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South Korea stiffens import rules on N. Korean products

All Headlines 16:22 October 27, 2009

SEOUL, Oct. 27 (Yonhap) -- The government has tightened rules on imports of sand, pine mushrooms and anthracite from North Korea, the Unification Ministry said Tuesday, in an apparent move to keep a close eye on cash flows into Pyongyang.

The three items have been allowed into South Korea only with a declaration to the customs office, but the toughened rules now require their importers to receive approval from the unification minister, said ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo.

"Inter-Korean trade volumes of pine mushrooms, sand and anthracite have rapidly increased recently," Lee said in a press briefing, without specifying the hike rates.

"This revision was prepared in consideration of two things -- transparency of inter-Korean trade and keeping the import volume at a proper level," she added.

Seoul has so far required approval from the unification minister, only when excessive imports of a certain item are feared to harm local producers. Those three items are not considered to fall into that category.

North Korean sand has been rumored to be linked to the country's military. The concerns prompted Seoul to ban local sand importers from traveling to North Korea after it launched a long-range rocket in April, and such trips are not still allowed.

Last year, US$73.35 million worth of sand, $14,93 million of pine mushrooms and $25.1 million of anthracite were imported from North Korea. Sand was the largest imported item, while anthracite was 9th and pine mushrooms 18th.

With the tightened entry rules, the government can "make a judgment on the site about whether each business is appropriate and get sufficient information about them, thereby enhancing the transparency of inter-Korean trade and its soundness," the spokeswoman said.

South Korea has been among the foremost nations supporting U.N. sanctions over North Korea imposed after its nuclear test in May. The punitive sanctions aim to curb financial flows into the country that could fund its atomic and missile programs.


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