SEOUL, May 12 (Yonhap) -- The total value of products churned out from the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea reached US$3.23 billion in the 11 years of its operations before it was shut down earlier this year, a report by South Korea's unification ministry said Thursday.
The joint factory park that began production in 2005 as part of a deal reached between the leaders of the two countries in June 2000, had been the last remaining economic link between the two countries. On Feb. 10, Seoul announced the closure of the joint venture as punishment for North Korea's defiant nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch in February.
The ministry's white paper said in 2015, the annual production volume reached its peak at $563.3 million. Last year also marked the first time yearly production numbers exceeded the $500 million threshold, data showed.
In the first year of operations in 2005, the corresponding number stood at $14.9 million before it grew steadily to $323.3 million in 2010 and $469.5 million in 2012, according to the findings.
A four-month suspension of operations, amid escalating inter-Korean tensions, caused annual production to drop to $223.8 million in 2013 before numbers rebounded to $470 million the following year.
As of the end of 2015, a total of 54,988 North Koreans were employed at the factory park designed to combine South Korea's capital and the North's cheap labor force. The numbers marked a growth of more than 1,000 workers from a year earlier.
Spurred by last year's biggest-ever production at the factory, trade volume between the South and the North reached $2.71 billion, the highest figure recorded to date, the white paper also showed.
The brisk performance helped push up the number of travelers between the countries in 2015, with the figure rising to an eight-year high of 132,101.
The unification ministry's report then said South Korea's humanitarian assistance to the North soared to a six-year high of 25.4 billion won (US$21.8 million) in 2015.
In the same year, the number of North Koreans defecting to the South reached 1,276 last year, the smallest tally since 2001 when the figure stood at 1,043, according to the ministry.
The annual addition of North Korean defectors took the total population of North Korean defectors in South Korea up to 28,795 as of the end of last year, with about 70 percent of them being women.
"Based on the principle of maintaining solid security, the government has strived to normalize South-North relations and bring about peace on the Korean Peninsula," the ministry said in assessment of its performance in 2015.
"The government is keeping the Kaesong factory park venture closed and taking stringent sanctions in collaboration with the international community," the ministry said, denouncing North Korea's defiant nuclear test in January that was followed by numerous military threats.
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