Tech, not tariffs

Chuck Schumer likes the camera. He likes the camera so much that Barrack Obama once joked that Schumer would bring the press to a banquet as his “loved ones”. The long-standing Senator from New York may love an audience, but in an age of bitter and fractious politics, he has managed to pull something akin to a rabbit out of a hat, by finding a topic that both Democrat and Republican peers agree on. And what they agree on, is the American Foundries Act of 2020, an initiative that Schumer has just launched. The Act will, according to Dr Grace Wang, from the State of New York Polytechnic Institute, “provide a more strategic national approach in advancing  microelectronics capabilities, R&D, and workforce development and ensure our nation remains at the forefront of impactful innovation”. Billions of dollars are up for grabs for building, expanding or giving a new lick of paint to microelectronic facilities. More grants are available for anyone keen to develop facilities specifically capable of supplying the defence and intelligence communities. And indeed, there are billions more for anyone who wants to do some R&D with US hegemony in mind. Executives from GlobalFoundries, IBM, ON Semiconductor and Cree were quick to fashion supportive statements; as they might. Now the political divide may be gaping, but where there appears a lot of sombre nodding, is on the importance of investing in the cutting-edge companies that will drive the technological age. It’s more than reshoring jobs, or modifying supply chains: national security is at stake. And if nothing is done, and done soon, China will wrestle the US to the ground in a hold that would make even the late, great, Giant Haystacks grimace. As Schumer was quick to point out, a plan is needed, and needed fast. Last year almost eighty percent of wafer fabrication was based in Asia, with China overtaking North America for the first time. Change is afoot. In May Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing – the world’s biggest contract chipmaker – announced plans to build a $12bn fabrication plant in the US. This might be small in the context of a $15-odd billion annual capex bill, but the move is likely not without political motive. In the Sino-US scrimmage over national security and tech supremacy, it’s all to play for. As Chuck Schumer, and a host of cross-party supporters, know only too well.