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Korea, Japan to expedite trade talks after summit

With Tokyo's export curbs expected to be lifted this week, neighbors seek to cooperate on chips

By Park Han-na

Published : March 22, 2023 - 15:53

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Stacks of containers at a port in Korea's southeastern city of Busan on Tuesday. (Yonhap) Stacks of containers at a port in Korea's southeastern city of Busan on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

South Korea and Japan are accelerating their efforts to break down bilateral trade barriers induced by a historical row and to push for revival of economic cooperation.

As early as this week, Japan will wrap up procedures to lift restrictions on exports of key semiconductor materials to Korea, while Korea will withdraw its complaint filed with the World Trade Organization against the export curbs, Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Lee Chang-yang said during a press briefing Wednesday.

While reviewing the achievement of Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s official visit to Tokyo for a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida last week, Lee said, "It is the first step to open a 'new era of cooperation between Korea and Japan' and create future-oriented results."

“Easing export restrictions will serve as a cornerstone for cooperation between Korea and Japan to stabilize economic cooperation and global supply chains.”

If the export curbs on the three semiconductor materials -- fluorine polyimide, photoresist and hydrogen fluoride -- are relieved, the required documents will be reduced from the current seven to nine to just four types, and the processing period will be shortened from 90 days to seven days. The approval validity period is extended from six months to three years.

Since July 2019, Japanese companies were required to obtain government approval for individual shipments that involved thorough screenings and substantial amounts of paperwork.

The Korean government will make an administrative advance notice of an amendment to the export and import notification of strategic materials in order to reinstate each other to their “whitelist” of trusted trading partners.

"In order to promptly restore the whitelist, we will initiate the revision process, and promote related consultations with Japan,” Lee said. It is expected to take at least two months to carry out due administrative procedures.

The ministry also announced specific tasks for building future-oriented economic cooperation between the two countries as the government-to-government consultations, which had been suspended for years have restarted.

"Amid the spread of technological hegemony and national priority and the formation of new trade norms, conditions have been created for the two countries to jointly respond," the minister said.

Japan is Korea's fourth-largest trading and exporting country. According to the Korea Chamber of Commerce, if the relationship between Korea and Japan improves, Korea's exports to Japan are expected to increase by $2.69 billion annually. Exports to Japan declined from $30.1 billion in 2021 to $28.2 billion last year.

The ministry plans to attract Japanese companies to the Yongin semiconductor cluster in Gyeonggi Province in order to establish a stable supply chain through collaboration between high-tech manufacturing companies in Korea, such as semiconductors, and Japanese materials, parts and equipment companies.

“For Japanese companies that supply parts and equipment to Samsung Electronics and SK hynix, the advantages of geographical proximity in terms of technology and production process improvements will be great,” Lee said.

The two nations will jointly respond to the weaponization of resources through cooperation in the liquefied natural gas field, while expanding joint research and development projects related to future eco-friendly ships and hydrogen reduction steel to cooperate in achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

They also have decided to jointly respond to global trade issues such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, while seeking ways for companies from both countries to enter third countries' construction, energy infrastructure and smart city project order markets.

The ministry plans to resume communication channels in the steel, energy and shipbuilding sectors, which had been cut off, and to establish and expand cooperation channels related to semiconductors, supply chains, hydrogen and industrial policies.

Economic exchanges in the private sector are also scheduled to resume in earnest with a Korea-Japan new industry trade meeting from March 29-30 and a meeting of Korea-Japan businesspeople from May 16-17.