South Korea to consult China over urea export delays

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) -South Korea on Monday said it will consult China to prevent disruption to urea supplies after Korean companies reported the fertiliser and emissions reducing chemical was taking longer to pass through Chinese customs on its way to the peninsula.

The reports follow calls from China's nitrogen fertiliser association last month to prioritise supplies for domestic use after prices hit a two-year high. They also come after Indian industry figures in September flagged delays at Chinese ports.

The issue has raised concern about a repeat of a supply crunch in 2021 when China's government effectively halted exports of urea - a type of nitrogen used as fertiliser in agriculture as well as to curb diesel and industrial emissions.

South Korea imports over 90% of its urea supply from China.

"We have confirmed customs delays, and there was no political background but economic factors, mainly due to tight urea supplies within China," Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy spokesperson Choi Nam-ho told a briefing on Monday.

In a statement late on Sunday, the ministry said it had supplies sufficient for three months, with imports also coming from Vietnam and Japan.

It also said it was working to prevent shortages by boosting reserves for vehicle use and supporting the industry to diversify import channels.

South Korean trade minister Ahn Duk-geun also met with his counterpart in Beijing on Monday and called on China to immediately resolve the customs clearance issue, the ministry said in a separate statement on Monday.

In late 2021, a new Chinese export requirement aimed at increasing domestic supplies triggered panic buying among South Korean drivers of diesel cars and trucks who are required to use urea solutions to cut emissions.

South Korea resorted to government rations while trying to secure alternative suppliers. It even scrambled a military tanker plane to Australia.

Diesel cars account for about 40% of registered vehicles in South Korea.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Ed Davies and Christopher Cushing and Miral Fahmy)