North Korean laws and regulations for consumer needs

May 2nd, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

An interesting column in the Daily NK reflects on changes in the North Korean system both to protect consumers, and boost domestic consumer goods production. The author, Na Jung Won, sources some of these insights from North Korean academic journals, pointing out that one article going back as far as to 2012 studies the insights into marketing strategy from the “Boston Consulting Group Matrix”, which I found pretty interesting, and one might wonder whether Choson Exchange has played a role in bringing this particular insight into the country. Overall, North Korean journals tend to often include references to theoretical models that are sometimes unexpected, given the largely closed-off nature of academia and research there.

Here’s the column:

Research has found that the North Korean economy has been growing continuously since the start of the Kim Jong Un era, despite economic sanctions and pressure from the international community. One can thus conclude that the North is able to maintain effective domestic growth while to some extent avoiding the effects of such outside variables. But in order to understand this economic growth, it is important to take a closer look at the North’s particular style of business administration.
Changing business law in North Korea
There have been two revisions or additions to North Korea’s business law since Kim Jong Un came to power – one enacted on November 5, 2013, and the other on May 21, 2015 – changing official business justifications and definitions, organizational principles, and management principles that are beginning to be reflected on the ground in the country.
Chapter 1 Article 4 of the business law covering management principles states, “In precisely laying out the nation’s management strategy and business strategy, ‘the administration of socialist business responsibility’ shall be carried out, and management activities must be carried out with socialism as the most fundamental underlying principle.” Chapter 4 is titled ‘Business Management,’ while Chapter 29 covers the same topic. Chapter 30 covers business strategy and the foundation for related business rights over socialist ownership, spelling out the management activities that must be carried out in realizing business development.
The entire system of financial management is governed under these business strategies, including item prices, sales, and salary standards. There is also a system for business capital, which spells out rights to earnings for companies, the unemployment payment system, and how companies can acquire loans from a commerce bank. Sales and pricing rights and restrictions are placed on products, contract requirements for distribution, sales, and trade in other products are described, and rules are laid out for how buyers can return problematic or poor-quality products which were misrepresented under the purchasing contract.
Trends in North Korean business administration research
North Korea is positioning its businesses and factories to increase their capabilities and follow global technological trends under its latest ‘five-year strategy for national economic development,’ revealing a shift in concern toward enacting effective changes to the previous, more centrally-planned economic strategy.
Research by Kim Kyung Ok for Economic Study No. 174 (2017-1) states: “Expanding production and planning rights for businesses must include contracts, and ordering contracts which are made under consideration of state central planning and quota fulfillment. Businesses are not permitted to unilaterally cancel contracts without justification, and consultations must be made between the parties to the contract over any changes or cancellations. The results are reviewed by the relevant organs and the agreed-upon production plan must be carried out under strict rules.” In other words, a system has been established to ensure that production contracts are carried out properly.
It implies that order contract fulfillment is extremely important even for ordinary businesses. Research by Rim Yong Chan for Economic Study No. 154 (2012-1) states that companies must follow contracts for producing and delivering products to the letter. Cha Jong Kyung writes for Economic Study No. 162 (2014-1) that agreements between factories and businesses must be made under a registered contract stipulating set rules for prices and collateral to ensure each party’s claim to profits. Rules for contracts for production materials, delivery, and other aspects of the process all help establish emerging new responsibilities for all parties involved.
North Korea is also increasing research into financial concepts such as credit and non-cash money, hoping to reap the benefits of development through credit and move towards creating new capital in addition to simply saving money. The idea is that diversifying credit-based transaction types will improve consumers’ purchasing power and economic activity as a whole.
Marketing has also been the subject of research in North Korea. Economic Study No. 156 (2012-3) by Pak Chun Gwang points to differing payment abilities and demands from residents in different areas and in different seasons of the year, as well as how the growing demands in material culture are affecting available products and services. In other words, matching resident needs and demand for products will have to be carried out according to regional and seasonal ‘targeting’ and ‘positioning.’ In additional research utilizing the principles of product lifecycle (PLC) management and the ‘Boston Consulting Group Matrix’ (typically referred to as the BCG Matrix), concepts of ‘cost leadership’ and ‘differentiation’ in international business management are discussed.
Effects of changing business administration
Various approaches to business management are practiced in workplaces across North Korea. After repairing the Gold Cup Food Processing Plant (est. 2006) in 2015, the previously low-volume operation increased from producing 360 products in less than 10 categories to over 600 products in close to 30 categories in November 2017.
A ‘New Products Expo’ starting in August 2017 was used to showcase the country’s domestic products, promoting the customer’s needs as the most important aspect. President of the beverage industry group Rim Song Chol said in an interview, “We are looking to the global market as we produce new products, but we are communicating with and listening to our customers as our number-one concern in informing the products we make,” implying that customer demand for a product is the most important factor in their process.
Producers are saying they will halt production for items that do not sell very well in the markets. The use of information management systems in the manufacturing process is also being promoted as helping producers make decisions over materials or whether or not to continue production, where unsuccessful new products are discontinued.
The Kim Jong Suk Pyongyang Textile Mill has also apparently shifted production to fabric for business suits after an increase in customer demand, running a synthetic fabric factory in Pyongyang to create a variety of suit material options according to specific orders. Competition in this market is heating up due in part to the use of synthetic fabric recycling for the suits. ‘Tetoron’ synthetic fabric production at the Kim Jong Suk Pyongyang Textile Mill is thus steadily rising, and customers such as the North’s official female marching band were able to demand custom colors and styles for their uniforms.
Product distribution companies are also changing to meet the needs of customers, with a lively and competitive market of service providers working to gain a leg up on their competitors. The Kwangbok Area Shopping Center, formerly the Kwangbok Department Store (est. 1991 and renovated in 2011), became a place where domestic products were sold under customer-responsive profit principles. In order to increase the variety of available products, government-affiliated domestic producers such as clothing and foodstuff factories are in the midst of improving capabilities and product quality. To attract more customers and increase sales, lighting fixtures are being improved in the shops and displays appear brighter and more modern. The third floor of the shopping center includes a buffet-style restaurant with over 400 menu items. Shops also offer loyalty cards to encourage repeat visits and offer rewards.
The Pyongyang Department Store No. 1 (est. 1982, Jung-gu district) is a top competitor of the Kwangbok Area Shopping Center. There, shops order directly from production companies, and it has become known among consumers in the capital as a place selling all the latest and most popular items. Aiming to become a ‘Shopping Center for the People’s Desires,’ this department store is also focusing on customers’ needs. Shops have instituted a system to track customer reactions and the popularity of items through sales records. These are just some of the latest signs of increasing attention being paid to customer demand in North Korea.
Source:
North Korean business developments reflect focus on ‘customer needs’
Na Jung Won
Daily NK
2018-05-01
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The Koreas summit and the North Korean economy: why infrastructure is on the table

