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Rival parties call for measures after China halts urea exports

Dec. 4, 2023 - 21:15 By Yonhap
Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon (right), the ruling People Power Party's leader, speaks in a leadership meeting at the National Assembly in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

The rival parties called Monday for the government to come up with countermeasures against Beijing's recent halt in urea exports to South Korea, voicing concerns it could lead to another urea crisis.

On Sunday, government and industry officials said that China has recently halted customs procedures for urea exports to South Korea and has yet to respond to Seoul's request for an explanation.

Sources have said the government assumes the Chinese action was not a formal export control measure but came in consideration of the domestic supply and demand, adding that it is scheduled to meet with industry officials to discuss the matter Monday.

"There are growing concerns that Chinese customs blocking urea from entering South Korea could potentially prompt another urea crisis like the one experienced two years ago," said Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon, the leader of the ruling People Power Party. "We request (the government) come up with countermeasures with a sense of urgency."

The main opposition Democratic Party (DP) also expressed concerns but criticized the government for failing to take adequate measures to diversify the supply of urea.

"It was a result of ... incompetent diplomacy," said Rep. Kwon Chil-seung, the party's chief spokesperson. "The United States, Japan and the European Union have secured their own supply chains and are expanding cooperative networks to prepare for Chinese mineral controls."

The DP said the government appears to have suspended its push to diversify the supply chain while boosting its diplomacy with Japan, calling for active consultations with China to minimize potential impacts.

South Korea had imported 91.8 percent of its urea for diesel vehicles and other industrial purposes from China as of October 2023, up from 71.7 percent the previous year, according to the data by the Korea Customs Service.

The proportion of Chinese urea for fertilizers also rose from 18.3 percent in 2022 to 22.5 percent this year, the data showed.

Mixed with water, urea is used to cut emissions in diesel cars and to make agricultural fertilizers. It is a crucial element used to run logistics trucks in the country.

South Korea suffered major disruptions to its logistics networks in 2021 after China restricted its urea exports amid a trade dispute with Australia.