Food Makers Set Eyes on North Korea
By Jane Han
While many local food manufacturers have been setting up factories and farms overseas to take advantage of low labor costs and top grade raw materials, some say equivalent conditions await just a few hours up north, in North Korea.
Industry experts say that farmed goods grown in the North are almost free of pesticides, putting it up to par with those imported from well-known clean and green countries like Australia.
And with the forthcoming inter-Korean summit next month, they say a friendlier mood has smoothed out business conditions for them to make inroads through the Demilitarized Zone.
``We've had ongoing plans to set up farms there, but on and off political tensions have interfered with progress,'' said Choi Yong-sam, a spokesman of Maniker, one of the nation's leading chicken-processing companies.
But this time, he added, things are looking brighter and company officials are optimistic that the project _ the first direct investment by a South Korean company outside an inter-Korean industrial complex if completed _ will see results.
Maniker executives are set to meet with North Korean officials in mid-September and visit possible farm sites, located between Sariwon, south of Pyeongyang, and Samilpo, which is near Mt. Geumgang, Choi said.
``The farm will be win-win for both North and South,'' he explained, hopeful that the cooperation will ultimately benefit the inter-Korean relationship.
Another food maker, Dongwon F&B, recently became the first major corporation to get land parceled out in the Gaeseong Industrial Complex.
The company is planning to produce mainly dried seaweed and ``kimchi'' (Korean pickled cabbage) at the new facility set to be completed in December next year.
``Because the southern part of the peninsula is growing hotter, the conditions to raise cabbage have been deteriorating,'' said company spokesman Sung Jeong-dong. ``We're expecting that farming conditions there will allow better quality products.''
He added that because the lot is quite sizeable at 32,452 square meters, with just 6,500 square meters of it being used for the first phase of construction, the manufacturer is already considering further expansion.
``It's our first time though, so we don't know what to expect. There may be some bumps along the road,'' Sung explained, referring to Pyeongyang's strict and frequently changing regulations.
Snack maker Orion in April gave away 150 tons of seed potatoes worth about 200 million won to the North, for both humanitarian and business purposes.
The company is eyeing to have its raw goods for potato chips grown there to meet the demand for potatoes and work around the limited local farming capacity.
``More food makers are definitely turning their eye north, but the whole process is still at early stages with immature systemization so it's too early to tell the industry-wide impact,'' said Jung of Dongwon F&B. ``But a reconciliation mood many times happens through economic means, so hopefully this will be one of them.''