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South Korean drivers panic buy urea as China limits supply

Seoul looks to Moscow instead but supplies not expected until January

Trucks line up outside gas station in South Korea. (CNA screenshot)

Trucks line up outside gas station in South Korea. (CNA screenshot)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Drivers in South Korea are panic buying urea — a chemical used to lower emissions in diesel cars — after China restricted exports of the substance in recent months.

The sudden drop in urea triggered the South Korean government to assemble a task force on Friday (Nov. 5), according to a Reuters report. The team of officials aims to diversify away from China by finding a new set of suppliers.

This will be difficult, though, since South Korea is overly reliant on China for the substance. Statistics from the country’s trade ministry show China was the source of about 97% of all imported urea this year.

By law, all diesel cars must use urea-based solutions to limit emissions. Diesel cars make up almost half of all cars in the East Asian country — 40% of total registered vehicles.

South Koreans have been urgently seeking out the substance and have been sharing gas stations where stocks still last. Diesel traders are concerned about the spillover effects the shortage could have on the country’s trucking industry, per Reuters.

Officials in the task force, meanwhile, are looking to Russia for a way out. Seoul has reportedly signed contracts for the import of urea with Moscow last month, but supplies will likely not arrive until January next year.