit came as global chip shortages drag down European companies' efforts to recover from the pandemic.
Against this backdrop, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen earlier this month presented the European Chips Act, which is aimed at boosting production capacity, strengthening research capabilities and diversifying its supply chain.
Europe targets its chip production to represent 20 percent of the global market by 2030, up from the current 10 percent.
"No one will be able to do it alone, so that's why we believe (it's) important to do this with key partners," he said.
His visit to South Korea, which came after Japan, can be seen as Europe's move to pressure South Korea to make investments, specifically building chip fabrication factories, and help the bloc to deal with the chip shortage crisis.
But the former French finance minister emphasized that he is not here to request or get support but to simply explain that there are lots of opportunities and that both sides can seek mutual benefits.
"If Korean companies are willing to benefit from partnerships, they are welcomed," he said. "But I'm not here to ask for anything."
Samsung and SK hynix currently do not have chip manufacturing plants in Europe, though they do run research facilities in the region.
Both companies have been trying to expand their capacity amid global chip shortages, especially in the foundry sector.
Samsung, the world's No. 2 foundry firm behind Taiwan's TSMC, already announced it will build a US$17 billion fab in the U.S., though its exact location has yet to be confirmed. SK hynix, a traditional memory chip maker, recently said it is looking to double its foundry capacity with possible M&A deals.
"I know these companies very well from my past experiences, and of course, it's not the first time I'm meeting with these companies," Breton, former CEO of France Telecom, said.
"I'm not here to discuss implementations in Europe. The companies are already in Europe, doing significant activities including R&D."
Intel Corp. recently announced that it would invest up to US$95 billion in Europe over the next decade, and the U.S. chip titan is expecting big subsidies from the EU.
Breton said if South Korean companies are to make investments in Europe, he will be reviewing offering same kind of incentives that the EU is considering for Intel.
"It's my role to offer the same thing also to our Asian partners, including Korea, to be able to benefit (from the) same kind of incentives and subsidies if they wish," he said.
With the South Korean government officials, Breton said he will exchange ideas on future technologies, such as 5G, quantum computing and artificial intelligence, and discuss platforms regulation and e-government issues.
He was scheduled to meet with South Korea's Industry Minister Moon Sung-wook and Trade Minister Yeo Han-koo.
"We are ready to re-evaluate strengths for both sides to continue (to) enhance cooperation and partnerships here," he said.