By Lee Hyo-sik

Korea’s trade minister expressed regrets over Japan’s recent decision to ask the World Trade Organization (WTO) to address the country’s ban on imports of Japanese fisheries products, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy said Sunday.

Minister Yoon Sang-jick met with his Japanese counterpart Yoichi Miyazawa in the Philippines, Saturday, and discussed a wide range of bilateral economy-related issues. Both were in the Southeast Asian nation to attend the 21st APEC Trade Ministers’ Meeting.

The face-to-face meeting between trade ministers from Korea and Japan was the first of its kind since April 2013. Encounters between senior government officials were suspended over the past few years in line with worsening diplomatic relations between the two over a series of thorny historical issues.

During the encounter, Yoon told the Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry that it is regrettable for Japan to ask the WTO to review Korea’s import ban of Japanese fisheries goods, the trade ministry said.

“In the meeting, Yoon expressed regrets over Japan’s recent action concerning Korea’s import restriction of Japanese fisheries,” a trade ministry official said. “But Miyazawa and other Japanese officials present at the meeting did not show any particular response to Yoon’s remarks. ”

Yoon also asked Miyazawa to make it possible for Korean fishermen to export live flatfish to Japan, the official said.

On May 22, Japan asked Korea to initiate consultations regarding the latter’s import ban of the former’s fisheries products under the WTO guidelines.

Under WTO rules on dispute settlement, consultations are the first step in working out a trade dispute, with talks to begin within 30 days of the request being filed. If no agreement is reached within 60 days of the filing, the complainant can ask for the establishment of a dispute settlement panel.

In September 2013, the Korean government imposed a ban on all fisheries products from Fukushima and seven surrounding prefectures amid fears over their safety in the wake of a nuclear accident in 2011. Fish caught in the waters off Eastern Japan were found to have contained high levels of cesium

Korea has been saying that the import ban is essential for health and safety reasons, while Japan has been arguing that its fisheries products are safe for humans to consume. China, Taiwan and other Asian countries also prohibit the import of Japanese fisheries goods.

Meanwhile, Strategy and Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan met with his Japanese counterpart Taro Aso in Japan, Saturday, discussing ways to expand economic and financial cooperation. It marks the resumption of bilateral dialogue that had been suspended since November 2012.

The finance ministry said the two did not discuss Japan’s request for the WTO to intervene in Korea’s import restrictions.

Choi later told reporters that Japan has the right to ask the WTO to address Korea’s step against Japanese fisheries, adding that the Korean government will consider easing the extent of the import ban.

SOURCE: The Korea Times