Singapore-North Korea trade can grow if UN sanctions are lifted, says PM

SINGAPORE may be North Korea's seventh-largest trading partner on paper, but in reality the total amount of trade between the two countries amounted to just S$700,000 in 2017.

"Because of the UN (United Nations) Security Council's sanctions on North Korea, our trade with North Korea has substantially diminished. It has really reached a negligible level last year," said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at an interview with the local media on Sunday.

He was responding to a question from The Business Times on what it would take for Singapore to consider lifting the suspension of its trade relations with North Korea.

Singapore suspended all trade with North Korea in November 2017, joining a list of nations to cut its economic links with the nuclear-armed state in line with the toughened UN security council sanctions.

According to the Singapore Customs, all commercially traded goods that are imported, exported, transhipped or brought in transit through Singapore to and from North Korea are prohibited, with effect from Nov 8, 2017.

First-time offenders can be fined up to S$100,000 or three times the value of the goods traded, jailed for up to two years, or both.

"Our relations with North Korea depend on the international situation, and particularly on the UN Security Council's resolutions and its decisions," said Mr Lee.

His comments came as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set to meet US President Donald Trump for the first time on Tuesday.

The meeting will take place in Singapore at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa, and the hope is that the landmark talks - the first between a North Korean leader and a sitting US president - will kickstart a process that will eventually result in North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons.

"If there is an agreement and there's progress (after the June 12 summit), and the (UN's) sanctions are lifted, I expect Singapore's trade (with North Korea) will grow," said Mr Lee.

"We used to have some trade with them, so there is some potential. But it will take some time," he added.

In March this year, the BBC reported that two Singapore-based companies had violated UN sanctions by supplying luxury goods to North Korea. The two firms that were investigated - OCN and T Specialist - are sister companies and share the same director.

Last week, the Singapore government announced that the trade sanctions with North Korea would be temporarily lifted from June 9 to June 14 due to the US-North Korea summit.

The suspension applies to delegates importing or exporting goods for the purpose of the preparations or conduct of the summit meeting.

Singapore has diplomatic relations with both North Korea and the US. North Korea has operated an embassy in Singapore since both sides established ties back in 1975.

Source: The Business Times

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