January 22, 2011 08:09
North Korean products are being sold in South Korea labeled as Russian after the South stopped all cross-border trade in May last year. The North is desperate to unblock the flow of hard currency and is pushing for resumption of dialogue over the Kaesong Industrial Complex and lucrative package tours to Mt. Kumgang.
The Unification Ministry has released a list of the top 10 North Korean agricultural and fisheries imports, which show that the South brought in around 310,000 tons between 2006 to 2010. Imports totaled US$677 million tons, which worth $135 million a year. Over the last decade, North Korea also earned more than $500 million from the Mt. Kumgang tours, while the Kaesong Industrial Complex brought in $50 million annually.
Shellfish exports made the most money for the North, totaling 171,533 tons worth $268 million, followed by dried fish ($78.76 million), processed fish products ($76.02 million) and other seafood ($67.42 million).
Before the South halted trade following the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan, most North Korean shellfish was brought into the port city of Sokcho on the east coast. South Korean importers paid in U.S. dollars in Sokcho after signing contracts in the Chinese border town of Dandong with North Korea's official economic cooperation agency.
But since trade was halted, North Korean shellfish has been labeled in Dandong as Chinese in origin and apparently sent to the western port city of Incheon. North Korean fisheries products are also apparently loaded on to Chinese vessels in the West Sea and brought into South Korea. As the pressure to bring in more dollars increases, chances have risen that the North's agricultural and fisheries products are being falsely labeled.
A South Korean businessman who trades with North Korea, said, "Since trade was halted, North Korea has been trying to sell its products to South Korea labeled as Chinese or Russian in origin. This shows just how desperate North Korea is for dollars."
The alternatives would be to sell the goods to China, the North’s largest trading partner, but prices have to be slashed and it costs more to transport them. Most of the dollars North Korean makes from selling goods to South Korea appear headed straight for leader Kim Jong-il's coffers and used to prop up his rule. Kim's funds are divided into local and foreign currencies and the latter, raised by selling farm and fish products, account for a key portion. Products such as shellfish and mushrooms that can bring in the most foreign currency are controlled by the Workers Party or the military, making it hard for the money to be used to boost the welfare of the North Korean people.
"North Korea uses a lot of the money it makes from trade to fund its rule, either buying gifts for government officials or building luxury homes," said Cho Myung-chul, a professor at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, who taught economics at Kim Il-sung University in North Korea. "North Korea desperately needs money to win the hearts and minds of the public and gain support for the hereditary transfer of power. That's why it's seeking talks with South Korea, so it can find a way to sell its products."
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