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Saturday, Oct. 14, 2006

Maizuru braces for ban on North's ships

Sea of Japan port faces hit from loss of trade, hopes other vessels call


Staff writer

MAIZURU, Kyoto Pref. -- As economic sanctions against Pyongyang approved Friday by the Cabinet closed Japanese ports to North Korean vessels, residents of Maizuru greeted the news with resignation, hoping vessels from other countries visit and soften the blow.

"There is not much we can really do. But it's not like we were unaware that the central government would probably ban ship visits. Hopefully, the port can attract more ships from South Korea and China to make up the difference," said Chizuko Hamazaki, who runs a small inn near the Sea of Japan port.

For the past two years, this picturesque city has handled more North Korean ship traffic than any port in Japan. It is one of the country's key centers of trade with the hermit state.

In 2004, Maizuru had 357 North Korean ship calls. Although that number fell to 250 in 2005, Maizuru was still the main port of call in Japan for the country's vessels.

In 2005, Maizuru handled about 4.5 billion yen in bilateral trade, more than one-fifth of the total of 21.4 billion yen, according the Maizuru Customs Bureau.

Exports passing through Maizuru to North Korea amounted to 1.73 billion yen in 2005, or about 24 percent of the total. Used bikes accounted for 768 million yen, or about 40 percent of that. Electronic appliances and components, clothing and accessories, mining equipment, construction materials, and work tools were other major exports.

Maizuru, in turn, was the port of entry for about 2.8 billion yen worth of goods from the North in 2005, or 20 percent of all the state's exports to Japan. The main items handled were clothes, including 838 million yen in inexpensive suits, about 35 percent of the total. Electronic goods, fruits and vegetables, and live and frozen seafood made up the rest.

Overall, North Korea was Maizuru's sixth-largest overseas trading partner in 2005, making it a key source of revenue for port authorities. But not reflected in the official statistics is the ripple effect on the local economy, especially services, that North Korean ship calls provide.

Hamazaki said that although North Koreans have never visited her inn, the presence of their vessels in port brings business her way.

"We often have Japanese business agents or representatives of trading companies who deal with North Korea as guests whenever a North Korean ship enters port. I guess they won't be coming anymore, what with the economic sanctions," she said.

Other local merchants, however, say the sanctions won't hurt their business.

"The very few North Koreans I've seen on the streets of Maizuru look poor and certainly never come into my shop. But we get a fair number of Chinese, South Korean and Russian sailors," said Midori Iyama, who runs a coffee shop near the harbor.

Maizuru officials said Thursday there were eight North Korean ships in port. All were set to depart Friday.



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