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WTO ruling backs Korea’s ban on fish from Japan

Apr 13,2019
SEJONG - The World Trade Organization (WTO) has cleared Korea’s ban on Japanese seafood imports following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, reversing its panel’s decision last year that recommended a lifting of the ban.

According to a WTO Appellate Body report released Thursday, Korea’s import restrictions on Japanese seafood complied with the trade body’s treaty on sanitation measures.

The ruling allows Korea to continue its ban on seafood from eight prefectures in Japan including Fukushima. Korea’s ban was imposed immediately after radioactive material was released from the nuclear power plant in Fukushima eight years ago.

Japan raised the issue with the WTO in 2015, and the trade body last year ruled against it, leading to Korea’s appeal.

The Appellate Body overturned last year’s decision, saying that Korea did not arbitrarily discriminate against Japan.

It also said that Korea was not overly restrictive in its measures. The panel last year said that safety standards by Japan were adequate. The Appellate Body said Korea’s standards should have been considered in making the decision.

The WTO did not completely side with Korea, however, saying that Korea did not take proper measures to create official channels to notify Japan of the ban.

The appeal ruling was focused on the legal arguments of both sides and the panel’s interpretation last year, and did not consider new information, Seoul said.

Korea welcomed the ruling and will continue to enforce strict measures on Japanese food imports.

“The government highly values the decision from the WTO,” said Yoon Chang-yul, social coordination deputy minister for the office for government policy coordination on Friday at the Sejong government complex.

“All seafood from the eight prefectures in Japan will continue to be restricted,” explained Yoon. “If traces of radioactivity are found in food items from Japan, [we] will continue to ask for additional inspection results.”

Japan said it would continue to dispute the ban.

“It is truly regrettable that Japan’s claims were not recognized,” said Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement. “Japan will continue to ask Korea to abolish the measures.”

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono also met with Korea’s ambassador to Japan on Friday and proposed further talks to remove the ban and emphasized the safety of Japanese food.

“We will follow the ruling,” said Yoon. “We hope there will be no trade conflict.”

Japan brought Korea’s ban to the WTO before other countries that have adopted similar measures.

According to the Korean government, 19 other countries currently impose bans on Japanese seafood imports.

“It seemed to be a strategy in that if Korea’s ban is lifted, import restrictions in 19 other countries would be lifted as well,” explained Yoon.

The government added that it was the first time that a major sanitary-measure-related ruling was overturned by the WTO.

After Korea’s ban in 2011, seafood imports from Japan to Korea plummeted.

Pollock and mackerel imports from Japan declined from 20,000 to 40,000 tons annually to below 3,000 tons after the ban, according to the government.

BY CHAE YUN-HWAN [chae.yunhwan@joongang.co.kr]