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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Governor Oleg Kozhemyako of Russia’s Primorsky Krai, which borders North Korea, said during a recent series of interviews that he is continuing discussions over plans to import agricultural products such as apples from the DPRK.
He also said the two countries plan to boost tourism in both directions with a visit of a delegation of North Korean tourism officials to his province – also referred to as Primorye – in July, and a return delegation to the DPRK in October.
“Projects that can be implemented for deliveries from [North] Korea, including agricultural products – apples, other projects” are among the “prospects that were discussed and will continue to be worked out,” Kozhemyako said in an interview with Russian outlet RIA Novosti at last week’s St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF).
The governor was referring to ongoing discussions following his meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other officials in Vladivostok at the end of April surrounding Kim’s summit with President Vladimir Putin.
Kozhemyako mentioned additional joint projects currently under discussion such as a cross-border road bridge and improving the use of the rail corridor to the DPRK’s Rason Port – projects Russia’s Ministry of Far East Development head Alexander Kozlov also discussed in Pyongyang last week.
He added that these are areas which “reside outside sanctions” – a common talking point also raised by Kozlov in Pyongyang when referring to Khasan-Rajin railway projects.
But according to UN Security Council sanctions Resolution 2397 passed at the end of 2017, Russia is prohibited from importing “food and agricultural products (HS codes 12, 08, 07)” from the DPRK.
Fruits, including apples, are included under HS code 08, and would therefore constitute a sanctions violation if plans for their export to Russia go ahead under current UN regulations.
North Korean state media outlets frequently promote domestic apple production, most often from the Taedonggang Combined Fruit Processing Factory and the Pukchonggang Trading Company.
An article posted on outer-track outlet Uriminzokkiri last November boasted that “exported apples” include varieties named “Pukchong, Ryongjon-2, Aeguk-2, Hwangju, Unryul and Kumgang, each weighing 170 – 300g in average.”
“These apples are exported to European and Southeast Asian countries, packed in containers whose net weights are 10kg and 20kg,” the article said.
Another article from state outlet Sogwang said dried apple products produced by the Taedonggang brand were a “popular product” in Pyongyang.
The Taedonggang company previously discussed “creation of a joint venture for the production of jams from exotic fruits using Abkhazian raw materials” with a delegation from Abkhazia who visited there last November.
But while the Far East Russian governor hopes to boost agricultural imports from North Korea, the country also continues to receive food aid from aid organizations and even directly from the Russian government as recently as early June.
Recent NK Pro analyses indicate that this year’s reports claiming North Korea is facing its worst food shortage crisis in a decade are misleading, but state media nevertheless continues to raise the alarm over a domestic “food problem.”
Kozhemyako also said at the SPIEF last week that he hoped to boost cultural exchanges and tourism with North Korea, establish new air routes to facilitate tourism, and that exploratory delegations will begin with a visit to Primorye by North Korean tourism officials next month.
In his interview with RIA, he said his side was “interested in seeing” ski resorts in North Korea, possibly referring to the existing Masikryong ski resort or planned ski hills at the Yangdok Hot Springs Tourist Area under construction nearby.
These could be used for winter youth camps to complement the Songdowon International Children’s Camp that hosts Russian students each year in Wonsan, which he said was “a little warmer climate, a good holiday camp.”
According to RIA, Kozhemyako said he would like “to organize direct air routes” – possibly to the new Wonsan airport.
At present, the only direct air route between the two countries is a twice-weekly flight from the North’s state carrier Air Koryo between Vladivostok and Pyongyang.
He also raised the issue of North Korea improving visa issuance services to Russians in order to boost tourism, saying in another interview at the SPIEF with Interfax that “the visa issue is currently being resolved at the federal level.”
In April, just before Kim Jong Un arrived in Vladivostok, Kozhemyako told TASS News Agency that “we are all used to using electronic document management” – a better alternative than having “to go to consulates” – and that this “will be the main thing that we have to decide.”
As far as the exploratory visits by officials, he told Interfax last week that a delegation of North Korean government tourism officials will visit Primorye in July to “discuss further cooperation and the signing of an agreement” with the local tourism department.
He added that “the Korean side is ready to host an information tour to the DPRK for tourist organizations of Primorsky Krai in October this year,” where “issues of further cooperation will be worked out to increase mutual tourist flows between Primorsky Krai and North Korea.”
“I plan to go there and see after I receive an invitation,” he added.
Featured image: Administration of Primorsky Krai