Japan removes SKorea from ‘white list’ of favored trade partners

Decision would take effect from 28 August, Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko announced

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe (L) shaking hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping

Japan’s cabinet on Friday approved a plan to remove South Korea from a list of countries that enjoy minimum export controls, a move likely to escalate tensions fueled by a dispute over compensation for wartime forced laborers. With this South Korea becomes the first country to be removed from Japan’s white list, which currently has 27 countries including Germany, Britain and the United States.

The decision to strip Seoul of its preferred trade status, a step that has been protested fiercely by Seoul, comes a month after Japan tightened curbs on exports to South Korea of three high-tech materials needed to make memory chips and display panels. It was approved by the cabinet and would take effect from 28 August, Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko told a briefing. He said the trade control was not a countermeasure and was done from the standpoint of Japan’s national security.

The measure now could require South Korean exporters to take extra administrative procedures to obtain export licenses, potentially slowing down exports of a wide range of goods that could be used to produce weapons. In response, South Korean officials have warned they may reconsider an intelligence sharing accord with Japan if the feud worsens. 

Seko said Japan had briefed the US administration on its plans to remove South Korea from the list, and added that the move was not intended to hurt bilateral relations with South Korea. The United States has, however, urged its two key Asian allies to consider reaching a  “standstill agreement” to buy more time for talks. In a statement on Thursday US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stressed cooperation on North Korea was “incredibly important.”

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