April 29th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff 

It’s much to soon to expect concrete outcomes from all the summitry relating to the North Korean economy. Tentative signs suggest, however, that infrastructure will be on the table for the road ahead. A few of them:

  • Aside from a mention of promoting “balanced economic growth,” it’s really the only concrete measure within the economic sphere mention in the Panmunjom declaration: As a first step, the two sides agreed to adopt practical steps towards the connection and modernisation of the railways and roads on the eastern transportation corridor as well as between Seoul and Sinuiju for their utilisation. Sure, this is fairly vague too, but at least it’s something.
  • Kim mentioned infrastructure and railways during the summit, lamenting the comparatively poor state of North Korea’s transportation system:

During the talks, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un praised the quality of South Korea’s high-speed train system in Pyeongchang, while citing worries that if Moon were to visit the North, he would be inconvenienced since the transportation infrastructure there is much less advanced. “If (Moon) comes to the North after living in the South, it may be embarrassing. We will make preparations for a comfortable visit,” Kim said.

The South Korean president responded with hopes of restarting cooperation to build a railway connecting the South and North — which the two sides had agreed on during previous inter-Korean summits, yet never put to action.

“If the railroad is connected with the North, both the South and North can use high-speed trains. This is contained in the joint declarations of June 15 (2000), and Oct. 4 (2007), but it has not been executed over the past 10 years,” Moon said.

In other words, it’s already being talked about by the two leaders. It’s fairly uncontroversial and not politically touchy, at least not relatively speaking.

  • It’s not a coincidence that Putin mentioned infrastructure specifically during a phone call with Moon Jae-in about the summit. In theory, at least, it’s a potential win-win-win situation, both for North and South Korea and for other countries in the region, and therefore politically palatable. The idea of massive infrastructure projects as a way to facilitate trade, and peace, is certainly not new and has been part of the plan for inter-Korean economic exchange before, and the blueprints are too many to fully keep track of. Kim Jong-un will almost certainly be seeking support in this area, a crucial one for the second leg of Byungjin.

