German exports to China hit by slow customs processing, tech firms warn

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FILE PHOTO: A crane lifts a shipping container at the HHLA Container Terminal Altenwerder on the River Elbe in Hamburg, Germany, March 31, 2023. REUTERS/Phil Noble/File Photo

German technology groups have warned they are being hit by delays in getting China-bound exports through customs, following the introduction of a German government strategy to reduce economic dependence on demand from China.

German chip-making kit supplier Suess MicroTec late on Wednesday cut its sales forecasts for the second time in three months, blaming tightened controls for exports to China.

That sent shares in the maker of lithography equipment and other chipmaking gear tumbling 11% immediately after the statement and another 12% on Thursday.

Suess said deliveries worth 23.5 million euros ($25 million) were stuck at customs. Though trade rules had not changed, customs have significantly stepped up their inspections since August, it added.

German customs and the Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control (BAFA) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In July, the German government urged domestic firms to reduce their dependence on demand from China as part of a strategy of “de-risking” its economic relationship with the country.

Lobby group Asia-Pacific Committee of German Business (APA) told Reuters the BAFA office was appearing to scrutinise export requests more closely or escalate requests to the economy ministry more often.

PROCESSING DELAYS

“Manufacturers from all relevant industries have complained for several months of delays in the processing of export requests,” said APA Managing Director Friedolin Strack, noting companies have stepped up efforts to obtain a type of export certificate to declare products unobjectionable.

Unlisted technology group Trumpf, with about 4.2 billion euros ($4.4 billion) in revenue, said it was affected in a similar fashion.

“We register in general that exports to China of high-tech products, which include our lasers, are being reviewed more thoroughly than in previous years,” said a spokesperson.

Trumpf makes lasers for Dutch maker of semiconductor manufacturing gear ASML.

Suess CEO Burkhardt Frick told Reuters it was largely left in the dark about the cause of delays, adding that customs officers were escalating more requests to BAFA, which has not turned down any but processing times there take between two to five months.

“Our customers’ patience is wearing thin but in the short term there is no alternative,” said the CEO.

Some high-tech companies with Chinese customers said they were not affected. Siltronic, a maker of semiconductor wafers, said it was able to meet customs requirements, while Aixtron said it had allayed customs concerns early this year by adjusting its gear to rule out use in 5G wireless networks and radar.

Still, the German chamber of commerce said the political environment was hobbling exports to China.

“You really do wonder who is capable of providing all the (requested) data,” its Managing Director Martin Wansleben told a press conference on Thursday.

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