In context: The US government has asked chipmakers to be more transparent about what they do in an effort to expose bottlenecks in the supply chain. However, regulators are grasping at straws, as foundries are operating at full capacity and the only way to solve the current chip shortage is to build more manufacturing plants — something that is already happening but will take years to fully materialize.
Last month, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said during a Reuters interview that it was time for the government to become more aggressive in dealing with the ongoing chip shortage that is having a large impact on many industries and directly affecting thousands of US workers.
Raimondo explained at the time the White House had sent a voluntary request for information to chipmakers in an effort to determine the bottlenecks in the supply chain and identify potential solutions to the challenges that lay ahead. She also warned that if companies don’t answer the request, regulators are ready to use other tools to coerce them.
The problem is that foundries like TSMC don’t yet know how to respond to this request, or even whether or not they can. The company was asked to disclose a variety of details about what types of products it makes for its clients, inventory levels, lead times, as well as its relationships with suppliers and clients, expansion plans, and how it allocates the available production capacity.
Sylvia Fang, who is TSMC’s general counsel, told Nikkei “we will definitely not leak our company’s sensitive information, especially that related to our customers.” Fang said the company is currently evaluating the request to see how it may respond to it without compromising information that it deems confidential.
TSMC is already doing its best to help companies that have low levels of chip inventory, and it even prioritized chips for automakers to some degree. Earlier this week, TSMC Chairman Mark Liu said the situation is a lot more complex than it seems, and that some companies have been hoarding chips for months.
As for increasing transparency, Fang says “customer trust is one of the key elements to our company’s success,” so the firm will be taking its time before it answers the US government’s questionnaire. It also has the full support of the Taiwanese government, who is ready to step in “if our companies face unreasonable demands.”
Companies that were sent the questionnaire have until November 8 to answer voluntarily. Even if they do, it’s not clear how the US government intends to solve a problem that is the result of a storm of factors, including stratospheric demand for chips, an energy crunch in China and Covid lockdowns in Malaysia that have led to factory shutdowns, plus increased prices for raw materials like silicon and rare earth metals. And let’s not forget about the fact that chipmakers can’t find enough skilled workers right now.