S. Korea blasts Japan’s export curbs at WTO meeting

July 25, 2019

South Korea’s deputy trade minister attending a World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting has slammed Japan’s export curbs as a “diplomatic retaliation,” as Seoul sought to draw international support in its trade feud with the neighboring country.

After raising the Japanese export curbs at the WTO’s General Council meeting in Geneva on Wednesday, Kim Seung-ho told reporters that he offered high-level talks to Japan to discuss the issue, but Tokyo did not provide a response to the offer.

“The refusal of dialogue by Japan shows that Japan has no courage or confidence to face up to what it has done,” Kim said, adding that Tokyo “is closing its eyes and ears” on the export curbs.

Kim led South Korea’s delegation to the WTO General Council meeting in Geneva.

“Clearly, the Japanese measure is a diplomatic retaliation in response to (Seoul’s) court rulings on wartime forced labor,” Kim said.

During the WTO meeting, the South Korean delegation emphasized that the Japanese curbs violated WTO rules and are not related to Japan’s national security, Kim said.

The South Korean delegation claimed that Japan has been “using trade as a political tool,” and that it is “disrupting trade for political purposes,” according to Seoul’s trade ministry.

Diplomatic and economic tensions are escalating between South Korea and Japan after Tokyo tightened controls on exports of key high-tech materials crucial for the production of semiconductors and displays to Seoul earlier this month, in apparent retaliation for a series of South Korean court rulings last year over Japan’s wartime forced labor.

At the meeting, Japan claimed the latest restriction was not in response to the court’s ruling and reiterated that the case is only a security issue, and thus is not subject to discussions at the WTO.

Japan has also threatened to remove South Korea from a “whitelist” of trusted importers. If South Korea is removed from the list of streamlined and preferential exports procedures, it would have major impact on global supply chains.

Previously, Kim warned that if Japan removes South Korea from the list, it will further complicate the trade dispute and violate more global trade rules.

“Japan’s export restrictions on the three industrial materials already clearly violate the rules of the WTO, and Tokyo should not take action (that could further complicate the issue),” he told reporters.

South Korea has repeatedly explained its export control of strategic and non-strategic goods and says it would be an “unjust and groundless” measure to have Korea removed from Japan’s list of preferential trade partners without providing any concrete example of a case where such controls were inadequate.

In Seoul on Wednesday, South Korea’s trade ministry sent a 20-page letter to the Japanese government, calling for an immediate lifting of both ongoing and upcoming export restrictions against Seoul.

“The measure will increase export regulations against South Korea, which has been considered a whitelist country for more than 15 years. This is a grave event that hurts the close economic partnership of Seoul and Tokyo that has lasted for more than 60 years,” the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry described Tokyo’s action as “shortsighted” and said, “It will hurt not only South Korean firms but also Japanese companies as well,” the ministry said. “South Korea and Japan should create an equal and mutually beneficial free trade system.”