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Ministry’s push for barter deal with NK hits wall

North Korea’s Taedonggang beer, named for a river that runs through Pyongyang (KCNA-Yonhap)
North Korea’s Taedonggang beer, named for a river that runs through Pyongyang (KCNA-Yonhap)

South Korea’s push to trade sugar for North Korea’s liquor and food products in a barter exchange has hit a wall as the project is found to be involved with a sanctioned North Korean trading firm, lawmakers said Monday.

In a close-door briefing earlier in the day at the National Assembly’s intelligence committee, Vice Unification Minister Suh Ho reported the latest development.

“The project in question can be completely dropped,” Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the main opposition United Future Party was quoted by Yonhap as telling reporters after the meeting.

“It seems that the Unification Ministry has not carried out a thorough (background) check on the firm through the National Intelligence Service.”

The barter deal, signed in June, calls for Pyongyang to swap 250 products including liquor, its signature ginseng and other food supplements for 167 tons of sugar from Seoul.

It was close to winning the ministry’s approval, as Unification Minister Lee In-young, the pro-engagement chief of inter-Korean affairs, has championed small-scale barter deals, which bypass UN sanctions that ban bulk cash transfers, as an avenue to revive stalled inter-Korean exchanges. 

The Unification Ministry, later Monday, stressed the deal was not completely scrapped and that it will continue seeking to barter with Pyongyang’s other trading firms unaffected by sanctions.

“We never said ‘scrap’ (at the briefing for the parliamentary intelligence committee),” the ministry said, adding the firm in question was only one of the North’s companies involved in the deal.

“We’re still looking into the arrangement.”

By Choi Si-young (