Biden Administration Considering Export Bans on Certain Computer Memory Tech

The U.S. government could soon add to existing export bans that target China’s domestic semiconductor industry. If enacted, the latest measure would restrict exports to China of American-made chipmaking equipment that produces memory technologies with more than 128 layers.

Past export bans have been limited to Chinese memory vendors such as Yangtze Memory Technologies Company. By contrast, the current measure would include any memory company operating in the region, meaning both Samsung and SK Group would be affected if the ban is enacted.

Become a Subscriber

Please purchase a subscription to continue reading this article.

Subscribe Now

SK Group is in the process of purchasing the NAND memory and storage business of Intel, a roughly $9 billion deal that includes a NAND manufacturing plant located in the Chinese province of Dalian. Samsung already operates two memory fabs in China, in Xi'an and Suzhou. Both companies produce large volumes of 176-layer NAND flash memory, a type of memory used in devices such as smartphones, MP3 players, digital cameras, and USB flash drives.

Each company also is believed to be considering large tech manufacturing investments in U.S.-based facilities. Samsung could invest $200 billion in a foundry expansion, building nearly 11 fabs outside Austin, Texas. For its part, SK Group announced plans in late July to invest $20 billion constructing semiconductor package and battery tech in the United States.

There’s a risk of each deal being scuttled if the Biden administration goes forward with this latest export ban. Previous administrations, including that of Donald Trump, similarly sought to preclude China’s access to American-made semiconductor manufacturing equipment and intellectual property but achieved mixed results.

The U.S. government is aiming to build up investments in domestic semiconductor manufacturing and scientific research, at the same time that China is reported to have a goal of spending approximately $150 billion on silicon fabrication through 2030. Though China has been working to catch up with other nations in semiconductor fabrication, the country has recently faced allegations of corruption and misconduct in its domestic semiconductor build and design efforts. In addition, one major Chinese chipmaker recently received a $9 billion government bailout after it accumulated more than $30 billion in debt.