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Inter-Korea Trade to Reach $1 Billion

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SEOUL Trade between South Korea and North Korea is expected to reach a record $1 billion this year, a South Korean official said Thursday.

From January to September, this trade totaled $789 million, a 60 percent jump from a year earlier, said the official, Rhee Bong Jo, vice minister of the Unification Ministry. The previous high for annual North-South trade is $724 million, in 2003.

"If the current trend continues, the figure will top $1 billion this year," Rhee said at a news conference, without elaborating on reasons for the increase.

Tensions have eased considerably in recent years between North Korea and South Korea, particularly after a historic summit meeting in 2000 led to increased exchanges and more business deals.

The North Korean resort at Diamond Mountain, the only North-South tourist venture, has drawn more than one million visitors since it opened in 1998.

The sides also jointly run an industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Gaesong. South Korean companies began delivering goods as varied as kitchen pots and semiconductor parts from the complex in December.

The complex is expecting to play host to 15 South Korean companies by the end of the year at its pilot site.

Other traded goods included clothing and agricultural and fisheries products, as well as South Korean relief supplies like rice and fertilizer for the North Koreans.

"In relations between South and North Korea, starting from this year, contacts have remarkably increased and intensified," Rhee said.

The number of South Korean visitors to the North is expected to reach 100,000 this year, he added.

From January to September, South Korea´s exports to the North totaled $559 million, while imports stood at $229 million, according to data from the Unification Ministry.

China is North Korea´s biggest trading partner, with last year´s trade between the two countries reaching $1.39 billion, according to the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, a South Korean entity.

(Int´l Herald Tribune) 10/13/2005