South Korea complains to WTO over Japan trade curbs

South Korea’s senior trade official Yoo Myung-hee at a briefing in Seoul. AP
Updated 11 September 2019

South Korea complains to WTO over Japan trade curbs

SEOUL: South Korea said on Wednesday it will initiate a complaint to the World Trade Organization over Japan’s tightened export controls on key materials that South Korean companies use to make computer chips and displays.

South Korea, which has accused Tokyo of weaponizing trade to retaliate over political disputes, will formally request bilateral consultations with Japan on Wednesday as the first step in the WTO dispute settlement process, said Yoo Myung-hee, a senior official at South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

She said that the country is also considering whether to pursue WTO action over Japan’s move to delist South Korea as a preferential trade partner.

Japan in July imposed tighter export controls on three chemicals South Korean companies use to produce semiconductors and displays for smartphones and TVs, citing unspecified security concerns over South Korea’s export controls on sensitive materials that could be used for military purposes.

The measures, which weeks later were followed by Japan’s move to exclude South Korea from its “white list” of countries with fast-track trade status, triggered a full-blown diplomatic row that saw relations sink to a low unseen in decades.

South Korea says Japan’s trade measures threaten its export-dependent economy, where many manufacturers rely on materials and parts imported from Japan. It claims Tokyo is retaliating over South Korean court rulings that called for Japanese companies to offer reparations to aging South Korean plaintiffs over World War II forced labor.

Japan insists that all compensation matters were settled when the two countries normalized relations under a 1965 treaty and that the South Korean court rulings go against international law.

“Japan’s export restriction on the three materials were based on political motivation related to rulings by our Supreme Court on forced labor,” Yoo said at a news conference. “It was a discriminatory measure that directly targets only our country.”

Hiroshige Seko, Japan’s minister of economy, trade and industry, told reporters in Tokyo he thought hardly any WTO member countries were sympathetic to South Korea’s position.

“Regardless, it is clear that our action is consistent with the WTO,” he said.

Seko added that Tokyo would study the demands and respond according to the proper WTO procedures.

If Japan accepts South Korea’s request, the countries must hold consultations for a minimum 60 days. If Japan refuses the consultations or if the talks fail, South Korea could request a WTO panel ruling on the dispute. The process usually takes about 15 months but may also last years, said Jeong Hae-seong, a South Korean trade ministry official.

The measures Tokyo introduced in July require Japanese companies to receive case-by-case inspections and approval on the shipments of the three materials to South Korea, which takes up to 90 days, compared to the previous fast-track process that took one or two weeks, South Korean officials said. Yoo said Japan approved the shipments of the materials only three times since the measures took effect on July 4.


Saudi minister: OPEC+ will take responsible approach to virus

Updated 26 February 2020

Saudi minister: OPEC+ will take responsible approach to virus

  • Saudi Arabia supports the further oil production cut, but Russia is yet to announce its final position on the matter

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said on Tuesday he was confident that OPEC and its partner oil-producing nations, the so-called OPEC+ group, would respond responsibly to the spread of the coronavirus.

He also said Saudi Arabia and Russia would continue to engage regarding oil policy.

“Everything serious requires being attended to,” the minister, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman, told reporters at an industry conference in Riyadh.

An OPEC+ committee this month recommended the group deepen its output cuts by an additional 600,000 barrels per day.

Saudi Arabia supports the further oil production cut, but Russia is yet to announce its final position on the matter.

The minister said he was still talking with Moscow and that he was confident of Riyadh’s partnership with the rest of the OPEC+ group.

“We did not run out of ideas, we have not closed our phones. There is always a good way of communicating through conference calls,” he said.

Regarding the coronavirus, which has impacted OPEC member Iran, he said OPEC+ members should not be complacent about the virus but added he was confident every OPEC+ member was a responsible and responsive producer.

The flu-like SARS-CoV-2 virus, which first broke out in China, has now spread to more than 20 countries.

“Of course there is an impact and we are assessing, but we’ll do whatever we can in our next meeting and we’ll address that issue,” UAE Energy Minister Suhail Al-Mazrouei said at the same industry conference.

Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser on Monday said he expected a short-lived impact on oil demand.

“We think this is short term and I am confident that in the second half of the year there is going to be an improvement on the demand side, especially from China,” he said.

Oil climbed on Tuesday as investors sought bargains after crude benchmarks slumped almost 4 percent in the previous session, although concerns about the global spread of the virus capped gains.