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International relations

South Korea wins WTO appeal on Fukushima seafood ban

Japan minister says will keep pushing to scrap the measure through discussions

A worker checks fish for radiation at a market in Seoul in 2013. South Korea banned seafood imports from eight Japanese prefectures after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.   © AP

GENEVA -- The World Trade Organization has upheld South Korean's ban on seafood from areas affected by Japan's 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, overturning a lower panel's ruling last year.

The Appellate Body on Thursday reversed the February 2018 decision deeming the restrictions to arbitrarily and unjustifiably discriminate against Japanese products. Appeals rulings are final once formally adopted.

"The ruling does not mean South Korea's measures align with the WTO treaty, and it is extremely disappointing that Japan's claims were not recognized," Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said on Friday.

"There will be no change to Japan's push to have South Korea lift all restrictions, and we will continue to engage in dialogue with South Korea," he said.

Kono met in the morning with Lee Su-hoon, South Korea's ambassador to Japan, to call for discussions over the issue.

South Korea banned seafood imports from eight Japanese prefectures after the March 2011 disaster, including Fukushima and Iwate, over radiation concerns. Other Japanese food products were put under additional restrictions, such as tougher testing requirements.

Japan protested the measures lacked scientific basis, taking the dispute to the WTO in 2015.

South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported on the WTO decision, quoting a statement from the country's Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy saying, "The government has been making all-out efforts to follow the principle of making the health and safety of the people a priority, and the government highly appraises the WTO's decision."

"The first trial confirmed that Japanese food is safe and meets safety standards, and that fact has not changed," said Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at a news conference on Friday, indicating that Japan will continue pressing countries that have shut out food from Fukushima Prefecture to lift their restrictions.

Up to 54 countries and regions restricted food imports from Japan after the disaster, and 23, mainly in Asia, had yet to lift them as of March, according to Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

China in particular still has harsh controls in place, including a complete ban on food imports from Tokyo, Fukushima and Chiba prefectures.

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