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By Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL, Sept. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's trade ministry said Friday that Japan has accepted its offer to hold a bilateral consultation to deal with its complaint filed with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over unfair trade practices.
The move came after Seoul filed a complaint with the WTO last week blaming Tokyo's restrictions on exporting key industrial materials to its Asian neighbor as "unfair and groundless."
"Japan notified the WTO that it would accept the request made by South Korea on seeking a bilateral consultation," an official from the Ministry of Trade, Investment and Energy said.
The two countries plan to work on setting the details of the meeting's time and venue in the near future, the ministry said.
The bilateral consultation is the first step of a WTO dispute settlement.
If the two fail to narrow their differences within 60 days, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body will establish a panel to look further into the case.
Experts said it is expected to take around 15 months for the panel to deliver its first verdict. Considering it is likely that one party will seek an appeal to the initial ruling, the entire process, however, is expected to take up to three years, they added.
Tokyo's abrupt step to regulate exports of key materials to Seoul in July was widely seen as retaliation against last year's Supreme Court rulings ordering Japanese firms to compensate Korean victims of forced labor during Japan's brutal 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
Japan claims that all compensation was settled when the two countries normalized their diplomatic ties in 1965, although the court ruled that individual rights to seek compensation are still valid.
Although Japan cited South Korea's alleged lax control of sensitive materials that could be potentially diverted for military use, it has not yet provided concrete evidence behind the allegations despite repeated requests from Seoul.
In a separate action, the two countries removed each other from respective lists of trusted trade partners that are granted preferential treatment in export procedures.
The latest complaint, however, does not cover Japan's removal of South Korea from the so-called whitelist.
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