Japan, South Korea hold export talks, seek dispute solution

Japan’s director general for Trade Control Department Yoichi Iida shakes hands with South Korea’s director general for International Trade Policy Lee Ho-hyeon at the start of their senior-level talks in Tokyo on Monday, December 16, 2019. (Kyodo via Reuters)
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Updated 16 December 2019

Japan, South Korea hold export talks, seek dispute solution

  • Japan in July tightened trade controls on South Korea materials used in high-tech products
  • Tokyo also downgraded Seoul a month later from a list of preferential trade partners

TOKYO: Senior officials from Japan and South Korea were holding talks Monday on high-tech exports for the first time since Tokyo tightened controls on South Korean semiconductor parts earlier this year.
The director-general level meeting was taking place in Tokyo between Yoichi Iida of Japan’s Trade Control Department and his South Korean counterpart, Lee Ho-hyeon. The two officials shook hands at the beginning of the talks, though they made no opening remarks to the media.
A meeting of this level had not been held in more than three years.
Japan in July tightened trade controls on South Korea materials used in smartphones, television screens and other high-tech products, citing national security concerns. Japan also downgraded South Korea a month later from a list of preferential trade partners.
South Korea has demanded Japan reverse the measures, saying Tokyo has weaponized export controls in retaliation for South Korean court rulings demanding Japanese companies pay compensation to former Korean laborers over their treatment during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. Tokyo has pressed Seoul to stick with a 1965 agreement in resolving their dispute over wartime Korean laborers, criticizing the court decisions a violation to international law.
Japan’s trade curbs against South Korea have led to subsequent retaliatory measures that spilled into the area of national security, with Seoul threatening to abandon a key military intelligence sharing pact with Tokyo.
The pact was saved just hours before its expiration in November, following Washington’s repeated pressure and with Tokyo agreeing to resume export control talks requested by Seoul.
Monday’s talks come a week ahead of a planned summit between the two countries and China.
Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers, Toshimitsu Motegi and Kan Geun-wha, both attending the Asia-Europe Meeting in Madrid, Spain, talked briefly and welcomed their trade officials’ meeting in Tokyo, Japanese officials said. The two sides also agreed to cooperate closely on threats from North Korea and to achieve next week’s summit.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that Japan’s export control measures are part of the country’s international responsibility and that “they are not something that we decide by negotiating with a trade partner.”
“Our policy has been consistent and there is no change to our position,” Suga said, referring to Japan’s position on the wartime compensation issue. “We urge South Korea to act wisely.”
South Korean national assembly speaker Moon Hee-san is seeking to set up a compensation fund for the Korean wartime laborers with an option that allows Japanese companies to chip in donations as a compromise.

Lebanon’s $15bn blast repair bill adds to economic misery

Updated 06 August 2020

Lebanon’s $15bn blast repair bill adds to economic misery

  • Beirut port devastation brings warnings of housing crisis and billion-dollar hit to exports, imports

BEIRUT: Lebanon could face a repair bill of up to $15 billion in the aftermath of a cataclysmic chemical blast at Beirut port, according to a top government adviser.

The explosion, which was felt as far away as Cyprus, killed at least 100 people, wounded thousands and left an additional 300,000 Beirut residents homeless. 

It is thought to have been caused by nearly three tons of ammonium nitrate, a common agricultural fertilizer, that was confiscated in 2013 and improperly stored in warehouses. But after months of economic misery, the collapse of the currency and mounting civil unrest, it is being seen as the consequence of years of neglect, financial mismanagement and corruption as across the country.

Charbel Cordahi, an economist and financial adviser to the president, estimated the cost of damages from the explosion, including compensation, at around $15 billion. 

“Up to 70 percent of Lebanon’s trade channels through the port of Beirut,” he told Arab News.

“Airports and other ports in the country can facilitate only 30-40 percent of this trade, and opening the borders with Syria can facilitate another 20 percent. This means that at least $5 billion of imports will not find their way to the country, and another $2 billion of exports will stay on ground in the coming eight months. This represents a loss of around $4 billion, or 15 percent of gross domestic product,” he said.

He added that without an international aid program, “Lebanon cannot face this disaster.”

The explosion caps months of misery for the Lebanese, nearly half of whom now live below the poverty line. Popular anger directed at the government and political classes has swelled as a wider economic crisis has been made worse by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Efforts to assess the damage at Beirut port, the country’s main trade gateway, are already underway. The second priority will be to restore food security and ensure the country does not run out of wheat after grain silos were destroyed, while also making sure residents who have lost their homes are rehoused as quickly as possible. Maintaining medical supplies and mitigating the environmental impact will also be a priority for city chiefs.

Many residents of the city are unable to return to their homes, even if their buildings remain visibly intact, because of the potential structural damage caused by the 4.5 Richter-scale blast.

“We need other countries to help us reconstruct Beirut,” Gen. Mohammed Kheir, secretary general of the Higher Relief Council, told Arab News. “We would be grateful if each country rebuilt a street or neighborhood in Beirut, like they did following the 2006 Israeli aggression. That would be the best way.”

He also appealed for emergency prefab homes for families for whom the government may not be able to provide housing.

Beirut Gov. Marwan Abboud, who estimated the primary damage at $3-$5 billion, appealed to the international community and the Lebanese diaspora to help.

Health officials had told Arab News that the country was running low on medical equipment, especially items needed for major surgery, and hoped that aid from abroad would fill the gap.

It is still too early to assess the full environmental impact of the blast, but environmental expert Mostapha Raad said a potentially bigger catastrophe may have been averted when the wind carried away a toxic cloud filled with nitric acid away from land and toward open sea.

“We were afraid the ammonium nitrate residue would lead to cooling off the weather and causing acidic rain, but according to tests on air samples, the result was green and the cloud disappeared over the sea,” he said.