Asian firms shuffle production around the region as US-China tariffs war rages

Asian companies such as South Korea’s LG Electronics are making contingency plans in case the China-US trade war continues or deepens. (Reuters)
Updated 23 September 2018
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Asian firms shuffle production around the region as US-China tariffs war rages

  • Some governments, notably in Taiwan and Thailand, are actively encouraging companies to move work from China
  • Some Asian governments hope for an economic and strategic boost from the US-China conflict

SEOUL/TOKYO: A growing number of Asian manufacturers of products ranging from memory chips to machines tools are moving to shift production from China to other factories in the region in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports.
Companies including SK Hynix of South Korea and Mitsubishi Electric, Toshiba Machine Co. and Komatsu of Japan began plotting production moves since July, when the first tariffs hit, and the shifts are now under way, company representatives and others with knowledge of the plans told Reuters. Others, such as Taiwanese computer-maker Compal Electronics and South Korea’s LG Electronics, are making contingency plans in case the trade war continues or deepens.
The company representatives and other sources spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The quick reactions to the US tariffs are possible because many large manufacturers have facilities in multiple countries and can move at least small amounts of production without building new factories. Some governments, notably in Taiwan and Thailand, are actively encouraging companies to move work from China.
The US imposed 25 percent duties covering $50 billion of Chinese-made goods in July, and a second round of 10 percent tariffs covering another $200 billion of Chinese exports will come into effect next week. The latter rate will jump to 25 percent at the end of the year, and Trump has threatened a third round of tariffs on $267 billion of goods, which would bring all of China’s exports to the US into the tariff regime.
The tariffs threaten China’s status as a low-cost production base that, along with the appeal of the fast-growing China market, drew many companies to build factories and supply chains in the country over the past several decades.
At SK Hynix, which makes computer memory chips, work is under way to move production of certain chip modules back to South Korea from China. Like its US rival Micron Technology, which is also moving some memory-chip work from China to other Asian locations, SK Hynix does some of its packaging and testing of chips in China, with the chips themselves mostly made elsewhere.
“There are a few DRAM module products made in China that are exported to the US,” said a source with direct knowledge of the situation, referring to widely used dynamic random-access memory chips. “SK Hynix is planning on bringing those DRAM module products to South Korea to avoid the tariff hit.”
Most of SK Hynix’s production won’t be affected, the source added, since China’s dominance in computer and smartphone manufacturing makes it by far the largest market for DRAM chips.
Toshiba Machine Co. says it plans to shift production of US-bound plastic molding machines from China to Japan or Thailand in October.
The machines are used for making plastic components such as automotive bumpers. “We’ve decided to shift part of our production from China because the impact of the tariffs is significant,” a spokesman said.
Mitsubishi Electric, meanwhile, says it is in the process of shifting production of US-bound machine tools used for metal processing from its manufacturing base in Dalian, in northeastern China, to a Japanese plant in Nagoya.
In Taiwan, an executive at notebook PC maker Compal, who declined to be named, said the trade war’s impact had been limited so far, but the company was studying its options.
“We can also use facilities in Vietnam, Mexico and Brazil as alternatives,” the person said. “It won’t be easy because our majority production is in China; no other country can replace that at this moment.”
Smaller companies are exploring their options too. South Korean medical equipment manufacturer IM Healthcare, which makes products including air purifiers, is studying a move to Vietnam or South Korea if the trade conflict intensifies, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said.
Some Asian governments hope for an economic and strategic boost from the US-China conflict. In Taiwan, the government is actively encouraging companies to move production out of China, pledging last month to speed up its existing “Southbound Policy” to reduce economic reliance on China by encouraging companies to move supply chains to Southeast Asia.
Taiwan economics ministry official William Liu told Reuters that the trade war was “a challenge and an opportunity” for the self-ruled island. Taiwan depends on China as an export market, he noted, but at the same time could see a boost in jobs from companies moving operations back home.
Thailand also hopes to benefit from the “flow of technology and investment leaving China during the trade war,” said Kanit Sangsubhan, Secretary-General of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) Office of Thailand, which is coordinating a $45 billion project to attract investment into the country. The EEC last month took some 800 representatives of Chinese companies on a tour around the eastern industrial heartland, and the country’s Board of Investment has done seven roadshows in China this year to woo investors.


