Japan has asked the World Trade Organization to step into a row over Seoul’s import ban on fish caught near the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, officials said Tuesday.
Tokyo wants the WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Committee, which deals with food safety, to discuss South Korean rules restricting the import of marine produce from much of northern Japan, a fisheries agency official said.
South Korea last month expanded a ban on Japanese fisheries products over fears of contamination from the damaged reactors at Fukushima, after Tokyo Electric Power Co. admitted highly radioactive water has been flowing into the Pacific.
The ban takes in products from Fukushima and the seven other prefectures — Ibaraki, Gunma, Miyagi, Iwate, Tochigi, Chiba and Aomori — making up the northern half of Honshu. Gunma and Tochigi are landlocked.
“We will explain in the committee that Japanese aquatic products are under strict safety controls based on international standards, and that the South Korean ban lacks a scientific basis,” the official said. “We’ve decided to register the issue as part of the agenda to be discussed at the committee after we’d asked South Korea to lift the ban.”
Although the committee has no power to impose compulsory orders, “it is better for us to see Seoul voluntarily repeal the ban than to file a suit because it could take years to have a settlement in a formal WTO suit,” he said.
South Korea is the only country that has expanded the scope of its ban on Japanese fisheries products after the radioactive water spills of recent months.
Apart from in a small area very close to the plant, scientists claim there has been no significant rise in the radiation level of waters in the Pacific.
The spat comes as relations between Seoul and Tokyo continue to be strained amid a rumbling dispute over the sovereignty of a pair of islets and differences over Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula in the first half of the 20th century.
Separately, the Nuclear Regulation Authority said Monday that Tokyo plans to study the effects of the radioactive water problem with the aid of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog and other countries.
NRA chief Shunichi Tanaka told a Diet committee: “We will seek to ask South Korea and some Southeast Asian countries to participate in the research through the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).”