As sanctions loom, seafood trade slows on China-North Korea border

By Philip Wen

DANDONG, China (Reuters) – A thriving trade in seafood across the Yalu River that separates China from North Korea has dramatically slowed, traders said, although there is still nearly a month to go for a United Nations deadline to tighten sanctions on Pyongyang as punishment for its missile tests.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a resolution on Saturday banning North Korean exports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood, intending to press the Asian state to renounce its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Countries have 30 days to enforce the tougher measures, which aim to choke off a third of the North’s $3 billion annual export revenue, after the isolated country persisted with two intercontinental ballistic missile tests in July.

But a Reuters reporter who visited Dandong, through which about three-quarters of China’s trade with North Korea flows, was told by traders and fishermen that authorities tightened enforcement on seafood coming from North Korea on Saturday itself.

Trade in other goods across the border however seemed to be unaffected, with long lines of trucks queuing on the Friendship Bridge across the Yalu.

“It has pretty much all slowed,” said one worker at Dandong’s small Yicuomao port, adding that of the 10 or so major operators in the seafood trade only a few still continued to operate, risking fines.

Like many of those interviewed, the worker declined to be identified.

The port is usually a hive of activity, with a steady stream of fishing vessels returning from North Korea with their hulls full of fresh seafood. On a Reuters visit in April, activity in the market was frenetic.

It is not clear how much of the trade has official permission or whether any customs duties are imposed.

But during a visit on Tuesday by a Reuters reporter, activity at the port was subdued, with idle workers saying Chinese authorities had ordered a halt since Saturday, in line with new United Nations sanctions. 

Chinese trawlers and smaller vessels bring in catch from North Korean fishermen after trips into North Korean waters in the Yellow Sea, buying crabs, puffer fish and mackerel in exchange for alcohol, cooking gas and vegetables, traders in Dandong say.  

Some seafood traders said spot checks from Chinese customs patrols had increased in recent months.

Still, they expressed confidence they would remain unaffected by the sanctions. 

“Can China really enforce them?” said one owner of five small fishing…

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