TOKYO – The World Trade Organization has ruled against an import ban on Japanese fishery products imposed by South Korea following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, over two years after Tokyo filed a complaint, the trade body announced Thursday.
The dispute settlement panel said the ban was an “unjustifiably discriminate” measure and recommended South Korea correct it to bring it into line with WTO rules.
The panel also said a South Korean requirement that Japanese exporters of all marine products submit certificates of inspection if small amounts of radioactive cesium or iodine are detected is an effective barrier to fair trade.
The Japanese government welcomed the ruling and said it will request that South Korea “sincerely and expeditiously correct measures that have been found (by the panel) as not being consistent with WTO rules.”
The report said that the South Korean ban on all fishery products from Fukushima Prefecture in northeastern Japan and seven other nearby prefectures was “more trade-restrictive than required,” and recommended it be lifted on 28 kinds of fish, as requested by Japan.
Senior South Korean officials suggested earlier that they would likely appeal to the appellate body if the panel decided against the ban. If so, the final decision is expected to be made by the higher panel in the summer at the earliest.
Following the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, triggered by a powerful earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, South Korea initially imposed a partial ban on imports of marine products from the eight prefectures due to fears of radioactive contamination.
In September 2013, Seoul expanded the restrictions to bar all fishery products from the eight prefectures and strengthened import regulations.
As of December 2016, 21 countries had lifted import restrictions on Japan following the Fukushima disaster, while 10 countries and regions, including China, the United States and Hong Kong still had import bans in place, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Japan viewed South Korea’s measures as stricter than the others and decided to take the dispute to the WTO in August 2015, claiming the ban was not based on scientific grounds.
The panel notified Japan and South Korea of its findings last October. Japanese and South Korean officials said at the time the result was favorable to Tokyo but no details were disclosed.
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes to use the latest panel decision to strengthen efforts to urge countries to lift the bans.