By Kang Yoon-seung
SEJONG, June 2 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Tuesday said it will reopen a complaint at the World Trade Organization (WTO) over Japan's exports curbs that have been in place for months, further disrupting the already frayed bilateral relations with the neighbor.
Seoul dropped its WTO complaint against Tokyo's exports restriction late last year in a goodwill gesture to seek a breakthrough in the trade row that started with the latter's abrupt ban of shipping key materials to its neighbor.
The three key industrial materials are critical for chip and display industries, namely photoresist, etching gas and fluorinated polyimide.
Removing South Korea from its list of trusted partners as well, Japan excoriated Seoul for not effectively controlling the trade of sensitive materials that can be diverted for military use, although it never provided details on exactly how.
In response, South Korea took Tokyo off its list of trusted trade partners in an apparent tit-for-tat move. But later Seoul conditionally put off the termination of the military information-sharing pact, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA).
In May, Seoul renewed its call for Tokyo to lift trade regulations against the neighbor by the end of that month, calling for Japan to make joint efforts to overcome economic fallout from the new coronavirus pandemic.
Despite repeated requests, Japan did not budge and give a clear response by the Sunday deadline.
South Korea believes Japan's export curbs are merely a vendetta against a Seoul court's ruling that ordered Japanese firms to compensate victims of forced labor during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the peninsula.
Tokyo partially lifted the curbs on exports of photoresist ahead of their summit in December. But no more progress has since been made.
Seoul has repeated that it has been making sufficient moves to seek an exit in the prolonged trade deadlock with Japan, including raising the number of workers devoted to export control programs.
The trade row has been causing more damage to Tokyo's exports than the other way around. South Korea's exports to Japan slipped 6.9 percent to US$28 billion in 2019 from a year earlier. Its imports from Japan fell at a wider margin of 12.9 percent to $47 billion.
For South Korea, however, removing any kinds of trade barriers is crucial as the export-reliant economy strives to overcome the pandemic-ridden crisis.
The suspended business activities and travel across the globe, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, already have put great strains on its exports. South Korea's outbound shipments fell for the third consecutive month, plunging 23.7 percent on-year in May.
With the pandemic further souring the diplomatic trust between the two nations, the two are far from finding common ground soon.
Tokyo decided to suspend its visa-waiver program for South Korean nationals during the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, to which Seoul also decided to end its entry program for Japanese visitors under the principle of reciprocity.
Last week, Tokyo decided to keep the suspension until at least the end of June.
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