TOKYO -- Japan will overhaul the way it deals with international economic disputes, including the enlistment of private-sector expertise and raising the status of international litigation unit at the foreign ministry, after losing its case against South Korea's ban on seafood imports at the World Trade Organization.
"This incident made us think about how we can strengthen our own organizational structure," said a Japanese government official. Breaking down bureaucratic barriers will also be part of this effort to better argue cases.
A WTO dispute panel had initially sided with Japan in its complaint against South Korea, ruling that South Korea was wrong to maintain import bans on Japanese seafood imposed following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
But South Korea launched a cross-agency team, including experts on nuclear power, as part of its appeal. Its arguments on Japan's shortcomings in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster ultimately swayed the WTO, with the appellate body upholding South Korea's ban on seafood imported from eight Japanese prefectures in a ruling last year.
Still stinging from the loss, Japan's Foreign Ministry will expand and move its division in charge of economic disputes, which is currently part of the Economic Affairs Bureau, to the International Legal Affairs Bureau. The latter bureau has handled Japan's cases at the International Court of Justice and has a wealth of legal expertise and experience, which the ministry hopes to tap in economic disputes as well.
The ministry also hopes to recruit private-sector legal experts, with an eye on grooming them for high-ranking posts at the WTO and other international organizations.
In addition to changes within the Foreign Ministry, the Japanese government plans to promote better communication with the economic, agricultural and transportation ministries, which are involved in economic policy and could provide assistance in a dispute.
Japan still has several unresolved economic disputes with South Korea. In September, Seoul lodged a complaint with the WTO after Japan began restriction exports of chipmaking materials that summer. It resumed the proceedings in June after a temporary hiatus, and the WTO will set up a dispute panel on Wednesday..
Japan cited inadequate controls by South Korea of the materials, which could potentially used for military purposes, as its reason for the restrictions. The WTO allows countries to curb exports for national security reasons, and South Korea is expected to challenge Japan's concerns.
Japan also requested a bilateral consultation regarding South Korean government assistance to a domestic shipbuilder. Japan filed a similar petition in November 2018, though the two sides failed to reach a compromise.
Beyond South Korea, Japan lost an international court case in 2014 against Australia, which claimed Japan's whaling program was not for scientific research. This decision led to Japan's exit from the International Whaling Commission in 2018.