‘Fuel of the future’ comes of age as Aramco opens first hydrogen filling station

Updated 17 June 2019
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‘Fuel of the future’ comes of age as Aramco opens first hydrogen filling station

  • Fatih Birol’s comments were a deliberate poke at those experts who think that the sheer logistics of hydrogen make it always an unlikely solution to global energy challenges
  • Birol’s article was followed by a report from the IEA that put some meat on the bones of the argument that hydrogen is key to solving problems such as global warming

DUBAI: Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, cracked a joke in the Financial Times a couple of weeks ago.
“Hydrogen is the fuel of the future, and it always will be,” he wrote about the fuel that many experts agree could hold the key to the world’s energy problems.
It was a deliberate poke at those experts who think that the sheer logistics of hydrogen — generation, storage, and transportation — make it always an unlikely solution to global energy challenges.
Birol’s article was followed by a report from the IEA that put some meat on the bones of the argument that hydrogen is key to solving such problems as global warming and environmental degradation.
“The world has an important opportunity to tap into hydrogen’s vast potential to become a critical part of a more sustainable and secure energy future … The world should not miss this unique chance to make hydrogen an important part of our clean and secure energy future,” the report said.
That argument will get a critical boost today, when Saudi Aramco, the biggest oil company in the world, opens its first hydrogen fueling station in Dhahran Techno Valley, in the heart of the Kingdom’s oil producing region.
Aramco has partnered with Air Products, a US company that has been a pioneer in the use of industrial gases, to produce a filling station for hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

 

It is very much a test. “The collected data during this pilot phase of the project will provide valuable information for the assessment of future applications of this emerging transport technology in the local environment,” Aramco said when the project was first announced.
But it is something Aramco has been investigating for a long time. Ahmed Al-Khowaiter, Aramco’s chef technology officer, said: “The use of hydrogen derived from oil or gas to power fuel cell electric vehicles represents an exciting opportunity to expand the use of oil in clean transport.”
Hydrogen — essentially what is left when you take the oxygen out of water — has been recognized as a potential fuel source for many decades. Motor manufacturers developed a hydrogen motor engine 50 years ago, but the ease and accessibility of hydrocarbon fuels — oil, gas and coal — made it uneconomic to develop this technology beyond the prototype stage.
Now, as the debate over the role of hydrocarbons in the global environmental balance has become ever more intense, some experts, including Birol and other influential parts of the thought-leadership establishment, believe hydrogen is the next Big Thing in global energy trends.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) said recently that “green” hydrogen offers a solution to the world energy challenge, and that is the problem the theoreticians are struggling with: Hydrogen is released naturally in the process of burning hydrocarbons, but it is self-defeating, in an environmental sense. if you have to burn oil, gas or coal to produce it.
On the other hand, renewable sources, like sun, wind and water, do not produce enough hydrogen to be practically or commercially viable, and not at the right times, when people actually need it.
But, as the WEF noted recently “low-cost green hydrogen is coming”, as technology advances mean the cost of renewable energy falls dramatically each year. The Middle East already has a very big and very cost-efficient program for solar energy generation.
The other challenges lay in how to store and transport hydrogen. It can be loaded onto a tanker like LNG, or pushed through pipelines, but it would require a huge investment to change current logistics systems — essentially designed for oil and LNG — to handle hydrogen.
Many countries, including Saudi Arabia, already have the infrastructure associated with oil and gas refining and petrochemicals production to be able to equip “hydrogen hubs,” as long as there is government will and commercial incentive to do so.
For the Kingdom, it looks like a no-brainer for the future. As Birol said: “So, hydrogen offers tantalising promises of cleaner industry and emissions-free power. Turning it into energy produces only water, not greenhouse gases. It’s also the most abundant element in the universe. What’s not to like?”

FACTOID

Technological advances mean low-cost ‘green’ hydrogen offers a solution to the world energy challenge, according to the World Economic Forum.