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

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.


Oil surges, stock futures slip after attack on Saudi facility

Updated 30 min 4 sec ago

Oil surges, stock futures slip after attack on Saudi facility

  • Oil prices surge on fears of global supply disruption
  • Safe haven gold, Japanese yen rise, stock futures slip

SYDNEY, Australia: Oil prices surged to six-month highs on Monday while Wall Street futures fell and safe-haven bets returned after weekend attacks on Saudi Arabia’s crude facilities knocked out more than 5% of global oil supply.
US crude futures were last up 11% at $61.10 a barrel, coming off highs on expectations other global oil suppliers would step in to lift output. Brent crude soared 13% at $68.06 after earlier rising to $71.95.
Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebel group had claimed responsibility for the attack, which hit the world’s biggest oil-processing facility but a senior US official told reporters on Sunday that evidence indicated Tehran was behind it.
The attacks heightened investor worries about the geopolitical situation in the region and worsening relations between Iran and the United States.
Those fears powered safe-haven assets with prices for gold climbing 1% in early Asian trade to $1,503.09.
Moves in Asian share markets were small, however, with Japan shut for a public holiday.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was a tick lower at 515.4. Australian shares were down 0.1% while South Korea’s KOSPI was a tad higher.
E-Minis for the S&P 500 were off 0.4% while those for the Dow eased 0.3%.
“If risk appetite collapses due to fears of worsening middle east tensions in the wake of any retaliation to the drone attacks, some emerging markets could face a double whammy of pressures,” said Mitul Kotecha, Singapore-based senior emerging markets stratgist at TD Securities.
“In Asia, the most risk sensitive currencies are Indian rupee, Indonesian rupiah and Philippine peso .”

Bonds and currencies
Among major currencies, the Saudi news pushed the yen up 0.4% to 107.64 per dollar while the Canadian dollar rose 0.5% in anticipation of higher oil prices.
The euro was little moved near a three-week top while the pound hovered near Friday’s two-month highs. That left the greenback down 0.15% at 98.105 against a basket of six major currencies.
The risk-sensitive Australian dollar was down 0.5% against the yen, snapping nine straight days of gains. The kiwi dollar slipped to a one-week low on the yen.
“One immediate question this (attack) poses for bond markets is whether a further rise in the inflation expectations component of bond yields — which have proved historically sensitive to oil prices — will give this month’s sharp bond market sell-off fresh impetus,” Attrill added.
“Or will safe haven considerations dominate to drive yields lower? Watch this space.”
In early Asian trading, futures for US 10-year Treasury notes rose 0.3%, indicating yields may slip when cash trading begins.
Global bonds were sold off last week, sending yields higher, led by a broader risk rally on hopes the United States and China would soon end their long trade war. Better-than-expected US retail sales data also boosted sentiment.
Chinese data for industrial production, retail sales and fixed asset investment will be released later on Monday, which could help set the tone for this week’s trade.
Investors also await the outcome of the US Federal Reserve’s policy meeting on Wednesday at which it is widely expected to ease interest rates and signal its future policy path.