*Note: This is a provisional translation for reference purposes only.
Tuesday, April 25, 2023
Press Conference Room, METI Main Building
Lifting of the Evacuation Order
At the beginning, I would like to mention two points.
First, today, the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters held a meeting via remote participation. It decided to lift the evacuation order for the Specified Reconstruction and Revitalization Base Area and for public park sites outside the area in Iitate Village, Fukushima Prefecture, effective on May 1. As a result, evacuation orders will have been lifted in most of the Specified Reconstruction and Revitalization Base Areas. Also, this is the first lifting of an evacuation order for an area outside the base areas under the so-called land utilization scheme, whereby land is utilized for specified purposes, such as industrial zones and public parks where no resident is supposed to live.
As I have already mentioned, the lifting of evacuation orders is not the final goal but a new start toward reconstruction. We will continue to do our utmost to create an environment in which people can return home with peace of mind.
I would like to visit those areas at an appropriate timing. As for detailed information, the administrative staff will give you a briefing later.
Second, I would like to announce that the government has approved the fiscal 2023 business plan submitted by Rapidus, which aims to build a manufacturing base for next-generation semiconductors, and decided to provide 260 billion yen as additional financial assistance. Under the plan approved at this time, as an activity for the current fiscal year, Rapidus will proceed with foundation work in preparation for constructing manufacturing facilities and also start full-scale joint technological development with IBM and Imec.
In relation to next-generation semiconductors, the LSTC, a research and development organization comprised of AIST, RIKEN and national universities, recently drew up a technology roadmap, and today, it will announce a draft training program for human resources related to designing next-generation semiconductors.
Recently, Rapidus announced that it will establish a manufacturing base in Chitose City, Hokkaido. The local governments concerned are steadily proceeding with efforts toward developing organizational systems for promoting the building of the manufacturing base. In Hokkaido, efforts are underway to promote the development of human resources as well. METI will continue to cooperate with relevant domestic and foreign organizations in promoting the next-generation semiconductor project.
I expect that over the next several years, substantial investment will be made. We will continue to provide the necessary support while having outside experts examine the progress of the project and keeping watch on various developments, including international technology and market trends.
Export Control to the Republic of Korea
Q: I have one question.
On April 24, the Government of the Republic of Korea announced that it will restore Japan’s status as a preferential trade partner to which simplified export procedures are applicable. I would like you to comment on that. Also, in relation to that, director-general level consultation meetings have been held until today. What is the prospect for the restoration of the status of South Korea as a so-called white country?
Lastly, what are your thoughts on how the trade relationship between Japan and South Korea should be including consultation meetings like this one?
A: First, I understand that on April 24, the ROK’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy made a notification revision in order to restore Japan’s status as a preferential trade partner, known as a white country, under the ROK’s export control system. Japan has been appropriately enforcing export control based on the relevant framework, and the South Korean side has recognized that and decided to appropriately revise the existing measure. Japan welcomes this.
As you pointed out, officials of the ROK have come to Japan to hold a policy dialogue yesterday and today. Through the policy dialogue, we would like to look further into and carefully check the status of ROK’s export control system in a broad range of fields such as conventional weapons catch-all control. We will confirm the effectiveness of their system in areas other than the three items, which have until now posed a problem.
Under relevant cabinet orders, more than 200 items are affected. Regarding particularly sensitive ones among those items, we will conduct the strictest examination and checks. Japan will carefully observe ROK’s future stance and make a responsible decision from the viewpoint of export control with no predetermined conclusion in mind.
On the overall Japan-ROK relationship, we are making progress toward improvement through summit meetings, among other means. Of course, there are many areas in which the two countries must cooperate with each other, including how to deal with North Korea. On the other hand, regarding matters related to my areas of responsibility, there are also causes for concern, such as ROK’s import restrictions on Japanese food products and the ROK’s response to the discharge of ALPS-treated water into the sea. I think that both countries should actively work together to resolve those issues. We must proceed with Japan-ROK cooperation while making efforts to resolve those pending issues.
Q: Regarding Rapidus, which you mentioned at the beginning, the government will provide 260 billion yen as a subsidy this time, so the total amount, including the previously announced subsidy, comes to 330 billion yen. This is a large amount of financial assistance. On the other hand, Rapidus estimates the investment necessary for the start of mass production in 2027 will amount to 5 trillion yen. Do you think it is necessary for the government to continue to provide large amounts of financial assistance in the future?
I have another question related to this topic. In the United States, GlobalFoundries, a major U.S. semiconductor maker, has filed a lawsuit against IBM seeking damages, as well as the suspension of the use of trade secrets, for illegally sharing intellectual properties and trade secrets with business partners such as Rapidus. Please tell me about your expectations as to whether the lawsuit will have an impact on Rapidus’ joint research and development with IBM for mass production of next-generation semiconductors.
A: First, with regard to the future of Rapidus, this project is symbolic of the semiconductor partnership between Japan, the United States and Europe. In the coming era, advanced semiconductors will become indispensable technology in various fields, including AI, 5G, post-5G, and autonomous driving. In this project, Japan, the United States and Europe will cooperate with each other in promoting this technology, so we will do our utmost to provide firm support. We decided to provide 70 billion yen the previous time and 260 billion yen this time, and going forward, as I mentioned earlier, we intend to provide further support as necessary while having outside experts examine the progress in technology development and keeping an eye on international trends.
As for the lawsuit filed by GlobalFoundries against IBM, I am aware of media reports about that, and I have heard that similar situations have happened several times in the past, so this is not the first time.
As this is a lawsuit between private companies, I would like to refrain from making any comment. In any case, as I mentioned, in order to establish the most advanced, next-generation manufacturing infrastructure, Rapidus will engage in the project under the Japan-U.S.-Europe partnership. As the time left is limited, the company should proceed with the project with a sense of urgency. While providing firm support, we will keep a close watch on this project from that viewpoint.
Q: I have a question related to the TPP. According to a Ukrainian media report, Ukraine is considering applying for TPP accession. As the minister in charge of trade, what do you think of Ukraine’s interest in applying for TPP accession? Also, if Ukraine applies for TPP accession, I expect that some TPP members will take a neutral position on the Russia-Ukraine issue. Please tell me whether differences in political positions will somehow affect accession negotiations.
A: First, I am aware of media reports that Ukraine is interested in the CPTPP and is considering applying for accession. Generally speaking, as I was the minister in charge of the CPTPP and am now the minister in charge of trade, in principle I would welcome it if countries that agree to the idea of creating a free, fair and rules-based trade and investment order, an order suited to the 21st century, seek to accede to the CPTPP in a way that ensures that high standards are satisfied in terms of rules and market access.
However, for the moment, we have not yet heard that Ukraine has notified New Zealand, which is the TPP depository country, of an accession application. On this matter, speaking on behalf of the government, I would like to refrain from giving an answer with any preconceptions. As I mentioned now, my understanding is that it is necessary to closely examine whether countries and regions hoping to accede to the TPP are ready to fully satisfy high standards in terms of both market access and rules. The accession clause does not stipulate that members must be located in the Asia-Pacific region, so I assume that Ukraine is able to file an accession application.
Let me mention another, related point. Ukraine has already submitted an application for EU membership. If EU membership is granted, Ukraine, as an EU member country, would not be able to accede to the CPTPP because the EU is responsible for implementing an integrated extraterritorial trade policy. We will keep a close watch on the moves of economies interested in accession while paying attention to those developments with the EU and—generally speaking—giving consideration to strategic points of view and the people’s understanding.