UPDATE : 2017.12.15 FRI 12:24
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S. Korea stays mum on China's service trade barriers at WTO

South Korea didn't raise issue with China's trade barriers against South Korean companies during a World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting earlier this month, sources familiar with the matter said Wednesday, a decision that may reflect a rise in tension with North Korea and talks to extend the bilateral currency swap deal.

During a meeting of the WTO Council for Trade in Services (CTS) in Geneva on Friday, the South Korean officials did not point out Beijing retaliatory actions in the tourism and retail industry following Seoul's deployment of an advanced U.S. anti-missile system in March.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy last month said it could raise the matter in the next WTO meeting. It earlier pointed out China's banning of group package tours to South Korea and cases of retailers struggling with an unfavorable business environment in the world's No. 2 economy. Major retailers, including Lotte and Shinsegae, have closed their shops in China following huge operating losses and opaque business outlook.

But China has argued that there is no real evidence that it has unfairly treated South Korean companies.

A banner in front of a Lotte Department Store in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang on March 3, 2017, calls for a boycott of the South Korean retailer, following Seoul's deployment of an advanced U.S. missile system. (Yonhap)

The trade ministry's stance took a turn after the presidential office expressed concerns over its move at a time when the two nations need to cooperate on various issues, including North Korea's nuclear and missile tests, and the currency swap arrangement.

The currency swap deal worth 64 trillion won (US$55 billion) expired Tuesday, but the Bank of Korea chief said talks are still under way to extend it. A currency swap is a tool for defending against potential financial turmoil by allowing a country beset by a liquidity crunch to borrow money from others with its own currency

Although raising the issue at the WTO council is not a formal complaint that entails obligatory measures, Seoul officials have previously claimed bringing up the matter on the global stage could put pressure on China and nudge it to stop treating South Korean companies unfairly.

Hwi Won  edt@koreapost.com

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