Japan, Belgium to cooperate in chip production, development
Princess Astrid of Belgium (center at right), accompanied by Keidanren or Japan Business Federation Chairman Tokura Masakazu (center at left) arrives at a luncheon meeting at the Keidanren in Tokyo Tuesday, December 6, 2022.

TOKYO, Japan (AP) — A newly founded Japanese semiconductor company aiming to revive Japan's chip industry signed an agreement on Tuesday to collaborate with a Belgian research organisation in developing next-generation chips for production in Japan.

Economy and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters that the new company, Rapidus, which was launched last month by eight Japanese corporate giants including automakers, electronics and chip manufacturers, is teaming up with Imec, a Leuven, Belgium-based research organisation known for nanoelectronics and digital technologies key to developing next-generation chips.

"Cooperation with Imec in the area of semiconductor production at its international research facility, which ranks as one of Europe's best, is extremely meaningful," Nishimura told reporters.

The deal was signed by Rapidus President Atsuyoshi Koike and Imec president and CEO Luc Van den hove, who is in Japan as part of a business delegation led by Belgium's Princess Astrid.

Masakazu Tokura, the chairman of Keidanran, an influential Japanese business organisation, told the Belgian delegation that the two countries should expand their cooperation as the global security and economic environment becomes increasingly unstable. Tokura said he hopes to expand cooperation in green technology, cybersecurity and next-generation semiconductors.

Imec, or Interuniversity Microelectronics Center, is known for its expertise and technology needed to make advanced chips that require miniaturisation and extremely thin circuitry. The collaboration is aimed at helping Rapidus develop and mass produce 2-nanometer chips by 2027. The tie-up is the first known deal for Rapidus.

The Japanese consortium was founded with the aim of boosting home-made chip production to reduce Japan's heavy reliance on imported chips as part of the government's push to strengthen economic security. Its members include automaker Toyota Motor Corp, electronics makers Sony Group Corp and NEC Corp, SoftBank Corp, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp and computer memory maker Kioxia.

Japan's government is spending 70 billion yen (US$510 million) on measures to promote domestic manufacturing of chips, while working closely with its ally the United States.

Once a global leader in semiconductor development and production, Japan was slow to collaborate with foreign companies in developing more advanced technologies and fell behind global competitors including the US, Taiwan, South Korea and some European countries.

Rapidus plans to send engineers to Imec and forge ties with other research labs and companies outside Japan.

The pandemic and escalating US-China tensions have highlighted the risks of Japan's reliance on foreign suppliers, especially China, prompting the country to focus on building up its own manufacturing capacity.

Nishimura said at the signing event that he expects the deal will "contribute to establish designs and a manufacturing production base for next-generation semiconductors in the late 2020s, and strengthen semiconductor supply chain resiliency in like-minded countries and regions."

Keidanren or Japan Business Federation Chairman Tokura Masakazu delivers an opening remarks ahead of a luncheon meeting with Princess Astrid of Belgium and high-level business round table with Belgium delegation and representatives from the political and business worlds at the Keidanren in Tokyo Tuesday, December 6, 2022.
Then economic revitalization minister, Yasutoshi Nishimura, speaks during a press conference in Tokyo Wednesday, September 11, 2019. Nishimura told reporters Tuesday, December 6, 2022, that the new company, Rapidus, which was launched last month by eight corporate giants including automakers, electronics and chipmakers, will team up with the Imec, a Leuven, Belgium-based research organisation known for the nanoelectronics and digital technologies key to developing next-generation chips.
Belgium's Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib delivers a speech during a luncheon meeting with Princess Astrid of Belgium and high-level business round table with Belgium delegation and representatives from the political and business worlds at the Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) in Tokyo Tuesday, December 6, 2022.

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