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Seoul-Tokyo trade talks to resume after 3 years

Seoul to suspend temporarily WTO lawsuit against Tokyo’s export restrictions of key industrial materials

By Jo He-rim

Published : March 6, 2023 - 15:39

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Kang Gam-chan, Seoul's Trade Ministry official in charge of trade and security policy, speaks at a press briefing on Monday. (Yonhap) Kang Gam-chan, Seoul's Trade Ministry official in charge of trade and security policy, speaks at a press briefing on Monday. (Yonhap)

South Korea and Japan have agreed to hold talks to scrap Tokyo’s export restrictions on key industrial materials to Seoul, taking a step closer toward mending their soured bilateral ties over the years.

Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said Monday it is starting negotiations with its Japanese counterpart to ease export curbs that were imposed in 2019 in an apparent retaliatory measure against a court ruling in favor of Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean peninsula in 1910-1945.

During the planned talks, the ministry added that Seoul would temporarily suspend moving forward with the lawsuit it filed with the World Trade Organization against Tokyo’s export ban.

"The two governments agreed to start bilateral talks to return bilateral trade to the state it was in before July 2019 (when the export restrictions were imposed)," said Kang Gam-chan, Seoul's trade ministry official in charge of trade and security policy, in a press briefing.

A foreign ministry official under the condition of anonymity also said that both sides "will start to make efforts to recover the relationship to how it was before the measures (referring to Japan’s trade curbs) were imposed."

If the talks are set to be resumed as agreed, it will be the first time for both countries to hold working-level talks over the trade disputes since March 2020.

Following a series of unfavorable court rulings in Seoul, Tokyo in 2019 imposed export restrictions on high tech materials, especially those for smartphones and chips, Korea’s top export items, even though it made it sure the measure had nothing to do with history disputes between the two countries.

After that, Japan also removed Korea from its list of “trusted trading partners,” citing Seoul’s lax control of sensitive materials that can be diverted for military use.

In a countermeasure, Seoul filed a complaint claiming that Tokyo’s actions violated WTO rules as well as tightening its own trade regulations against Japan.

Monday’s agreement to resume talks on trade curbs comes after Korea announced earlier in the day that it would compensate Korean victims of Japan’s forced labor via a public foundation funded by local companies, with no funding coming from Japan.