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Insider's guide to North Korean luxury sanctions

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Following its nuclear test on October 9, North Korea was subject to a raft of UN sanctions, including an embargo on the sale of nuclear technology and large-scale weapons. Now the U.S. government has published a list of luxury goods it is also banning from sale to the reclusive east Asian nation.

What's on the US list? Among other expensive treats: Cognac, cigars, plasma televisions, beer, iPods, Rolex watches, diamonds, wine, yachts, racing cars, furs, musical instruments, snowmobiles and Harley Davidson motorcycles. It looks as if the party could be over for North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who is noted for his love of luxury living.

What products are other countries banning? It is up to each individual nation to decide exactly what luxury items it wishes to ban from sale to North Korea. The Japanese list, for instance, published earlier this month, includes beef, fatty tuna, motorcycles and cameras. The Canadians, meanwhile, are specifically embargoing lobster, furs, cigarettes, computers and private planes. European countries are still in the process of drawing up their lists.

Who will this hurt in North Korea? The ban on luxuries is targeted at Kim and his supporters, a group Associated Press says consists of some 600 loyalist families. "While North Korea's people starve and suffer, there is simply no excuse for the regime to be splurging on cognac and cigars," said U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez in a statement released with the list. "We will ban the export of these and other luxury goods that are purchased for no other reason than to benefit North Korea's governing elite."

How poor is North Korea? The majority of North Koreans live in dire circumstances, suffering from chronic food shortages brought on by drought, poor economic conditions and farming problems. The United Nations World Food Programme estimates that 37 percent of North Korean children are stunted, 23 percent are underweight and 7 percent suffer severe malnutrition.

Will U.S. companies be hurt by the ban? No. U.S. exports to North Korea amount to only U.S.$5.8 million per year, most of which takes the form of food.

Is the North Korean government going to nuclear test again? Efforts at diplomacy continue. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill has held informal talks with North Korea over the past two days and is urging Pyongyang to call a halt to its nuclear weapons research. North Korea, however, is not yet committed to renouncing its nuclear programme. Talks are set to resume in mid-December.

Kim Jong-Il is noted for his love of the high life.

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