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Japan must continue to stress safety of its food based on scientific proof

The Yomiuri ShimbunIt was an unexpected decision. Japan has no alternative but to continue to promote the safety of its fishery products based on scientific evidence.

The World Trade Organization’s Appellate Body has compiled a report effectively approving South Korea’s import ban on Japanese fishery products.

The Appellate Body invalidated a WTO dispute settlement panel’s recommendation that Seoul modify its import restrictions, handing defeat to Japan. The Appellate Body is the panel that makes the final review of such cases. South Korea is likely to continue its import ban on Japanese fishery products for the time being.

In the aftermath of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc., South Korea in September 2013 totally banned fishery product imports from eight prefectures, including Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi. Japan filed a complaint with the WTO, arguing that the import ban “has no scientific grounds and hinders free trade.”

WTO rules ban “arbitrary or inappropriate discrimination” against food imports.

The dispute settlement panel judged that South Korea’s action violated these regulations, but the decision was reversed by the Appellate Body. It is necessary to verify whether Japan did enough to prove its case in hearings of the Appellate Body.

Japan has set a goal of boosting exports of agricultural, forestry and fishery products and food to ¥1 trillion in 2019. But despite eight years having passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, 23 countries and regions, including China and Taiwan, maintain restrictions on food imports.

Push WTO reform

If the Appellate Body had upheld the decision in Japan’s favor, the government could have used it as an argument to call for countries to ease import restrictions. The government said it retains its “position of calling for the abolition of all restrictions,” but it is urged to reexamine its strategy.

Japan inspects the effects of radioactive substances on food before exporting them, under criteria stricter than those followed internationally. The government is called on to take all possible measures to prevent a resurgence of damaging misinformation from thwarting reconstruction efforts in disaster-affected areas.

The Appellate Body said that there was an error in the dispute settlement panel’s judgment but did not pass its judgment on whether South Korea’s import ban runs counter to WTO rules.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has emphasized: “Food from Japan is scientifically safe. The latest ruling maintained the factual findings from the first trial [by the WTO dispute settlement panel] that Japanese food adequately met the safety standards of South Korea.” The government must analyze the WTO’s report in detail and coherently convey the safety of Japanese food around the world.

The WTO’s dispute settlement functions are in decline. The Appellate Body has a fixed number of seven members, who are equivalent to judges, but four spots are vacant now as the United States, which is critical of the WTO, has continued to block the appointment of Appellate Body members. If the situation is left unaddressed, it is feared the international trade watchdog will become dysfunctional.

Japan must cooperate with other countries to tackle WTO reforms, including reconstruction of the Appellate Body.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 14, 2019)Speech



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