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Japan asks S. Korea to lift Fukushima seafood ban despite WTO ruling

Members of a civic group celebrate in Seoul on April 12, 2019, after the World Trade Organization ruled the previous day in favor of the country's ban on imports of some Japanese fishery products introduced in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, reversing an earlier decision against the restrictions. (Kyodo)

TOKYO(Kyodo) -- Japan on Tuesday urged South Korea to lift import restrictions on Japanese seafood introduced in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, even after the World Trade Organization ruled in favor of Seoul over the issue.

Kenji Kanasugi, head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, told his South Korean counterpart Kim Yong Kil in Tokyo that Japanese seafood is free of radioactive contamination and safe to eat, according to Japanese sources familiar with the matter.

During the talks, the South Korean Foreign Ministry insisted the restrictions are legitimate due to it wishing to prioritize the "health and safety" of the people.

Seoul imposed a ban on some types of seafood products from eight prefectures, including Aomori, Fukushima, and Chiba, in the wake of the 2011 reactor core meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant triggered by a powerful earthquake and tsunami.

It expanded the ban in September 2013 to include all seafood products from the eight prefectures, and added a requirement that Japanese companies attach safety certificates when any traces of radiation are found in seafood from other regions.

In August 2015, Tokyo filed a complaint with the WTO against the restrictions, which it considers unfair discrimination, and an initial ruling by a dispute settlement panel sided with Japan. South Korea appealed the decision, however, and the WTO's appellate body, the highest judicial entity of its dispute settlement mechanism, ultimately ruled in Seoul's favor on April 11.

During Tuesday's meeting, Kanasugi and Kim also made no progress towards a resolution in the dispute concerning recent South Korean top court rulings ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation for wartime forced labor.

Japan maintains that the issue has been resolved "finally and completely" under a 1965 accord between the two countries to settle property claims signed alongside the Japan-South Korea treaty that established diplomatic ties.

Kanasugi reiterated Japan's call to open consultations between the governments based on the accord and asked South Korea to take measures to protect Japanese companies from facing any economic damage stemming from the rulings.

But Kim neither accepted nor refused the request, according to the sources.

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