Firms trading in North Korea face uncertainty

From Joong ang Daily 
Rah Hyun-cheol

The tour program to Mount Kumgang and the Kaesong Industrial Complex are certain to be affected by the crisis over North Korea’s recent nuclear test.

But they’re not the only ones ― South Korea has hundreds of smaller companies that have business deals with the North, with some actually operating inside the country.

And they were at a loss when the South Korean government announced it would “proceed with economic cooperation projects, but private companies are to decide on their own about their future investment plans in the North.”

According to the Ministry of Unification and the Korea International Trade Association, companies with records of trade with North Korea totaled 515 as of last year. That figure includes 379 trading firms and 136 companies that process imported materials, trading $420 million worth of products with the North. That amount accounted for 40 percent of South Korean trade with the North for the year, compared with 16.7 percent from the Kaesong Industrial Complex and 8.2 percent from the tour program to Mount Kumgang. Over the first eight months of this year, 395 companies have participated in trade with the North.

“It’s hard to predict what North Korea will come up with, and the South Korean government seems to be lost in its policy decision-making. Besides, the United States and China display different opinions. It’s nearly impossible to foresee the future,” said a head from one of those companies, who declined to be named. “I tried to grasp the real situation in the North by visiting on my own but had to give up the trip as China Southern Airlines shut down the route linking Beijing and Pyongyang.”

What the businesses fear the most is the possibility that trade with North Korea will be abruptly suspended if the North conducts additional nuke tests or economic sanctions against the country intensify.

A senior executive from, a firm in charge of dispatching North Korean workers in information and technology to Korean software companies in Dandong, China, said, “The recent nuclear test by North Korea has not dealt a serious blow yet to my company. However, it has become difficult to send cash to North Korean business partners after some Chinese banks restricted money transfers to the North.”


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