South Korea’s business community expects to see the imminent relaxation of entry restrictions for travellers to Japan amid hopes of improving economic relations between the two countries, according to industry sources on Sunday.

Regarding the possibility of the two governments pounding out an agreement easing the seven-month-long restrictions on entry to Japan amid the Covid-19 pandemic, industry officials are optimistic about maintaining better business relations with their Japanese partners and contributing to the two nations’ economic ties.

“Although Korea has been working to strengthen the materials, parts and equipment industry and reduce its reliance on Japan, close cooperation between Korean and Japanese companies is really needed,” said an industry official. “Japanese firms are still important business partners for many Korean companies.”

Since the Covid-19 outbreak, Japan has strictly limited entry to medical personnel, educational faculty members and people with permanent resident status. Some high-profile business moguls have been allowed in on a case-by-case basis.

Korean business officials hope to be allowed to enter Japan via fast-track corridors and not subjected to a two-week quarantine, if they test negative for Covid-19 before departure and after arrival.

Business tycoons like Samsung vice-chairman Lee Jae-yong would then be able to resume meetings with their Japanese partners. Until last year, the Samsung heir frequently visited Japan to meet some of Japan’s most influential business and political figures.

Lee flew to Tokyo in July last year to seek cooperation from major Japanese businesses in securing key materials for semiconductors and displays, after the Japanese government led by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe imposed severe restrictions on exports to Korea of those materials.

“The business ties could have been kept through virtual meetings and videoconferencing, but such noncontact meetings were not enough to make the relations stronger,” another official said.

Since July last year, soured relations between Seoul and Tokyo have led to boycotts of Japanese products by Koreans and to a decline in trade.

In September, Japan’s exports to Korea fell 15.9 per cent to 402.8 billion yen ($3.82 million), while its imports from Korea dropped 8.9 per cent to 251.3 billion yen.