Saturday, October 28, 2017

Semiconductors, Korea's lead export, are like rice

I am told that back in the late 1970s when Korea's world-leading semiconductor industry was only a vision and long-term goal, policymakers and industry leaders referred to semiconductors (also called chips) as "rice" (쌀 in Korean as in the phrase
‘전자산업의 쌀’ 반도체). The purpose of the metaphor was to convey that semiconductors would be, like rice, a staple commodity. 
Today, there is abundant evidence that chips are a staple of the burgeoning global ICT sector. As reported this week by The Korea Times, they are now Korea's leading export, comprising 16 percent of 2017 exports. The dominance of semiconductors in Korea's export-led economy is illustrated in the accompanying graphic (click for a full size version), published in an article last month by The Korea Herald. As this article notes, commodity markets have their ups and downs and so there is risk in over-reliance on the semiconductor sector. There would be a similar risk if this nation were so heavily dependent on the export of rice.

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