Micron’s facility in Singapore (Image: Economic Development Board)

by Foong Swee Fong

I cringed as I read the Straits Times propaganda boasting about Singapore’s achievements in the semiconductor industry.

“….More than 50 years on, Singapore has made its mark in the semiconductor supply chain as a global node …… The country accounts for about 11 per cent of the global semiconductor market and 5 per cent of wafer capacity; 20 per cent of semiconductor equipment is manufactured here … “

Impressive! Except that the whole boast is based on big foreign Multi-National Companies (MNCs) like the United State’s Applied Materials and Micron Technology, Abu Dhabi owned GlobalFoundries and Taiwan’s UMC, siting their operations here partly due to irresistible incentives dangled by the government.

But once money is earned, where does it go? A portion goes towards our taxman and another to salaries of employees, including that of many foreign talents, but the bulk goes back to shareholders in the US, Taiwan and the Abu Dhabi sovereign fund.

Yes, some local Small-Medium Entreprises (SMEs) have sprung up supporting them, but pertinently, WinTech Nano-Technology Services General manager Li Xiaomin notes that “it can be difficult to raise prices”, presumably due to lack of bargaining power as all the chips (no pun intended) are with the foreign MNCs. If they pull out, the whole ecosystem collapses.

Most of the benefits accrue to the MNCs, although JTC, being the landlord, is a winner too. But for Singaporeans in general, it is debatable if the benefits commensurate with the cost.

Resources used by foreign MNCs cannot be used by Singaporeans to pursue their dreams, and excessive demand for limited resources pushes up the cost of living for everyone.

We used to have our own semiconductor company – Chartered Semiconductor (CSM), but it was sold to Global Foundries in 2010. What a shame!

Taiwan, Korea and Japan can rightfully be proud of their homegrown semiconductor giants, but Singapore, in this respect, has nothing to boast about as it is just riding on the coattails of foreign MNCs.

This opinion was first published on Foong Swee Fong’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission

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