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WTO rules against Seoul on fish

Feb 24,2018
The World Trade Organization (WTO) on Thursday ruled in favor of Japan in its complaint about Korea’s ban on imports of Japanese seafood because of radioactivity worries following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, a decision Seoul said it would appeal.

A Geneva-based WTO dispute panel said that Korea’s import ban on seafood from eight prefectures and additional testing requirements violated its sanitary and phytosanitary measures, the SPS agreement governing food safety.

In turn, the Korean government said in a statement Friday that it plans to appeal the WTO panel’s ruling “to safeguard the health and safety of our people.”

Following the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident caused by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, Korea introduced additional testing requirements and product-specific fishery bans.

In September 2013, in response to concerns about increased safety risks from radioactivity in Japanese seafood, Korea issued a temporary special measure banning all seafood products from eight prefectures as well as extending additional testing requirements on fishery and livestock products.

The eight prefectures were Aomori, Chiba, Fukushima, Gunma, Ibaraki, Iwate, Miyagi and Tochigi.

The blanket import ban in 2013 was a response to the disclosure the previous month of radioactive leaks into the ocean from the Fukushima plant. Korea said its measures were to protect consumers from the risks of radionuclides in food products.

Through the Sept. 9, 2013 measure, the radioactive cesium tolerance level for all food in Korea was lowered from 370 to 100 becquerels per kilogram (Bq/kg) and requirements were issued for additional testing for radionuclides in fishery products and livestock if cesium was detected.

In May 2015, Tokyo lodged a complaint with the WTO claiming Seoul was unjustifiably discriminating against Japanese seafood through its import bans on 28 fishery products from the eight prefectures, additional testing and certification requirements for radionuclide content and lack of transparency.

After the two sides failed to settle the issue, a WTO panel was launched in February 2016 to begin dispute resolution procedures.

The third parties on the panel included the United States, European Union, Norway, New Zealand, India, Russia, Taiwan, China, Guatemala, Canada and Brazil.

A final panel report was issued last October and was distributed to WTO members Thursday.

The panel found that Korea’s additional testing requirements in 2011 and product-specific import bans in 2012 were neither discriminatory nor more trade-restrictive than required when adopted, as they mirrored internal restrictions imposed by Japan following the Fukushima disaster.

But the panel went onto say that Korea’s adoption of a blanket import ban on the eight prefectures. This is with the exception of Pacific cod originating from Fukushima and Ibaraki, was inconsistent with the SPS agreement.

It also said maintenance of a blanket import ban with respect to all 28 fishery products from eight prefectures and additional testing requirements was inconsistent with the SPS agreement because it is “more trade-restrictive than required.”

The panel recommended that Korea bring its measures into conformity with its obligations under the SPS agreement.

The Korean government said through an inter-agency statement, including the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy and Ministry, that it does not plan to lift the current import restrictions on Japanese seafood and that it plans to “put all efforts in preventing products contaminated by radioactivity on our tables.”

It said on its decision to appeal, “Our government’s position is that the WTO panel’s decision is problematic taking into consideration Japan’s continued nuclear plant situation and the importance of food safety for the people.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]