The World Trade Organization (WTO) held a general board meeting in Geneva on July 23 and 24. There, Kim Seung-ho, head of the Office of International Trade and Legal Affairs of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy of South Korea, pointed out that Japan’s export curbs on South Korea are rooted in the two countries’ disputes over compensation for wartime forced labor victims, disturbing international trade for political purposes will seriously damage the WTO-based multilateral trade order, and the action must be stopped right away.
“Just one month ago, Japan stressed the importance of free and fair trade as the chair of the G20 summit, yet its current action is completely the other way around,” he said, adding, “Although Japan is targeting the semiconductor industry of South Korea, its move can adversely affect global industrial production beyond South Korea in view of the international division of labor.” He continued to say, “Japan has turned down our request for working-level negotiations, and we propose bilateral talks here in Geneva.”
In response, Japanese Ambassador Junichi Ihara said that the move has nothing to do with the compensation issue, it is simply for the purpose of export management related to national security, and thus it should not be discussed in the WTO. He mentioned nothing about the proposed bilateral talks.
The other 162 members of the WTO were given a chance to speak after the South Korean and Japanese representatives’ remarks. However, none of them made any comment amid the escalating confrontation except that the director of the board asked both governments to seek an amicable solution.
The Japanese government is likely to exclude South Korea soon from its list of 27 countries benefiting from simplified export procedures. It is planning to hold a Cabinet meeting sooner or later and the exclusion can become effective in mid-August this year.
In the Yomiuri Shimbun’s recent survey, 71 percent of respondents answered that they are in favor of the export curbs whereas the opposite answer accounted for only 17 percent. The former answer was given by a lot of male, female, younger and older respondents and more than 60 percent of opposition party supporters and more than 60 percent of those not supporting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave the same answer.
In the meantime, the South Korean government is going to point out the wrongness of Japan’s action in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), too. The 27th official meeting of the RCEP is scheduled for July 26 to 31 in Zhengzhou, China. The RCEP is a free trade agreement of 16 Asia-Pacific countries. Once it is signed, a new multilateral trade platform is created to cover half of the world’s population and one-third of the world’s total GDP.