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Talks on export curbs to begin today

July 12,2019
Korean trade officials will meet with their Japanese counterparts today to discuss export restrictions of key materials to Korea, the first official dialogue of the issue.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said Thursday that the two countries agreed to hold a working-level meeting in Tokyo after Korea’s request for an explanation of Japan’s measures implemented on July 4.

Japan’s restrictions on exports to Korea of three key materials used in semiconductors and displays - hydrogen fluoride, fluorinated polyimide and photoresists - escalated a diplomatic row between the two countries over court-ordered compensation for wartime forced laborers.

While Tokyo has pointed to deteriorated “trust” and “occurrence of an inappropriate matter” to justify the export restrictions, it has yet to provide an official explanation to Korea. Seoul believes that Japan’s measures are about politics and historical issues, and have nothing to do with trade technicalities or such national security issues as North Korean sanctions.

“This is the first meeting between the two governments regarding Japan’s export measures,” said a senior Trade Ministry official on Thursday. “We believe that we will be able to understand the reasoning and grounds for the measures through the talks.”

The official added that Seoul will also request an explanation of allegations made by Tokyo of key materials from Japan ending up in North Korea via the South.

Although the two sides have agreed to start a dialogue, disagreement was apparent over the nature of the meeting.

Despite Korea’s request for a more senior-level discussion, today’s meeting will be a working-level meeting, meaning lower level, attended by director-level trade officials.

“Japan is characterizing the meeting as a working-level explanation of [the matter],” said the official.

“In light of the recent measure, there will be discussion on the changing export application procedure and [Korea’s potential] exclusion from Japan’s preferential status list,” explained the official. “The subject is technical and requires professional knowledge so it could be better to have working-level officials to understand the specific details surrounding the export measures.”

The government is hoping today’s meeting will lead to further discussion to resolve the dispute.

“The meeting could be the groundwork to lead to next level [talks],” explained the official.

The trade spat between the two countries, however, remained heightened on Thursday as the Trade Ministry rejected claims from a Japanese official that questioned Korea’s control system over strategic materials.

Japan’s Fuji TV quoted a Japanese official on Wednesday, saying it was difficult to give preferential trade status to Korea due to numerous violations on trade restrictions.

The official was referring to Korean government data that has reported 156 instances of strategic material being illegally exported from the country since 2015.

The Trade Ministry criticized the media report, explaining that the data indicates the transparency and effectiveness of Korea’s control measures on strategic materials.

“Japan is the only country that has recently questioned Korea’s export system’s effectiveness,” said Park Tae-sung, chief of the Trade Ministry’s international trade and investment office, adding that the number of violations found does not mean that there is a problem with the system.

“Unlike Korea, Japan does not release the number of violations, only selectively disclosing certain cases,” said Park. “We urge Japan to stop its attempts to disparage Korea’s export control system.”

Some have criticized Seoul for being unprepared for Japan’s curbs.

“There were preparations within [the government], however, there are realistic difficulties in perfectly understanding beforehand what type of measures Japan would make against which specific products,” explained the senior Trade Ministry official.

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