Japan to reject S. Korea's request for meeting on export curbs

18, Jul. 2019

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GENEVA, Kyodo - Japan has decided to reject South Korea's request to hold another working-level meeting on Tokyo's recent tightening of export controls, government sources said Wednesday, amid rising bilateral trade tensions.

The Japanese government has deemed it difficult to hold another meeting by July 24 after mutual trust was damaged by Seoul's announcement of what Tokyo views as factually erroneous details of a meeting between the two countries' officials last Friday, the sources said.

Since the working-level meeting was held at the request of South Korea, the two countries have been trading barbs and ratcheting up tensions, which are already high over a separate dispute over compensation for wartime labor.

Japan has disputed South Korea's insistence that it urged Tokyo to withdraw the export curbs during the meeting in Tokyo that lasted more than five hours.

“The relationship of trust has been broken,” said a senior official at Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Instead of a face-to-face meeting, the trade ministry plans to respond to South Korea's inquiries by email or other means, according to the sources.

At issue is Tokyo's decision to require companies to obtain individual licenses to export three materials -- fluorinated polyimide, hydrogen fluoride and photoresist -- used in the production of semiconductors and display panels to South Korea starting July 4, due to national security reasons.

The process to acquire a license, which can take around 90 days, had previously been waived for South Korea, a status it shared with the United States and many European countries.

Even before the working-level meeting, Japan said it did not plan to withdraw the new measure or negotiate with South Korea.

To stress the legitimacy of the restrictions it has placed on some South Korean exports, Japan will send a senior government official to a World Trade Organization general council meeting next week, according to diplomatic sources.

The planned dispatch of Shingo Yamagami, head of the Foreign Ministry's Economic Affairs Bureau, comes after Seoul said it will take the matter to the WTO, arguing the restrictions are a retaliatory step in response to South Korean court rulings on wartime labor.

Japan wants to send Yamagami, a senior diplomatic official well versed in trade issues including the latest restrictions, in case South Korea decides to have a high-level government official attend the two-day meeting from Tuesday.

According to the sources, Yamagami will reiterate Tokyo's position that it is not imposing a trade embargo and that the measures are intended to address national security concerns.

Yamagami will also assert that the tightened export controls comply with free trade principles without running counter to a declaration promoting free and fair trade issued by the Group of 20 economies last month in Osaka, the sources said.

The WTO's general council meeting will be joined by 164 member countries and regions.

At a WTO meeting on goods trade on July 9, South Korean Ambassador to Geneva Paik Ji Ah called for the withdrawal of the trade restrictions, while Junichi Ihara, Japan's representative in Geneva, said they comply with WTO rules and do not pose trade problems.

The export restrictions were announced amid a standoff in the bilateral dispute over South Korean court decisions ordering Japanese companies to compensate victims of forced labor during Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The companies have refused to comply, in line with Japan's stance that the issue of compensation was resolved under a 1965 treaty that established diplomatic relations between the countries. Lawyers for the plaintiffs have threatened to liquidate the companies' assets that have been seized.

Japan has asked South Korea to establish an arbitration panel involving a third country to resolve the dispute, while South Korea has proposed pooling funds from Japanese and South Korean firms to compensate the victims, but so far neither side has budged. (Kyodo)