Ministry 'Confused' Over Firms Doing Business with N.Korea

      May 16, 2011 13:05

      A panel of experts says the Unification Ministry has a cavalier attitude to South Korean companies doing business with North Korea. The panel, led by Kim Young-yoon of the Korea Institute for National Unification, tried to find out how many firms there are and what they do.

      Workers' bicycles are parked in front of a plant owned by a South Korean shoemaker in the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The plate on the basket reads "Kaesong."

      The experts say that according to ministry figures, 1,017 South Korean companies are doing business in the joint Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex, Mt. Kumgang, Pyongyang, as well as Nampo, Haeju, Rajin and Sinuiju. But the ministry does not even have contact numbers for 188 of those companies, and the phone numbers of 259 are wrong, meaning it only has accurate numbers for 570.

      That begs the question whether the tally is even remotely accurate. "Even if businesses have an office in North Korea, most of them are headquartered here," said one of the experts. "So it shouldn't be very difficult to assess the status of these businesses, and inaccurate statistics show that the ministry has not done its job properly."

      The probe was prompted by a request from some firms doing business with North Korea to the National Assembly's Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee to review business in the North and give them a clear picture after the government halted all trade with the North except the Kaesong complex on May 24 last year.

      The panel had planned to publish a white paper on May 24 this year, but apparently scrapped the idea due to the lack of basic information.

      A response from a Unification Ministry official only adds to the confusion. "We gave them a list of 720 companies, including 584 that are involved in trade with North Korea, 122 that are based in the Kaesong Industrial Complex and 20 in Mt. Kumgang," he said. "I don't know where they got the 1,017 figure from."

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