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Agrofisheries may restart inter-Korean economic cooperation

All Headlines 11:01 June 14, 2018

SEOUL, June 14 (Yonhap) -- Agrofisheries may be the first sector where inter-Korean economic cooperation is restarted, given North Korea's food shortage and past experiences in working together, experts said Thursday.

Cooperation in farming is not just an economic issue but has a humanitarian aspect as well, making it the likeliest choice to be the first area of cooperation. The World Food Programme estimates that some 10 million people of the North's 24.8 million population suffer from malnutrition. South Korea, on the other hand, is struggling with a surplus production of rice, with 1.86 million tons in government stocks as of last year.

During the Roh Moo-hyun administration (2003-2008), South Korea shipped 400,000 tons of rice annually to the North. Such aid was stopped in 2010 after the North's deadly torpedo attack on a South Korean naval ship. Experts say local governments and nongovernmental organizations can easily initiate aid, and the effect could be seen relatively faster than other measures.

"Resolving the hardships of North Korean citizens suffering from food shortages is one step toward creating an environment for restoring mutual trust and to executing the new economic cooperation road map," said a recent report from the Korea Rural Economic Institute. "It is the meaning and significance of South-North agricultural cooperation."

Agrofisheries may restart inter-Korean economic cooperation - 1

Other than food assistance, the South-North Joint Economic Cooperation Committee could pick up from its earlier agreements to build facilities to produce seedlings, process food and store genetic resources. The agreements, reached during the inter-Korean summit in 2007, also included establishing an animal and plant quarantine system and developing farming and livestock technologies.

A joint committee on agriculture cooperation, formed in 2014 but dormant since cross-border relations turned frosty in 2016, may become operational again to carry out previous discussions on restoring the North's forests and farmland, and supplying farming equipment and fertilizer. The National Institute of Crop Science has been planning research and development since last year to find the appropriate varieties of crops that best suit North Korean weather.

The agreement from the 2007 summit also included creating a "peace fishing zone" between the two Koreas at the western sea border. The aim was to protect the resources that were being depleted by Chinese fishing boats. The North in 2004 had given China the rights to fish in its waters in the Yellow Sea and the East Sea, which reduced South Korea's near-sea fisheries production to 923,000 tons by 2016, the lowest in 44 years.

Fisheries experts say a systematic strategy is necessary for optimal synergy from tying North Korea's resources to South Korea's technology.

"We need to have a comprehensive plan in order to create a successful peace fishing zone," Nam Jung-ho, a researcher with the Korea Maritime Institute, said at an international conference in Seoul on May 11. "There also has to be a simultaneous strategy for preservation that covers breeding and environmental reviews."

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