South Korean Strike Halts Trade Worth Almost $5 Billion

Strike is now in its fifth day

Export-dependent South Korea said June 17 that a strike by container truck drivers in protest at soaring fuel prices has disrupted international trade worth almost five billion dollars. The stoppage by more than 13,000 drivers, in its fifth day, has crippled major ports and inland cargo terminals where containers are stacking up.

The Ministry of Knowledge Economy said the strike had affected exports worth $2.31 billion and imports worth $2.43 billion as of late June 16.

More than 23,000 construction drivers -- largely those who drive dump trucks, bulldozers and concrete mixer lorries -- have also downed tools since June 16 -- also in protest at rising fuel prices.

The construction and container truckers want steps to cut fuel costs or to be able to raise their fees in the face of the soaring price of diesel. Some 20% of normal truck movements in and out of ports and cargo terminals was continuing, with the help of military drivers.

Five cabinet ministers at a press conference announced a 100 billion won (US$97 million) package to modernize the transport sector and improve truckers' welfare. Part will be spent on increasing the number of trucks fuelled by natural gas and some on toll fee discounts.

Officials at the largest port Busan fear the stoppage will hit its status as the region's main transhipment port as storage space fills up, the JoongAng Daily reported. "We worry that shipping companies will move their transhipment hubs to foreign ports," it quoted port authority marketing manager Kang Bu-Won as saying.

Local firms are beginning to face problems receiving raw materials and exporting finished goods. "Shipments have come to a halt now," a spokeswoman for steelmaker POSCO said. However she said the firm, as a precaution, had secured more raw materials than usual and increased supplies to customers before the stoppage began.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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