Japan has told the World Trade Organization (WTO) that China’s ban on Japanese seafood after releasing treated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant was “totally unacceptable.” In a counterargument to China’s August 31 notification to WTO on its measures to suspend Japanese aquatic imports, which started last month, Japan said it would explain its positions in relevant WTO committees and urged China to repeal the action immediately. Japanese officials have signaled that they may file a formal complaint against Beijing’s seafood restrictions, which the U.S. ambassador to Japan said the United States would support last week.
China began releasing the water — which has been diluted with seawater before being discharged — into the ocean on August 24, which was widely condemned by fishing associations and groups in neighboring countries. The wastewater discharge is expected to continue for decades; some worry it could harm their seafood supplies.
But China says it has the right to restrict aquatic products from Japan to prevent possible risks to its public health and safety. It says it is doing so based on its obligation to protect its people and the marine environment under the rules of multilateral trading systems, including those of the WTO.
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Trade experts say China will have a solid case if Japan files a lawsuit against it at the WTO, given that its actions are legitimate and reasonable. They added that China will firmly defend its rights and interests under the rules of the multilateral trading system.
The Chinese move has been a major blow to Japan’s seafood industry. Mainland China is Japan’s biggest export market for seafood, accounting for more than 22.5 percent of total sales, and the ban has hit prices and sales. The government has set aside a 20.7 billion yen emergency fund to help exporters hit by the ban and is also working on preventing harmful rumors from spreading.
The yen-denominated emergency fund is in addition to the 80 billion yen the government has already allocated to support fisheries and seafood processing and combat damage to Japan’s reputation for its seafood. Japanese PM Fumio Kishida also reiterated his call for people to help support the industry by serving more seafood at home and making donations to help exporters affected by the China ban. He spoke at a meeting with visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, whose visit aims to step up cooperation between Tokyo and Washington on issues such as Taiwan affairs and semiconductor export restrictions. Japan and the United States have a long-standing security treaty covering the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing. However, Japan has recently been raising concerns about China’s increasing assertiveness in the region and its actions toward Taiwan. The two leaders agreed to keep monitoring developments, including Xi’s new leadership lineup, which is heavily stacked with loyalists.