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Pyongyang trade push

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North Korean Deputy Trade Minister Ri Myong San (left) speaks with Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Phnom Penh.

High-ranking North Korean officials have arrived in the Kingdom for talks to establish a robust trading relationship, particularly in agriculture.

The delegation, led by Deputy Trade Minister Ri Myong San, had met with  Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong yesterday to explore economic and trade co-operation for the national development of the two countries, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secretary of State Ouch Borith said.

“This visit is to strengthen relations as well as economic and trade relat-ions, particularly in the agricultural sector. We’re not talking about politics or the military sector,” he said.

Discussion on the Joint Committee agreement signed by the two countries in 1993 would continue today at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ouch Borith said, with the aim of cultivating long-dormant trade
ties.

“There are zero economic and trade exchanges between Cambodia and North Korea at the moment,” he said.

“Therefore, we will try to take this opportunity to find ways to boost co-operation for the benefit of the people and national development of the two countries.”

Cambodia and North Korea had a long history of good relations, Ouch Borith said. Former king Norodom Sihanouk maintained a close personal relationship with North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung and often travelled to North Korea for stays at a palace in the capital, Pyongyang, he said.

Observers expressed mixed opinions on the trade mission yesterday.

Ros Chantrabot, professor of politics at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said that although agricultural export links between Cambodia and North Korea were to be encouraged, it was rare for high-ranking North Korean delegates to travel to ASEAN countries.

Ros Chantrabot said that as far as he knew, a recent visit to Myanmar was the only other occasion a delegation from Pyongyang had travelled to a member of the 10-nation ASEAN bloc.
“The visit makes us consider a lot of issues in East Asia,” he said.

Some experts, however, said North  Korea needed agricultural goods, which could create an opportunity for Cambodia.

Kang Nam-shik, chairman of South Korea’s Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia, said yesterday food shortages had left North Korea in need of arable land for growing rice, corn and potatoes.

“Now the North Korean government needs to import food. They are very short of agricultural products, and are looking for land to plant on,” Kang Nam-shik said.

More than half a million North Koreans were at risk of starvation, Reuters reported earlier this month.

The European Commission announced on July 4 that it would give US$14.5 million to North Korea in famine relief.

The food aid would target children, hospital patients, the elderly and pregnant and breastfeeding women, the report said.

Renewed economic relat-ions between Cambodia and North Korea might also provide opportunities for joint agricultural ventures with both North and South Korea,  Kang Nam-shik said.

The fostering of joint ventures might prove to be more productive than the traditional rice aid South Korea had sent to the North since the 1970s, he said.

Cambodia has pushed for increased agricultural exports in recent years, and Prime Minister Hun Sen has a target of exporting one million tonnes of milled rice by 2015.

Earlier this year, the Kingdom approved a US$15 million North Korean investment in Siem Reap. Mansudae Company, a construction firm, would build and operate a Cambodian culture museum near Angkor Wat, a Cambodian Ministry of Commerce official said last month. It is expected to be completed in two years.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MAY KUNMAKARA AND REUTERS

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