National

WTO backs Japan complaint against South Korea's Fukushima import ban

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Tokyo on Friday welcomed a World Trade Organization panel’s ruling that Seoul’s continued import ban on seafood from Fukushima Prefecture — home to the 2011 nuclear disaster — and other parts of Japan amounts to the nation taking “arbitrarily and unjustifiably” discriminatory measures.

A dispute settlement panel under the WTO published a report Thursday detailing its ruling in favor of Japan’s complaint against a blanket import ban imposed by South Korea on all fishery products from the prefectures of Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate, Aomori, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba.

While acknowledging Seoul’s measures against seafood from Fukushima and the other nearby prefectures were justified initially, the WTO report said maintaining the ban to date is “more trade-restrictive than required,” and recommended that the ban on 28 kinds of fish be lifted, as requested by Japan.

South Korea, the report said, failed to comply with a WTO agreement stipulating that sanitary measures by member countries do not “arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate.”

The panel also said a South Korean requirement that Japanese exporters of all marine products submit certificates of inspection if small amounts of radioactive cesium or iodine are detected is an effective barrier to fair trade.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga welcomed the ruling.

“We believe our claims have been duly taken into account and think highly of the judgment” by the panel, he said, adding that Japan will “swiftly” urge South Korea to scrap its ban on seafood.

Suga also said Tokyo will further “strengthen efforts” to alleviate or remove regulatory measures implemented by other countries against Japanese food due to fears over the nuclear disaster.

As of Thursday, countries including the U.S., China and Singapore have partial import bans on Japanese food.

While Japan welcomed the ruling, the panel’s judgment is not final. South Korea said Friday that it will appeal to a higher panel, suggesting Japan still faces a thorny road ahead.

“The Korean government will appeal (the ruling) to safeguard public health and safety,” the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency. “Regardless of the decision, the current import ban will be put in place until the WTO’s dispute settlement procedure ends.”

The final decision is expected to be handed down in the summer at the earliest.

Suga expressed disappointment over Seoul’s response.

“We find the appeal extremely regrettable. We will take appropriate steps to make sure our claims will be acknowledged by a higher-level committee, too,” Suga said. “Needless to say, we will also firmly urge South Korea to sincerely and swiftly redress measures recognized by the panel as in violation of the WTO agreement.”

Since the 2011 nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, South Korea has established one of the world’s most stringent measures against Japanese food in general.

In addition to the import ban, South Korea slaps Japanese food products with pre-export testing requirements that don’t apply to products from anywhere else, the WTO report noted. In the pre-export testing, detection of a minuscule amount of cesium leads to additional testing for 17 other radionuclides, including plutonium, it said.

“What makes South Korea stand out is that it has expanded its regulatory measures against Japanese exports and to this day still maintains significant barriers amid a global trend toward loosening up regulations against Japanese food,” a farm ministry official told The Japan Times.

Information from Kyodo added