Lee Ho-hyeon, left, director-general for International Trade Policy at South Korea's Trade, Industry and Energy Ministry, shakes hands with Yoichi Iida, director-general of Japan's Trade Control Department before a director-general level meeting at the trade ministry in Tokyo. Photo by: Kyodo News via AP
Lee Ho-hyeon, left, director-general for International Trade Policy at South Korea's Trade, Industry and Energy Ministry, shakes hands with Yoichi Iida, director-general of Japan's Trade Control Department before a director-general level meeting at the trade ministry in Tokyo. Photo by: Kyodo News via AP

Japan and South Korea agree to trade talks

By Xinhua Time of article published Mar 12, 2020

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TOKYO - Japanese and South Korean trade officials on Wednesday agreed at the conclusion of lengthy talks to continue to hold dialogue on ways exports controls can be improved.

The director general-level meeting was held as a teleconference due to both sides' travel restrictions to combat the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic.

Yoichi Iida, head of the trade control department at Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, went to the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo to hold the discussions with his counterpart in Seoul, Lee Ho-hyun.

The discussions, which began on Tuesday and were scheduled to last seven hours, concluded after nearly 16 hours.

"We exchanged information and welcomed the progress each side has made. But we agreed we are still only halfway there," Iida said after the marathon discussions.

Tokyo and Seoul have been at odds since October last year when South Korea's top court ordered a Japanese firm to pay compensation for the forced labor of Korean nationals during Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The Japanese side, however, has maintained that the highly controversial matter of it forcing its neighbour's citizens into hard labor during the war was settled by a 1965 pact, which saw Tokyo pay Seoul some 500 million U.S. dollars under the banner of "economic cooperation."

Iida and Lee held talks on the bilateral trade dispute that has since ensued in December last year, marking the first round of director general-level dialogue.

The talks were the first held between both countries at this level since June 2016 and came as both sides looked to address the bitter diplomatic row stemming from the wartime labor dispute, which has spilled over into trade and security areas.

As the dispute escalated, Japan, in July, tightened export controls on some high-tech products key to South Korea's semiconductor and display industries, claiming the move was owing to security issues.

The Japanese side also removed South Korea from its "white list" of preferential trade partners, dealing another blow to its neighbor.

South Korea hit back by removing Japan from its list of preferential trade partners, and, similarly tightened export controls on some of its products bound for Japan.

With the tit-for-tat trade spat leading to ties between both countries sinking to the lowest level in decades, South Korea said it would cancel a key military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, a move Tokyo strongly urged Seoul not to follow through with amid regional security concerns.

Just hours before the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) was set to expire, South Korea announced it would temporarily suspend its termination of the agreement, as well as cancel a complaint it had made with the World Trade Organization against Japan's tightened export controls.

In other possible signs ties may be improving between Japan and South Korea, Japan's trade ministry has eased some export controls on South Korea-bound materials used in making semiconductors and display panels.

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