South Korea Strips Japan’s Special Trade Status over Export Dispute

South Korean President Moon Jae-In (R) walks after he was greeted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe prior to a family photo session at the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019. (Photo by KIM KYUNG-HOON / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read KIM KYUNG-HOON/AFP/Getty Images)

South Korea announced on Monday that it had stripped Japan of its status as a “trusted trading partner” in response to Tokyo’s decision to place export restrictions on its East Asian neighbor.

The South Korean trade ministry said that it will restructure its export partners by separating them into three separate brackets, placing Japan in its own newly established bracket.

Japan had previously been part of a top-tier list of 29 countries subject to preferential export procedures, all members of whom are signed up to four of the world’s most important control agreements. Under their new bracket, Seoul acknowledged that Japan would remain committed to four international agreements “but operat[ing] an export control system that violates international norms.”

“We need to put an export control system into operation considering the fact that it is hard to work closely with a country that frequently violates basic rules of export controls or that operates an unlawful system,” said Sung Yun-mo, the Minister of Trade, Energy, and Industry.

For local businesses shipping strategic goods to Japan, the new arrangements will mean they have to gain approval for five separate documents in an approval process that could take over two weeks. Prior to the new regulations, the same process would have taken about five days.

According to data from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, South Korea remains Japan’s third-largest trading partner, purchasing around $54 billion worth of Japanese productions, principally industrial machines, chemicals, and cars

The move is understood to be a tit-for-tat response to Japan’s decision last month to place new trade rules on South Korea after Tokyo took issue with South Korean court rulings ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation to the families of women forced into prostitution in Japan during World War II.

In a meeting with senior staff members on Monday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged his compatriots not to engage in “antagonistic nationalism” in response to many people accusing Japan of an “invasion” by trying to subjugate their country economically.

“As a victim of great suffering from Japanese imperialism in the past, we, for our part, cannot help but take Japan’s ongoing economic retaliation very seriously,” Moon said.
“It is even more so because this economic retaliation is in itself unjustifiable and also has its roots in historical issues,” he continued. “While maintaining unwavering resolve and calmness, we need a long-term approach to look for the fundamental countermeasures … Our response to Japan’s economic retaliation should not be emotional. We must remain resolute but cool.”

Follow Ben Kew on Facebook, Twitter at @ben_kew, or email him at


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.