Experts: Curbs on Japanese seafood WTO-compliant

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, September 6, 2023
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People attend a rally against Japan's planned ocean discharge of nuclear-contaminated wastewater in front of the Japanese prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Japan on Aug. 18, 2023. [Photo/Xinhua]

Trade experts and analysts on Tuesday opined that China is well-justified in defending its recent actions if Japan files a complaint in the World Trade Organization against China for restricting imports of seafood originating in Japan.

China had taken such measures due to widespread concerns over the feared adverse effects of nuclear-contaminated wastewater discharged by the Fukushima Daiichi power plant into the Pacific Ocean.

Experts said China has legitimate rights to take such emergency measures and suspend imports of all aquatic products originating in Japan, in order to safeguard Chinese people's health.

They also said the possibility of a legal case would not deter China from attempting to safeguard its rights and interests under the WTO framework.

Zhou Mi, a senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, which operates under the Ministry of Commerce, said WTO rules recognize that no country should be prevented from taking measures necessary for the protection of human, animal or plant life or health, and WTO members therefore could be exempted from the multilateral trading body's free trade provisions in specific instances.

"The uncertainties relating to the long-term and widespread hazard of the discharge of the contaminated water are enough for China to impose import restrictions to protect its people and environment from unknown risks," Zhou said.

He also said Japan has failed the transparency obligation of WTO members, which is one of the most important principles of the WTO agreement.

The best solution under the current circumstances, experts said, could be achieved through diplomatic measures like consultations.

Following growing concerns over the safety of seafood originating in Japan, China has suspended their imports since Aug 24, and submitted a notification of the emergency import control measures to the WTO on Thursday.

On Monday, however, Japan submitted its counterargument in writing to the WTO, expressing its view that the suspension of imports by China is "totally unacceptable", and that "it strongly urges China to immediately repeal its measures".

In addition to the submission of its counterargument, Japan will continue to provide explanation on its position in related committees of the WTO, the Japanese ministry of foreign affairs said on its website.

In a separate statement on Monday, the ministry also said Japan has asked China to hold discussions over the import ban based on the provisions of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement.

The transparency obligation requires members to disclose their policies and practices publicly, especially those that may affect other members; and yet, Japan's release of the contaminated water lacks necessary scientific evidence to be treated as support and transparency in procedures, data and impact analysis, Zhou said.

Zhao Hong, a professor at Peking University's Law School and former chairperson of the WTO Appellate Body, said that without consultations with countries mostly affected, Japan's unilateral decision to release the contaminated water may also violate the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

China and other countries that are affected could adopt further measures if the situation evolves, she said.

The issue should be assessed and addressed under the framework of science and WTO agreements, but it has been unfairly politicized, which is unfortunate, she said.

If Japan does file a case against China at the WTO, China would firmly protect its legitimate rights under the framework of the multilateral trading system, she said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told a regular media briefing on Tuesday that China's relevant measures are completely legitimate, reasonable and necessary. The international community is also concerned that the release of the contaminated water into the Pacific will imperil the marine environment and public safety.

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