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International relations

WTO backs Japan in dispute over South Korea's import ban on seafood

Restrictions against eight prefectures were put in place following Fukushima

Fishermen unload octopuses at the Matsukawa fishing port in the town of Soma, north of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture in 2012. (Photo by Koji Uema)

GENEVA -- The World Trade Organization sided Thursday with Japan in a dispute with South Korea over a partial import ban on Japanese seafood put into effect by Seoul in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Although the WTO dispute panel recommends corrective action be taken, Seoul can still appeal the ruling.

In the wake of the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility in March 2011, South Korea barred some types of seafood from Fukushima and seven other Japanese prefectures, and enacted additional testing requirements. Seoul then instituted a blanket ban on the same prefectures starting in September 2013.

Calling the moves excessive and unfair, Japan lodged a complaint with the WTO in 2015. Thursday's report said the measures adopted by South Korea are inconsistent with WTO rules not to "arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate" against another member country. The document also said the import ban "is more trade restrictive than required."

"We welcome the [WTO's] decision and we hope that South Korea takes swift and sincere corrective action," the Japanese government said in a statement.

But Seoul is likely to take the decision to the WTO's appellate body. The South Korean public's concern about Japanese seafood remains strong. Appeals generally conclude within 90 days, but the process may take longer considering the vacancy among top adjudicators.

In the year after South Korea imposed the blanket ban, Japan exported roughly 8.4 billion yen ($78.7 million) worth of seafood to that nation, a 2.5 billion yen drop-off from the year-earlier period.

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