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Seoul pushes back on export control charge

July 18,2019
Seoul rejected Wednesday Tokyo’s questions about the security of its export controls, arguing that Korea employs more stringent standards than Japan.

The rebuttal was aimed at one of the reasons Japan might remove Korea from its so-called “white list” of countries given preferential trade status.

Japanese trade officials told their Korean counterparts last Friday that Korea will likely be taken off the list because of concerns about its control of exports of non-strategic materials related to conventional weapons.

If taken off the list, more restrictions would go on Japanese exports to Korea beyond the three industrial materials used in semiconductor and display production that Tokyo started restricting July 4.

Exports to “white list” countries from Japan are exempt from separate government approval.

Seoul rejected Japan’s claims, saying its system is stricter.

“We have conditions [for approval] when exporting to white list countries, while Japan does not,” said Park Tae-sung, chief of the Trade Ministry’s international trade and investment office. He added that Korea’s export control rules are spelled out in the law compared to in Japan, where they are administrative rules.

According to the Trade Ministry, Korean exporters need government approval for exports to “white list” countries of items that are explicitly controlled by the government or for materials that the government knows will be used for weapons of mass destruction. Japan has no conditions for exports to such countries.

The Trade Ministry added that Korea also has more conditions for approval for countries not on its “white list” compared to Japan.

“This is an inevitable response for unfairly criticizing Korea’s system,” said Park, expressing regret for Japan’s claims. Seoul still held out hope for more talks with Japan on the new export restrictions, saying that it sent a request for a more senior-level meeting on Tuesday.

“Korea is ready to discuss export controls of items related to conventional weapons if Japan desires consultation,” said Park.

Talks seemed unlikely. Park explained that Tokyo was unresponsive.

“We hope Japan will take an active stance toward bilateral talks,” he said.

The Korean government remained focused on the impact of Japan’s export restrictions as Minister of Economy and Finance Hong Nam-ki asked Japan Wednesday to rescind them at a government meeting reviewing plans to support the local economy.

Although the meeting was intended to focus on support measures for youth employment and a retail sales event to boost domestic consumption, Hong discussed the trade dispute.

“It is worrying that [Japan’s] measures will damage the foundations of a mutually beneficial economic relationship between Korea and Japan,” said Hong. “There are also concerns that the measures go beyond Korea and Japan and could weaken the global value chain and limit global economic growth.

“We urge Japan again to withdraw its trade restrictions and conduct dialogue.”

The finance minister said Japan’s measures contradict its support for open and fair trade expressed at the Group of 20 meeting in Osaka, Japan, last month.

The trade spat looks to drag on as the two countries’ top trade officials expressed disagreement over each other’s understanding of the dispute.

According to media reports, Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko said Tuesday that Japan’s trade measures are solely based on security concerns.

Seko also responded to President Moon Jae-in’s proposal for an international body to check both countries’ export control systems, saying that the systems fall under domestic control and are not subject to examination by international organizations.

Korea’s Trade Minister Sung Yun-mo responded on Facebook later that evening, arguing that Japan has connected the trade dispute with the diplomatic row over wartime forced labor.

“Immediately after the announcement of Japan’s trade restrictions against Korea on July 1, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed that there could not be trust in export controls as promises between the two countries over [wartime] forced laborers were not kept,” wrote Sung.

“Due to the fact that Japan continues to take issue with Korea’s export system without specific evidence, Korea has requested a joint investigation through an international organization such as a United Nations Security Council expert.”

The minister added that he is willing to meet with Seko to discuss the dispute.

BY CHAE YUN-HWAN [chae.yunhwan@joongang.co.kr]


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