Outlook for Inter-Korean Business Bright

Korea Times
Park Hyong-ki
3/7/2007

The outlook for inter-Korean trade this year seems bright, as North Korea agreed to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs at the six-party talks in Beijing last month.

According to a survey conducted by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA), about 45 percent of South Korean companies doing business with North Korea were optimistic that the volume of inter-Korean trade will grow this year. The survey was conducted on 150 firms in February.

Some 35 percent believe that the bilateral trade will remain the same as last year’s, while only 15 percent showed negative responses toward this year’s trade, saying that the volume will “drastically” decrease.

Only two companies said they will pull out of North Korea this year, while five companies were undecided.

Last year, inter-Korean trade amounted to about $1.3 billion, up 28 percent from 2005. Key trading commodities were agricultural, chemical and textile products.

Despite North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests as well as chilly inter-Korean relations last year, South Korean companies operating in the Kaesong Industrial Complex saw their sales grow 69 percent to $298 million.

The Kaesong site is one of the major cross-border projects symbolizing economic ties between the two Koreas, which utilize North Korea’s cheap labor and South Korea’s technological skills.

The Ministry of Unification is hoping to attract about 2,000 manufacturers to Kaesong by 2012. Currently, there are 55 South Korean firms operating in the joint economic zone, which account for 22 percent of overall South-North business, according to the trade association.

The other joint business _ the Mt. Kumgang tour managed by Hyundai Asan _ suffered from the aftermath of North Korea’s nuclear weapon test. The tourism project recorded only $57 million in sales, down 35 percent from the year before.

Specifically, a total of 477 South Korean companies participated in inter-Korean trade last year, down from 523 firms in 2005, due to heightened risks following Pyongyang’s nuclear test.

About 44 percent of those surveyed said that the test had negatively affected their business with the North. The report showed that only 39 percent reaped a “little” profit last year while doing business with North Korea.

Half of firms upbeat for North trade
Joong Ang Daily
3/8/2007

Almost half of South Korean companies doing business with North Korea said they have a bright outlook for inter-Korean trade this year due to expectations for better ties with the North, a poll said yesterday.

According to a survey of 67 companies conducted by the Korea International Trade Association, 45 percent of the respondents said inter-Korean trade will likely increase this year. Thirty-five percent expected trade to remain at the same level as last year while 15 percent said it will likely decline.

The poll also said 75 percent of local companies operating in the industrial park in the North’s border city of Kaesong had an optimistic outlook for trade. The industrial complex, mainly for smaller South Korean firms, is considered a model for reconciliation and cooperation between the two Koreas. Currently, 21 garment and other labor-intensive South Korean plants are operating there, employing about 11,000 low-paid North Korean workers.

The survey said among the firms that forecast inter-Korean trade to rise, 17 percent said their continued trust in North Korean firms was the reason for their upbeat outlook, while 16 percent and 14 percent said it was a rise in new orders and expectations for inter-Korean reconciliation. The survey was conducted before a deal on dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program was reached, reflecting that local firms have maintained a positive view toward inter-Korean trade. The agreement calls for Pyongyang to shut down and disable its main nuclear reactor and dismantle its atomic weapons program.

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