Agriculture minister hopes for joint projects

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Agriculture minister hopes for joint projects

Korea’s agriculture minister on Monday expressed hope for joint projects with North Korea once an inter-Korean summit paves the way for cross-border economic cooperation.

Lee Gae-ho, who took charge of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs last month, said his office will explore ways of cooperating with Pyongyang once the leaders of the two Koreas reach an agreement on peace initiatives during their meeting in Pyongyang next week.

While the upcoming summit will mostly focus on the North’s denuclearization, Lee said cooperation on agriculture and food could be part of the agenda if they move onto the next step.

Forestry officials met in the border village of Panmunjom in July for a working-level discussion on collaborating on forestry and environmental matters.

“I heard that North Korea has much interest in cooperation in the agricultural field. We are internally reviewing ways of how to do so,” Lee said in a meeting with reporters. “However, the framework for inter-Korean exchanges should keep pace with the international sanctions [on North Korea].”

North Korea has been suffering from chronic food shortages, a situation worsened by international sanctions imposed due to Pyongyang’s nuclear and weapons tests.

Last month, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned of a risk of a “full-blown food security crisis” in the isolated country, where a famine in the mid-1990s killed up to three million people.

Korea sent rice shipments to North Korea under the liberal presidencies of Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Dae-jung as part of cross-border projects, but the food aid ended in 2010 under the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration.

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