South Korea complains to WTO over Japan trade curbs

South Korea’s senior trade official Yoo Myung-hee at a briefing in Seoul. AP
Updated 11 September 2019
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South Korea complains to WTO over Japan trade curbs

SEOUL: South Korea said on Wednesday it will initiate a complaint to the World Trade Organization over Japan’s tightened export controls on key materials that South Korean companies use to make computer chips and displays.

South Korea, which has accused Tokyo of weaponizing trade to retaliate over political disputes, will formally request bilateral consultations with Japan on Wednesday as the first step in the WTO dispute settlement process, said Yoo Myung-hee, a senior official at South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

She said that the country is also considering whether to pursue WTO action over Japan’s move to delist South Korea as a preferential trade partner.

Japan in July imposed tighter export controls on three chemicals South Korean companies use to produce semiconductors and displays for smartphones and TVs, citing unspecified security concerns over South Korea’s export controls on sensitive materials that could be used for military purposes.

The measures, which weeks later were followed by Japan’s move to exclude South Korea from its “white list” of countries with fast-track trade status, triggered a full-blown diplomatic row that saw relations sink to a low unseen in decades.

South Korea says Japan’s trade measures threaten its export-dependent economy, where many manufacturers rely on materials and parts imported from Japan. It claims Tokyo is retaliating over South Korean court rulings that called for Japanese companies to offer reparations to aging South Korean plaintiffs over World War II forced labor.

Japan insists that all compensation matters were settled when the two countries normalized relations under a 1965 treaty and that the South Korean court rulings go against international law.

“Japan’s export restriction on the three materials were based on political motivation related to rulings by our Supreme Court on forced labor,” Yoo said at a news conference. “It was a discriminatory measure that directly targets only our country.”

Hiroshige Seko, Japan’s minister of economy, trade and industry, told reporters in Tokyo he thought hardly any WTO member countries were sympathetic to South Korea’s position.

“Regardless, it is clear that our action is consistent with the WTO,” he said.

Seko added that Tokyo would study the demands and respond according to the proper WTO procedures.

If Japan accepts South Korea’s request, the countries must hold consultations for a minimum 60 days. If Japan refuses the consultations or if the talks fail, South Korea could request a WTO panel ruling on the dispute. The process usually takes about 15 months but may also last years, said Jeong Hae-seong, a South Korean trade ministry official.

The measures Tokyo introduced in July require Japanese companies to receive case-by-case inspections and approval on the shipments of the three materials to South Korea, which takes up to 90 days, compared to the previous fast-track process that took one or two weeks, South Korean officials said. Yoo said Japan approved the shipments of the materials only three times since the measures took effect on July 4.


Reduce waste, save money: France’s poorest city goes green

Updated 19 September 2019

Reduce waste, save money: France’s poorest city goes green

ROUBAIX, France: At her home in Roubaix, a former industrial center in northern France that is now the country’s poorest city, Magdalene Deleporte is making her own deodorant.
“It is fast and super easy,” she says, giving a demonstration with a recipe involving coconut oil, baking powder and a few drops of fragrant oils.
“It takes five minutes: you let it melt in a water bath and then leave it to set,” the 38-year old nurse tells AFP.
She also makes her own dishwashing liquid, shampoo, toothpaste, yoghurt and cosmetics, sparing her the disposable packaging that would come if she bought them in stores.
The Deleportes are one of 500 families in Roubaix engaged in a zero-waste project, hoping to help save the planet while also relieving the pressure on their wallets.
“We save between 100 and 150 euros ($110-$166) a month, which is no small amount,” said Deleporte, who is eager to share her newly acquired expertise.
Roubaix, near the Belgian border, has long lived with high unemployment, and many of its nearly 100,000 residents live in social housing. Several studies have identified it as France’s poorest community, including one by statistics office Insee.
In 2014, the Roubaix city council launched an initiative to help families halve their household waste by changing their planning and purchasing habits, and encouraging the re-use of non-recyclable products.
Households that signed up received scales for weighing their trash and keeping tabs on the decrease over time. They also attended workshops offering practical tips for waste reduction.
Deleporte was one of the first volunteers.
A bottle of her homemade shampoo comes to about one euro per liter and lasts a month, she says. She also makes her own toothpaste with mint oils, and kitchen sponges using cut-up old clothes.
In the kitchen, glass bottles and jars have replaced plastic bags.
“It makes for more washing up, but at least I know what’s in my products,” Deleporte says.
She says the lifestyle change has made her much more environmentally aware — and increasingly concerned for the future of her two daughters.
Chloe, 9, and Manon, 6, are eager assistants in the home-based production line.
“When you see nothing but plastic and packaging in the stores, you realize there is a real problem,” Deleporte said.
“I don’t feel like I am doing anything extraordinary, I’ve just gone back to what they were doing 50 years ago.”
According to the World Resources Institute, an estimated $750 billion worth of food is lost or wasted globally each year throughout the supply chain. That waste contributes massively to emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the World Bank has calculated that reducing post-harvest food losses by one percent could yield economic gains of some $40 million per year.
And plastic waste from food packaging pollutes water and soil resources, blocking the intestines of animals who eat it by accident, and suffocating others.
But reducing waste requires a series of lifestyle changes: carrying reusable bags, using reusable food containers rather than plastic or foil, composting organic kitchen waste, and repairing or repurposing clothes rather than throwing them away.
Roubaix now receives official delegations from far and wide who wish to learn from its experience in the field.
“We have just about halved waste in participating households, in some as much as 80 percent,” Roubaix Mayor Guillaume Delbar told AFP.
And the project “has had a real effect on purchasing power: some families have saved as much as 250 euros per month, that’s 3,000 euros a year,” he said.
About 50 shops and the city’s school cafeterias also recently joined the program.
Abigayil Schnunt, a teacher, needed some convincing. Before she got involved eight months ago, she thought that living a reduced-waste lifestyle would be “too complicated.”
In reality, “it does not necessarily take more time, it just requires a different routine,” said Schnunt, a mother of three.
She has changed her shopping habits — ditching her discount supermarket for local merchants, buying smaller quantities, and bringing her own glass containers and reusable, fabric shopping bags.
“Sometimes the price per kilo is more, but you eat better and buy better. I produce less waste because I think more before buying,” she told AFP.