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Japan and South Korea discuss export controls at WTO, but solution to dispute still far off

Edwin Wilson

Oct. 12, 2019

GENEVA – Tokyo and Seoul held bilateral talks at the World Trade Organization in Geneva on Friday over Japan’s tightened controls on South Korea-bound exports of semiconductor-related materials.
The negotiations were requested by South Korea based on WTO agreements. But the two sides are very unlikely to resolve the dispute through the talks, as they remain sharply at odds over the matter.
Last month, South Korea filed a complaint with the WTO, claiming that the Japanese measure reflects political reasons against the background of wartime labor and other bilateral problems.
Japan’s trade minister, Isshu Sugawara, told reporters on Friday: “Japan won’t change its stance that the export control review conforms with WTO agreements. We’ll vigorously communicate this position to the international community.”
Tokyo and Seoul are believed to have repeated their claims during the Geneva talks.
Under WTO rules, a request for the establishment of a dispute settlement panel can be made to the world trade referee if disputed parties fail to resolve their problem through dialogue within 60 days of the filing of a petition.
Any of the parties involved can file an appeal with the WTO’s Appellate Body if it finds a ruling from the dispute settlement panel unacceptable.
From Japan, Junichiro Kuroda, director-general of the Multilateral Trade System Department of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s Trade Policy Bureau, and other officials took part in Friday’s talks. South Korean representatives included Chung Hae-kwan, an official of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.
Japan enhanced controls on exports of three semiconductor materials, including hydrogen fluoride, to South Korea in July. In August, Japan removed South Korea from its list of trusted trade partners qualified for preferential treatment in export procedures.
South Korea hit back by excluding Japan from its trusted trade partner list in September while deciding in August to terminate its General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan.
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