Despite lingering tension over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, inter-Korean commercial trade surged 43 percent in the first quarter of this year, compared with the same period a year earlier, the Unification Ministry said Wednesday.
Commercial trade between the two Koreas increased to US$346.99 million in the January-April period, up from $243.36 a year ago, thanks to an influx of zinc bullion, sand, fishery items, shoes and clothing into a joint industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.
The industrial complex is the crowning achievement of a landmark summit between the leaders of the two Koreas in 2000. South Korean businesses use cheap North Korean labor to produce goods in Kaesong where 21 South Korean factories employ about 11,160 North Korean workers.
“Non-commercial trade between the two sides dropped 24 percent during the same time span, so the total inter-Korean trade rose 25.5 percent to $411 million,” the ministry said in a statement.
In late March, South Korea started to send fertilizer aid and flood relief supplies to the North.
The shipment came weeks after the two sides agreed to resume humanitarian aid and family reunion events, just days after North Korea promised to take steps to shut down its main nuclear reactor and eventually disable it in return for energy aid from South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.
Shortly after the North conducted missile tests in July, the South suspended food and fertilizer aid along with its emergency aid to the impoverished North. In retaliation, the communist nation suspended inter-Korean talks, family reunions and the construction of a family reunion center.