SEMI Urges a Complete Overhaul of U.S. Export Control List
SEMI recently submitted recommendations to the U.S. Department of Commerce in response to their request for ideas on ways to modernize the Commerce Control List (CCL). This list outlines which “dual-use” products, software and technology require an export license. Dual-use items are those which can be used for either civilian or military purposes. The letter commended the Commerce Department for reviewing the CCL at this time and urged them to take a serious look at the semiconductor equipment and materials (SEM) controls which are out-of-date and in need of reform.
In a nine-page letter to the Department of Commerceon November 1, 2007, Vicki Hadfield, SEMI North America President, stated, “SEM controls are perhaps the purest example of CCL controls that cry out for fundamental reform…the U.S. government should start from scratch and determine what, if any, SEM controls should be in place based on a collaborative project with the industry. At the same time, we urge that the U.S. government immediately expand application to SEM of license exceptions and verified end-user authorizations to ensure that modern SEM products can be exported to civilian, commercial semiconductor production facilities without a license.”
Industry Impact of Cold War Era Export Controls
Currently, the semiconductor equipment and materials industry is highly controlled and many sales to China and other destinations require a license. The equipment for many of the key process steps for manufacturing semiconductors is subject to control: epitaxial growth, ion implantation, etch, chemical vapor deposition, lithography, some masks, and more.
Unfortunately, the controls for semiconductor equipment and materials are outdated. The U.S. government has not completed a thorough examination of SEM controls since the “Core List” exercise of 1990-91 in which government and industry comprehensively reviewed the control list and focused controls on strategic items. Despite being commercial items, SEM products remain subject to restrictive and out-of-date Cold War-era export rules. Current controls capture mainstream commercial manufacturing technologies and they have not kept pace with the rapidly changing marketplace. In addition, the U.S. industry is hampered by long application processing times, the repetitive nature of licensing, and occasionally lost sales.
Summary of SEMI Recommendations
SEMI strongly urged the U.S. government to conduct a comprehensive review of semiconductor equipment and materials controls with full government and industry participation. The last comprehensive review of SEM controls occurred 17 years ago, but the semiconductor industry creates a new technology generation about every 18 months. SEMI recommends that the U.S. government start with a blank slate, and assess dual-use products based on: justifiability, effectiveness and foreign availability, clarity, transparency, and continuous improvement.
Secondly, SEMI encouraged the government to reassess the parameters for SEM controls. Several of the controls are based on feature size and industry experts question whether this is the correct kind of parameter to use.
Finally, SEMI wants the government to make license requirements depend on the character of end-users and end-uses. SEM has no function or utility by itself; it must be combined with equipment and technology to contribute to the production of an integrated circuit. Fabs are complex and expensive, so there are few end-users for SEM, and these end-users are large and highly visible. SEMI recommended creating a new license exception for SEM and related software and technology. In addition, SEMI recommended that the Validated End-User program be expanded, especially for larger end-users with a high volume of licenses.
If you have questions or comments on the SEMI stance on the Commerce Control list, please email Maggie Hershey at email@example.com.