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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 99 (March 25, 2010)

S. Korea Cuts Import Quotas for N. Korean Farm Products

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea has significantly reduced import quotas for eight North Korean agricultural goods, government officials said on March 21, amid the enforcement of strong U.N. economic sanctions on the communist nation.

   According to a public notice posted by the Unification Ministry, the amounts of six North Korean goods allowed to be shipped to the country, including crab, shrimp and peanut products, have been reduced to half from those of last year while the import quota for sesame seed has been reduced from 300 tons to 100 tons.

   An official at the ministry, Seoul's key office on North Korean affairs, said the move had little to do with the U.N. sanctions that were imposed shortly after the North's second nuclear detonation test last year.

   "The items, whose import quotas have been reduced this year, are the ones we had little imports of in the past five years," the official said, asking not to be identified. "The change was only to reflect the actual amount of imports."

   The import quota for mung beans doubled from 1,000 tons last year to 2,000 tons while that of soybeans also increased from 2,000 tons to 3,000 tons, according to the official.

   The government places import quotas on certain items to protect domestic markets and producers, he noted.


S. Korean Electric Firm Fails to Sell Reactors Once Intended for N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's state-run Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) said on March 22 that it has failed to clinch a deal to sell two light water nuclear reactors that were originally set to be built for North Korea.

   "Two potential buyers submitted their letters of intent to buy the reactors, but they did not hand over bid prices to us," said an official at KEPCO. "We plan again to invite expected buyers for the sales of the reactors."

   Earlier this month, the Philippine government showed interest in purchasing the reactors and called for their sale to be delayed until after May, when its presidential election is scheduled.

   The official "book value" of the 1,000 megawatt reactors stands at around US$700 million, but the bidding price of them was set at $112.7 million due to the deduction of depreciation costs.

   The two light water reactors were part of the 1994 U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework, which called for the North to freeze its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, about 90 kilometers from Pyongyang, in exchange for international aid in building two light water reactors near Sinpo on the country's northeastern coast.

   The multinational Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) was set up to oversee the building of the reactors in North Korea.

   KEDO, however, effectively ceased operations with the breakup of the Agreed Framework in 2003 after Pyongyang was accused of clandestinely developing nuclear-related materials. The organization in early 2006 terminated the building project altogether.

   Building materials for the reactor are currently in storage in places such as Changwon city near the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula.