Europe steps up North Korea sanctions with oil, finance bans

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union stepped up its sanctions on North Korea on Friday with near-blanket trade and travel bans after Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test and rocket launch, a move going beyond new U.N. Security Council sanctions.

Pyongyang is also banned from selling any oil-related or luxury goods to the European Union, while EU nations cannot invest in the country’s mining, refining and chemical industries.

“Considering that the actions of (North Korea) constitute a grave threat to international peace and security in the region and beyond, the EU decided to further expand its restrictive measures,” the Council said.

North Korea’s latest nuclear test was on Jan. 6. On Feb. 7, it launched a rocket that the United States said used banned ballistic missile technology. Pyongyang said it was a peaceful satellite launch.

The EU measures, which diplomats say are designed to show solidarity with major EU trade partners South Korea and Japan, come on top of asset freezes and travel bans for another 16 North Koreans agreed earlier this year. That puts 66 people and 42 companies under the EU sanctions regime.

EU foreign ministers have reinforced their sanctions several times in recent years to include asset freezes and bans on financing and the delivery of banknotes.

EU countries cannot export arms or metals used in ballistic missile systems and are banned from selling gold, diamonds and luxury goods to North Korea. Joint ventures are outlawed.

However, the impact of the new measures is likely to be limited as trade between the European Union and North Korea fell to just 34 million euros in 2014 from more than 300 million euros a decade ago.

Germany and Sweden are also reluctant to totally isolate North Korea. They have maintained diplomatic ties in Pyongyang since the 1970s, providing humanitarian aid to North Koreans.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Tom Heneghan