Japan says export curbs for South Korea not in violation of WTO rules

FILE PHOTO: Japan's Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko waits for U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom to arrive for a photocall at the 11th World Trade Organization's ministerial conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s decision to tighten controls on exports of high-tech materials to South Korea is not in violation of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko said on Tuesday.

Seko said the curbs “were a consequence of South Korea failing to present satisfactory measures” to resolve the issue of South Koreans forced to work for Japanese firms during World War Two, he said.

“All trade-related actions by Japan are in line with the WTO rules,” said Seko, speaking to reporters after a regular cabinet meeting.

“Because our (mutual) trust has severely damaged, we have judged it is difficult to ensure proper export controls are being taken.”

Japan is tightening curbs on exports of three materials used in smartphone displays and chips to South Korea amid the growing dispute over wartime forced labor.

South Korea has denounced the measure as a violation of WTO rules, saying it would take the necessary countermeasures including filing a complaint with the organization.

Tighter export controls, which take effect on Thursday, will slow the export process by several months, hitting South Korean tech giants such as Samsung Electronics 005930.KS, SK Hynix 000660.KS and LG Display 034220.KS.

Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki; Editing by Chris Gallagher & Kim Coghill