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Japan-South Korea rift

WTO battle over Japan export curbs postponed to Wednesday

Seoul and Tokyo officials await chance to make their case on international stage

The World Trade Organization's General Council provides a forum for Japan and South Korea to pull other countries to their side in the dispute.   © Reuters

GENEVA -- The World Trade Organization's General Council has postponed until Wednesday a discussion of South Korea's objections to Japan's tighter restrictions on exports of chipmaking materials to the country.

Senior trade officials from both nations were expected to lay out their arguments here Tuesday on the first day of the meeting for the WTO's top decision-making body, but slow progress on other agenda items forced a delay.

Though the General Council is not the forum for the WTO to settle bilateral disputes, the meeting gives Tokyo and Seoul a golden opportunity to sway other countries to their side. South Korea is expected to seek pressure on Japan to undo the curbs.

By raising the issue before the council and seeing how members respond, South Korea looks to gauge the odds of success if it goes through with its plan to file a formal complaint with the WTO, a diplomatic insider in Geneva said.

Japan implemented an order on July 4 requiring government approval for contracts to ship etching gas, photoresist and fluorinated polyimides to South Korea, three important materials for chip production.

"After we hear the South Korean side's arguments, we want to carefully explain Japan's stance in a way that third countries can easily understand," Shingo Yamagami, director-general of the Foreign Ministry's Economic Affairs Bureau, told reporters Tuesday.

Japan insists that the controls were enacted for national security reasons, citing "inappropriate" exports. South Korea argues that the restrictions are unfair economic retaliation for court rulings ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation for their wartime use of forced labor.

The council agreed to hear the matter after lobbying by Seoul.

"We want to deal with this properly [Wednesday]," said South Korean representative Kim Seung-ho, deputy minister for multilateral and legal affairs at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

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