Eamonn Fingleton worries about the economic damage:
Experts on industrial logistics point out that, as world manufacturing has become more technologically advanced, it is more likely that a single supplier, or even a single factory, can be critical to a whole industry. And we know that, in this vein, Japanese corporations enjoy monopolies or oligopolies in a host of crucial niches in supplying advanced materials, components and production machinery for industries like electronics, cars, and aerospace.
In two books in the 1990s, I made a sustained effort to track Japan's more important manufacturing "chokepoints," as they are known to customers. I succeeded in identifying close to 100. Some are well known, such as the YKK Company's global lock on zip fasteners and Shimano's dominance in bicycle gears. Many have hithero gone largely unnoticed, but are actually much more important to the smooth functioning of the world economy: A good example is semiconductor-grade silicona highly purified not-an-atom-out-of-place material that only a couple of companies worldwide can make. The leading suppliers, Shin-Etsu and Sumco, are both Japanese and, as far as I can tell, there are no significant suppliers left in either Europe or America. If any of their factories or suppliers have been affected by the earthquake, the entire global electronics industry will be quickly feel the impact.
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