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South, WFP seek waiver to send rice to North

July 19,2019
The South Korean government and the World Food Programme (WFP) are in the process of obtaining a sanctions waiver to ship thousands of tons of domestically grown rice to the North, according to the Unification Ministry on Thursday.

A ministry official told reporters that Seoul signed an agreement with the WFP on July 11 for the delivery of 50,000 metric tons (55,115 tons) of domestically grown rice that it donated as humanitarian aid last month.

An efficient way to transfer this to the North would involve a direct shipment from the South to the North, the official said, adding that a final determination for the delivery would be made after considering various factors such as the state of North Korea’s harbors and the ship used to make the shipment. Sources say the WFP has kicked off bidding to find a ship capable of taking on the task.

Once a sanctions waiver is granted, a ship could depart as early as later this month from South Korea to the North, according to Seoul officials.

If the United States grants an exception to the WFP for this consignment of humanitarian aid, it could mark a rare instance where a ship sails directly from South Korea into a North Korean harbor to deliver goods amid the U.S. ban on maritime shipments to the North.

An executive order signed by U.S. President Donald Trump in September 2017 bans any ships or aircraft that visits North Korea from entering U.S. territory for 180 days.

According to the Unification Ministry, South Korea delivered food aid to the North through the WFP a total of eight times from 1996 to 2007, most of which involved corn, flour and other assorted grains. The rice the South plans to send in this latest aid is a portion of the 1.18 million tons of rice that it holds as storage at present. In 2010, the last time Seoul gave food donations to the North, 5,000 tons of rice was sent in a direct transfer that did not go through international organizations.

The agreement signed between South Korea and the WFP this month includes not only the provision of the rice, but also payment to cover the costs of the aid’s delivery, distribution and monitoring. On June 28, the Unification Ministry’s Inter-Korean Cooperation and Exchange Committee, which oversees border exchanges, earmarked a total of $11,774,899 to the WFP for the initiative.

The WFP currently has around 50 officials in North Korea who will monitor the distribution of aid packages once they arrive in the country.

Yet continuous delays in the schedule may prolong the process even further. Meanwhile, the food situation in North Korea continues to aggravate, with this summer’s drought expected to reduce harvests significantly based on a report by the crop monitoring organization, Geoglam. South Korea’s intelligence chief, Suh Hoon, also said Tuesday that the North is expected to deplete its food stocks by late August.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]