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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
North Korea and Russia will push ahead with plans to build a cross-border road bridge and establish regular trade fairs for DPRK goods in the Far East region and Moscow as part of a new “trading house,” according to a Friday press release from the Primorsky Krai administration.
The announcements came following talks in Vladivostok Thursday between Russian Far East leaders and a North Korean delegation led by Vice Minister of External Economic Relations Ri Kwang Gun.
A separate press release from the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East (MDRFE) also announced that the next major bilateral economic cooperation conference will be held on March 6 in Moscow.
It will be the 9th Meeting of the DPRK-Russian Intergovernmental Committee (IGC) for Cooperation in Trade, Economics, Science and Technology, with the 8th taking place in Pyongyang last March.
Aside from laying plans for the 9th IGC at Thursday’s meetings in Vladivostok, stated as the primary area of concern for the talks, the two sides also discussed progress on plans for the Khasan-Tumangang cross-border road bridge and a new bilateral trading house.
“One of the key issues on the agenda of the [upcoming 9th] IGC meeting … will be the construction of a bridge across the Tumen River,” MDRFE Deputy Minister Alexander Krutikov said Thursday, according to the ministry’s report.
Located near the meeting point of the Chinese, Russian, and North Korean borders, the new road bridge – tentatively slated to be built next to the existing Korea-Russia Friendship rail bridge – entered the planning stages last spring.
The Primorsky Krai (also referred to as Primorye) report said Russia has “already developed a feasibility study” of the bridge project, adding that discussions Thursday covered the objective to “jointly determine the scheme of its financing.”
“The bridge will be created according to the Russian standards of construction,” Krutikov reportedly said, pointing to roads and border crossing facilities on the Russian side as additional elements of the construction plan.
On the DPRK side, Ri reportedly “pointed out the importance of signing an intergovernmental agreement on the project’s implementation as soon as possible,” according to the Primorye release.
“The parties agreed to work out all organizational issues within a month,” it continued, saying the final terms of construction plans will be determined through the March IGC meetings in Moscow.
The new “trading house,” for which details most recently emerged during last September’s Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok, was also discussed Thursday.
According to the Primorye report, the meeting this week noted that the Association of Korean Organizations in Primorsky Krai (AKORP) has “already created an electronic trading platform” for bilateral trade in goods, and that it is expected to launch “soon.”
“This will be the first step towards the creation of a Trading House,” it said, adding that the next step will be “the development of ‘live’ trading platforms.”
The report described these as trade fairs promoting North Korean goods, where one should first be held in Primorye, and “if the experience is successful, to organize such an event in Moscow.”
The office would be “established as a Russian legal entity in the near future,” it added, potentially raising questions over such an operation’s compliance with current UN sanctions on North Korea.
But the parties “emphasized” at the meeting that only non-sanctioned goods would appear at these trade fairs or trading house.
The MDRFE report indicated talks over the trading house have been ongoing at least since the 8th IGC meetings in Pyongyang last March, and that two sides will “consider and approve” further plans at this year’s IGC meetings in Moscow.
A report on the AKORP website regarding the trading house plans posted last June claimed the first working group for the project was convened in April 2018, attended by MDRFE and other regional officials, as well as Vice Minister Ri and the then-deputy director in the foreign ministry Kang Song Ho.
It also said the trading house will consist of three parts: a head office in Vladivostok, branches in Pyongyang and Moscow, and trade exhibitions in those cities showcasing products from both countries.
AKORP founder Valentin Park said in the report – a reprint of an article from RIA Vlad News – that initial talks covered deciding on the most beneficial areas of cooperation including relevant goods and sectors and participating companies.
Park also said the two would need to “agree on ways of [conducting] bank settlements, obtaining licenses, certificates, and many other organizational issues, including sanctions.”
Despite saying sanctions would be a topic of concern, Park described a list of goods to be considered for the trading house, provided by the DPRK side, that included “food, construction materials, medicines and medical equipment, perfumes, garments, electronics, engineering products, clothing, folk art items that are not included in the sanctions list.”
Food, electronics, textiles, machinery, and certain construction materials, however, are prohibited for export from the DPRK under current UN sanctions, and have been since before the first meetings planning the trade office.
As an organization with ties to both Koreas in addition to the local ethnic Korean diaspora in the region, Park also said the “participation of representatives of South Korea in this project is not excluded.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Administration of Primorsky Krai