No excuse for trade friction

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No excuse for trade friction

A senior official at Japan’s Fisheries Ministry is expected to visit Korea’s food and foreign ministries in response to our government’s ban on all fisheries imports from eight prefectures near Fukushima Prefecture, which has been critically hit by the meltdown of a nuclear reactor there and radioactive contamination from a leaking water storage tank.

The purpose of the visit seems clear. He will probably complain about the extent of the ban on fisheries imports from Japan and demand a withdrawal of the measure. Some experts have raised suspicions that Japan’s move is probably a preliminary step before Tokyo files a complaint with the World Trade Organization over our government’s sanctions.

We believe our government’s import ban on Japan’s marine products should not escalate into trade friction or another dispute between Seoul and Tokyo. The Park Geun-hye administration decided to impose a ban on Japanese fish products in order to protect the Korean people’s health from the risk of being exposed to the contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear disaster - not to protect our domestic fish industry or to heedlessly block Japanese fish products. That’s why the Korean government has confined its import ban to only eight prefectures near Fukushima that pose the biggest health risk - scientifically. Therefore, Japan’s apparent move to elevate Korea’s ban on its fish products to a full-fledged trade dispute is not desirable at all. We are sure that Tokyo would not resort to such an unreasonable solution to the matter.

At the same time, however, we understand Japan’s position, in which it cannot help but be sensitive to a neighbor’s import ban amid deepening worries about potential dangers from the contaminated water leaked from the nuclear reactor at Fukushima. Shortly after the Korean government’s import ban, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, “We hope Korea reacts according to scientific standards.”

If both sides work together, they should be able to resolve the issue based on scientific data rather than making it into a trade dispute. Korea must explain the science behind its concerns about Japanese fish products from those eight prefectures, and Japan must provide Korea with sufficient information on the current status of the radioactive contamination in its waters as well as information about how to cope with it effectively. Ungrounded presumptions and emotional responses will only exacerbate the ongoing conflicts between Seoul and Tokyo.

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