SOUTH Korea has officially filed a case with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over Japan’s export restrictions to Korea of three key chemicals necessary for the production of semiconductors and other phone components.
It is now 3 months since the trade feud between the East Asian neighbors started in early July 2019, albeit no sign of compromise as the dispute escalates propelled by counter-actions from both sides.
South Korea believes that Japan has violated the principles of free trade and is hoping the WTO will mediate the case and resolve it once and for all.
South Korea’s decision to bring the matter to the WTO panelists is timely given the fact that Japan refused dialogue with Korea even after several attempts.
As a first step, South Korea will request a bilateral consultation with Japan at the WTO demanding Tokyo withdraw the trade restrictions.
If the consultations do not resolve the issues, South Korea will request a WTO panel ruling on the cases.
When Japan put the export restrictions in July 2019 it cited “national security” concerns as the main reason but the South Korean Trade Minister announcing the decision to take Japan to WTO, said Japan’s actions were politically motivated.
South Korea is a major manufacturer of semiconductors, not only for phones produced by its own companies but also for those made by US smartphone maker Apple and China’s Huawei.
This means the current dispute does not only affect Korean but also disrupts the global supply chain of industrial and electronic products.
Since Japan’s decision in July, the two nations have been embroiled in an ongoing economic and diplomatic spat that has seen both sides remove each other from their status as trusted trading partners and prompted South Korea not to renew a military intelligence sharing pact in August.
A World Trade Organization ruling, which could take more than a year to finish, may resolve the immediate dispute over the chemical curbs.
But it won’t address the historical rift between the two countries that is at the heart of the recent deterioration in relations.
Japan occupied the Korean peninsula for over three decades and forced Koreans to work in its factories and brothels for Japanese soldiers during World War II.
Last year, South Korea’s top court ruled that Nippon Steel, Japan’s largest steelmaker, should pay nearly $90,000 to a surviving worker, and three families of Koreans who experienced forced labor— a move that angered Tokyo.
More such cases are continuing in South Korean courts.
A 1965 treaty restored relations between the two nations, and saw Japan give hundreds of millions of dollars toward South Korea’s development.
However, many Koreans feel it didn’t resolve the issue of compensation for individual suffering, and that Japan has never been sorry enough.
Mutual political and diplomatic efforts are needed to solve this unnecessary trade war.