MOSCOW, June 5 Russia and North Korea will begin
settling their trade bills in roubles this month rather than
dollars to facilitate trade between the two countries with a
goal of reaching $1 billion by 2020, Russian news agencies said
Russia is trying to boost ties with Asian markets after
being shunned by the West for its involvement in the Ukrainian
crisis and annexing the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.
For its part, impoverished by sanctions for conducting a
series of nuclear and missile tests, North Korea has reached out
to Moscow and Beijing for help to fill the gap left by the
drying up of South Korean and U.S. economic assistance.
Under the new agreement, North Korean companies will be
allowed to open accounts in Russian banks this month, RIA
Novosti cited Alexander Galushka, minister for the development
of the Russian Far East, as saying.
"The ability to settle in roubles will significantly
accelerate and facilitate trade and economic cooperation between
Russia and DPRK," RIA cited Galushka as saying.
Galushka was quoted as saying trade with North Korea rose by
64.2 percent last year to reach $112.7 million, which he termed
"insignificant" and did not meet neither the capabilities nor
the needs of both countries.
"Therefore, we set an ambitious goal to increase mutual
trade by 2020 to $1 billion," he said.
There were no details on what part of the overall trade will
be initially settled in roubles.
After a visit in April by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri
Trutnev to Pyongyang, President Vladimir Putin signed in early
May a law forgiving 90 percent of North Korea's debt to Moscow
from the Soviet era. The remainder, worth about $1 billion, is
to be repaid interest-free within 20 to 40 years.
Galushka said the forgiveness of the debt has paved way for
stronger ties between the two states. Russia re-opened a railway
link with North Korea in September.
In May, Russia's state-run Gazprom signed a
landmark 30-year natural gas supply deal with China worth more
than $400 billion, and since then a series of other agreements
aimed at easing trade with China have been signed.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by James Macharia)