South Korea has finally joined the Organization for Co-operation between Railways (OSJD) after three botched attempts at a full-blown membership. Pyongyang, which had consistently opposed Seoul’s bid to join the railway organization since 2015, approved at last, reflecting the recent mood of inter-Korean détente, moving one step closer to accomplishing Seoul’s Eurasian railway initiative.
According to an announcement by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport on Thursday, the agenda for South Korea to attain a full OSJD membership was passed by a unanimous vote from 28 member states at an OSJD ministerial meeting in Bishkek, the capital city of Kirgizstan.
Founded in 1956, the OSJD is an international organization built around a cohort of former socialist states in Eastern Europe and Asia, including Poland, Russia, China and North Korea. The organization draws up agreements and establishes international transport standards with regard to the passengers and freight transportation of international railways such as the Trans-Siberian Railroad and Trans China Railway. In addition to regular members, the organization is working with 44 railroad business partners and seven observer companies from various countries. The Korean National Railroad joined the OSJD in 2014 as a partner company.
Since 2015, South Korea has made a bid to join the OSJD every year as the organization makes important decisions on the use and operation of railways in Eurasia. But Seoul’s bid to join the railway alliance has been blocked each time by North Korea. A full-membership requires a unanimous approval from all 28 member states. At the ministerial meetings from 2015 to 2017, South Korea faced headwinds from North Korea’s rejection and China’s abstention. There was speculation that Pyongyang might show a proactive attitude this year, as an inter-Korean railway project was specified in the April 27 Panmunjom Declaration.
Now, South Korea is entitled to the benefits from a set of railway agreements signed under the OSJD, such as the Agreement on International Goods Transport by Rail (SMGS) or the Agreement on International Passenger Traffic by Rail (SMPS), as an equal to the existing members. This will serve as a competitive edge for South Korean companies in handling customs procedures and shipping costs in Eurasian railways.
Once a Trans-Korean railway becomes reality in the future on the back of economic cooperation between the two Koreas, it would be easier for Seoul to integrate the Korean railway into the Eurasian rail network.
Ae-Jin Ju firstname.lastname@example.org