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South Korea agrees to WTO consultations on Fukushima-based import restrictions

Kyodo

Under an international trade dispute settlement system, South Korea has agreed to discuss its import restrictions on Japanese fishery products following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, farm minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said Tuesday.

“We received a response (from South Korea) on Friday in Geneva saying it will respond to our country’s request for consultations,” the agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister said, referring to the first step in the World Trade Organization’s dispute settlement process.

Following the Fukushima No. 1 disaster in March 2011, South Korea banned imports of 50 different kinds of marine products from Fukushima Prefecture and seven other nearby prefectures. In September 2013, Seoul expanded the restriction to bar all fishery products from the eight prefectures.

Japan, saying there is no scientific justification for the import restrictions and is calling for the removal of the ban, requested consultations with South Korea on May 21.

It is the first time the government has taken steps to get the Geneva-based WTO to establish a panel that would rule on its complaint against import restrictions imposed by other countries following the nuclear crisis.

WTO rules in principle require consultations to start within 30 days after receiving a request for consultations.

Hayashi said the schedule for the bilateral talks will “be arranged with the South Korean government hereafter.”

If the two countries fail to resolve the matter through consultations within 60 days, Japan is expected to request a trade dispute panel be set up.

The South Korean government has said the ban is necessary to ensure the safety of its people.

Among other Japanese trading partners, Taiwan imposed tougher rules on Japanese food imports in May, requiring certificates of origin for all products.

The government is considering also taking that case to the WTO.