Economic inroads a cornerstone of deal

Joong Ang Daily
Moon Gwang-lip

A raft of economic deals, including easing restrictions for South Korean companies hoping to invest on the western part of North Korea, new rail lines and more effective cooperation between the two countries filled yesterday’s agreement.

President Roh Moo-hyun and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-il agreed to accelerate the expansion of the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North Korean border city.

Some economists and businesspeople in the South hailed the accord as a possible initial step toward developing the entire western section of North Korea.

Lim Soo-ho, a researcher at Samsung Economic Research Institute, said the agreement will provide a driving force for the two Koreas to produce “substantial” economic exchanges.

“The agreement to upgrade the dialogue channel for economic cooperation shows the North’s willingness to push forward with wider inter-Korean economic exchanges,” Lim said.

In the joint declaration made yesterday on the final day of Roh’s three-day visit to Pyongyang, the two Koreas agreed to upgrade the Inter-Korean Economic Cooperation Promotion Committee, the discussion channel between the two nations, from a vice minister-level group to a minister-level group.

Lim said the North’s willingness to make deals “has already been shown by its agreement to improve the ‘three-tong.’ ”

Three-tong refers to the poor conditions of passage (tonghaeng in Korean), communication (tongsin) and customs clearance procedures (tonggwan), which have been singled out as the biggest hurdles for the North in attracting outside investment into the Kaesong Complex, where more than 20 South Korean firms employ about 15,000 North Korean workers.

In the agreement, the two leaders agreed to “promptly complete various institutional measures” to tackle those areas.”

Currently, entry to the Kaesong Industrial Complex is only granted several days after it is requested. Cell phones and the Internet are not available in the area due to a lack of facilities. It also takes considerable time to clear customs.

In other accords, the two Koreas agreed on development projects in west coast areas of the North, including the establishment of cooperative complexes for shipbuilding in Anbyon and Nampo.

In addition, they agreed to create a “special peace and cooperation zone in the West Sea” encompassing Haeju. Civilian ships from North and South Korea will be allowed to pass through the Northern Limit Line, the de facto sea border between the two countries.

It was also agreed that freight rail services would be opened between Munsan and Bongdong.

“The agreements may be seen as the North preparing to develop its whole west coast region as an extension of the Kaesong Complex,” Lim said. “That is a positive sign for businesses interested in investing in the North.”

Business groups in the South welcomed the agreements, calling them substantial.

“I believe the inter-Korean summit this time will relieve businesses, at home and abroad, of concerns over uncertainty regarding investment in North Korea and encourage them to extend their investment in inter-Korean economic cooperation,” Yoon Man-joon, CEO of Hyundai Asan, which has exclusive rights to South Korean tourism to the North, was quoted as saying by Yonhap.

In a visit to Kaesong Industrial Complex last night, Roh said he won’t take political advantage of the new economic opportunities.

“The Kaesong Industrial Complex is a place where the two Koreas will become one and share in a joint success, not to make the other party more reformed and accessible,” Roh said. “We will work hard to make workers more comfortable working here. I wouldn’t call it reform or openness.”

He said reform and openness is considered good in the South.

The government said it is still too early to hazard a guess about the cost of putting the new plans into action.

“We cannot figure out yet how much money is needed to implement the new agreement,” said an official of the Ministry of Budget and Planning, who refused to be identified. “But we guess a lot of money is not needed for next year, as it is just a preparation period.”

Still, the government has earmarked 1.3 trillion won ($1.4 billion) for next year’s inter-Korean economic cooperation projects.  Of that, 900 billion won has been set for use by the government, with 430 billion won available to businesses involved in implementing the new agreement.


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