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Economy

WTO panel said to back Japan on Fukushima fish ban

Tokyo has called South Korean restrictions on seafood imports unfair

A worker scans fish for possible radioactive contamination at a market in Seoul on Sept. 6, 2013.   © Reuters

GENEVA/SEOUL -- A World Trade Organization panel has apparently ruled in Japan's favor in a dispute over South Korean restrictions on imports of Japanese seafood imposed after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Both sides had been informed of the panel's decision as of Tuesday. Tokyo declined to reveal the outcome but said it was "consistent with Japan's position." A final report is expected to be made public by next spring.

The WTO dispute settlement process lets parties appeal panel decisions. Ryu Young-jin, South Korea's minister of food and drug safety, told lawmakers in the National Assembly on Tuesday that the country would appeal any ruling against it by the panel "in the interest of public health."

For Tokyo, a victory would mark progress on rolling back restrictions on imports of fish and other seafood from waters off eastern Japan. The South Korean ban, which Japan claims is unfair under WTO rules, was imposed in 2013. Japan tried and failed to talk the matter out with South Korea in 2015, prompting Tokyo to request the establishment of the dispute resolution panel.

What happens next remains unclear. South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported that the import ban would stay in place until at least 2019.

A number of other countries have imposed similar restrictions on Japanese seafood for fear of radioactive contamination, so the ruling could have a broader impact.

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