By Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL/GENEVA, June 29 (Yonhap) -- The World Trade Organization (WTO) plans to discuss the establishment of a panel to deal with the year-long trade row between South Korea and Japan, after Seoul reopened the case at the Geneva-based trade body amid a lack of progress in their bilateral talks.
The WTO's Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) meeting over the panel establishment is slated for later in the day, according to trade officials here.
But the panel is not likely to be opened immediately, as Japan is widely expected to protest South Korea's WTO complaint filed.
Under the WTO rules, a trade dispute settlement panel can still be established at the next meeting unless all of the members of the WTO unanimously reject the decision. The next DSB will be held in July.
In July last year, Japan announced that it would regulate South Korea-bound exports of three key industrial materials -- photoresist, etching gas and fluorinated polyimide -- that are critical for the chip and display industries, the backbone of Asia's No. 4 economy.
Japan says that the measures came on the grounds that South Korea did not effectively control sensitive materials that could be diverted for military use. South Korea believes that it was retaliation against a local court's decision that ordered Japanese firms to compensate Korean victims for their forced labor during its 1910-45 colonial rule.
South Korea and Japan removed each other from their lists of trusted trading partners last year, reflecting their escalating tension.
Seoul initially filed the complaint with the WTO in September 2019, but it decided to suspend the suit two months later in a goodwill gesture to settle the trade war.
The country, which also had warned of scrapping a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, decided to keep the agreement.
Amid the lack of progress in their talks, Seoul in May renewed its call for Tokyo to lift export regulations, but Japan did not provide answers that "meet expectations."
Disappointed by Japan's response, South Korea earlier this month went ahead to resume its lawsuit at the international body.
Tokyo has immediately expressed deep regret over South Korea's decision to reopen the case at the WTO, but reiterated that its export restriction policies were legal and reasonable.
South Korea has argued that Japan "fails to administer its laws, regulations, decisions, and rulings of general application relating to the restrictions on exports in a uniform, impartial, and reasonable manner," according to a WTO document.
The trade row has not yet had a significant impact on South Korea's production of affected goods, as the country made efforts to diversify suppliers while fostering its own technologies.
Asia's No. 4 economy, however, fears that any trade uncertainties may lead to more jitters on its exports which already have been hurt by the new coronavirus pandemic. A poll showed last week South Korea's exports are anticipated to drop 9 percent in June from a year earlier.
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