South Korea, Japan Agree to Keep Talking to Ease Trade Tensions

(Bloomberg) -- Japan and South Korea agreed to continue negotiations on export controls after a day of talks aimed at resolving one of an array of issues that have shaken the relationship between the two U.S. allies.

Japan’s Trade Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama welcomed the talks as a step forward and said any decision on reversing a clampdown on sensitive exports to South Korea would come after repeated rounds of negotiations. South Korea’s trade ministry said in a statement that the next round of talks would be held in Seoul in the near future.

Trade officials from both sides had huddled behind closed doors Monday in Tokyo in a bid to find a solution to the trade portion of a feud that prompted South Korea to say it would end a military intelligence-sharing pact. Seoul agreed last month to extend that agreement, provided Japan entered talks on export controls it imposed over the summer on materials key to South Korea’s high-tech manufacturing industry.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha had pushed Japan to reverse the measures during a brief conversation with Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi on the sidelines of climate meetings in Madrid on Sunday, according to the South Korean side. For his own part, Motegi welcomed the planned negotiations and said the two neighbors would work to arrange another summit next week between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

The discussions between Yoichi Iida, director-general of the trade control department at Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and his South Korean counterpart, Lee Ho-hyeon ran on hours beyond their scheduled time. Direct discussions between the officials responsible for trade controls had not been held at this level for more than three years.

“Through the talks, we have reached mutual understanding from a professional perspective in terms of the operation of both countries’ export management system,” South Korea’s trade ministry said in a statement. Both countries shared the understanding that effective export management was needed, the ministry said.

Relations between the two Asian economic giants have soured over the past year, largely due to disagreement over whether Japan has shown sufficient contrition for its 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula. Abe and Moon toned down their standoff after pressure from the U.S. last month, and are now expected to meet while in Chengdu, China, for another summit next week.

South Korea has disbanded a Japanese-backed foundation that compensated women who were trafficked to Japanese military brothels before and during World War II. The country’s courts have also found Japanese companies responsible for cases of forced labor during the colonial period -- an issue Japan says was settled under a 1965 treaty that was accompanied by a payment of $300 million and $200 million in low-interest loans.

Amid anger over these issues, Japan in July restricted exports of three materials vital to South Korean manufacturers of semiconductors and computer displays. The following month, Japan removed South Korea from a list of trusted export destinations that benefit from less-stringent trade checks.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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