Japan takes S. Korea to WTO over Fukushima import ban

Baku, August 20, AZERTAC

The Japanese government on Thursday asked the World Trade Organization to set up a panel to rule on South Korea`s import ban on Japanese fishery products following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster that Tokyo says violates international trade rules, according to Kyodo News.

The move comes after the two countries failed to resolve the issue through consultations that took place under WTO procedures. Tokyo is claiming the South Korean ban has no scientific grounds, while Seoul is arguing that its trade restrictions are legitimate steps to ensure food safety for its people amid radioactive water leakages from the crippled power plant.

Japan has decided to have the dispute settlement panel established as South Korea shows "no prospect of its restrictions being lifted," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference earlier Thursday before Tokyo formally made the request to the WTO.

South Korea "should lift the restrictions soon without waiting for the WTO's conclusion," the top spokesman said.

It is the first time Japan has sought installation of a panel over import restrictions in the wake of the nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant and the subsequent radiation leakage into the environment.

According to a Fisheries Agency official, the panel will be established by the end of September at the latest. A WTO panel typically issues a ruling in about a year, but it may take longer in the latest case as scientific evaluations will likely be required, the official added.

Following the nuclear disaster at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant, triggered by a powerful earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, South Korea banned imports of 50 kinds of marine products from Fukushima Prefecture in northeastern Japan and seven other nearby prefectures, due to fears of radiation contamination.

In September 2013, Seoul expanded the restrictions to bar all fishery products from the eight prefectures.

South Korea sent an investigative team to Japan in December last year and January this year to check the country`s inspection regime for radioactive materials in seafood products, with an eye to considering whether to review its import ban. But no development has been reported since.

Currently, a total of 67 nations and regions impose some sort of import restrictions on Japanese food products. The government has decided to take its trade spat with South Korea to the WTO as Tokyo believes Seoul`s restrictive measures are stricter than those imposed by the others, the Fisheries Agency official added.

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