 

 

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Q1 of Foreign Trade Magazine highlights

April 27th, 2018

The North Korean web portal Naenara has been negligent in keeping us updated with the latest publications from the DPRK. However, through USKI-SAIS I was able to obtain a copy of the most recent issue of Foreign Trade Magazine (2018-1). I post the most interesting parts (to me) below. I don’t have time to go through them and analyze them here, so if you are interested, you may do so.

Topics include:
1. Regulations of the DPRK for Labor in Economic Development Parks (apologies for image quality)

 

2. Pukchong Agriculture Development Zone

3. Law of the DPRK on the Chamber of Commerce

4. Waudo and Jindo Export Processing Zones

5. Prospect of processed goods export in the DPRK

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Goods, and people, crossing the China-North Korea border

April 25th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Over the past couple of weeks, there’s been several news stories that suggest and increased stream of goods – and people – across the North Korean border to China. First, there were the reports that some 400 North Korean workers, who were earlier expelled due to China’s sanctions implementation, came back to China. It shouldn’t be all that shocking if Chinese sanctions enforcement eased somewhat after Kim Jong-un’s visit to Beijing a few weeks ago. Judging from historical patterns, Chinese sanctions enforcement on North Korea may well have relaxed as international tensions around North Korea’s nuclear program are somewhat eased as well.

South Korea’s MBC seem to make the same assessment in a recent dispatch from the Sino-Korean border. On April 24th, they reported that North Korean-owned restaurants in Dandong have opened again after being closed for several months, since China began enforcing UN security council-mandated sanctions against North Korea. Shops selling North Korean goods in China have had their shelves restocked, and judging by ticket sales, the number of Chinese tourists visiting North Korea has increased.

It’s hard to tell precisely what all this means. Surely, this could all be a sign of Chinese concessions to North Korea following Kim’s meeting with Xi. More likely, the relaxation is also a concession to Chinese companies: China’s implementation of sanctions has not only hit against North Korea, but against Chinese business interests in the border regions as well. It appears that the main beneficiaries of whatever relaxation has happened are businesses near the border, such as a number of Chinese factories, and North Korean-run restaurants (usually run as joint ventures with Chinese partners). Information is, as usual, very spotty and one should be careful not to draw too many general conclusions from anecdotal evidence.

In any case, as I write for NK Pro, the signs of relaxation we’ve seen so far don’t merit any change in the assessment that North Korea is experiencing significant pressure from the sanctions. Key exports that dropped in 2017 due to China’s sanctions implementations have, as far as we can tell from publicly available information, not gone up. This may very well change in the future, and the anecdotal signs of relaxation along the border may be indicative of a broader change. But for now, the evidence doesn’t seem to be there.

 

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Developments in Sinuiju under Kim Jong-un

April 23rd, 2018

I wrote a short piece on some of the changes that have taken place in Sinuiju in the Kim Jong-un era. Sinuiju is interesting because not only is it a provincial capital, but it is an important hub in China-DPRK trade as well.

The article is broken up into three parts. There is the main narrative, a timeline feature, and a chart.

You can read the article here.

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Chemical factory in North Korea closed due to sanctions

April 19th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Says Radio Free Asia:

A North Korean chemical plant which had been shuttered for 20 years and renovated for reoperation in 2016 appears to have been shut down again due to international sanctions imposed on the regime of leader Kim Jong Un, sources inside the country and in neighboring China said.

The Chongsu chemical plant located in the workers’ district of Sakchu county in North Hamgyong province sits opposite the city of Dandong in northeastern China’s Liaoning province across the Yalu River separating North Korea and China.

North Hamgyong province is not opposite Dandong, and RFA is likely mixing North Hamgyong up with North Pyongan province. I’m grateful to a reader and good friend for pointing this out!

The chemical factory It underwent a major renovation in October 2016 and until recently was known to produce batteries for military use, sources said.

“The Chongsu chemical plant had been reactivated for less than a year, and it’s been eight months since any smoke has come out of it,” a resident of Dandong’s Kuandian county told RFA’s Korean Service. “If there is no smoke coming out of its smokestack, then it’s evident that the plant has stopped operating.”

“International sanctions on North Korea may have had a big impact on the deactivation of the chemical plant,” said the source who declined to be named. “There is strong possibility that the chemical plant was not able to obtain necessary materials because of China’s sanctions.”

The United Nations, with backing from North Korea’s longtime ally China, unanimously approved sanctions against North Korea in December as punishment for its development and launch of a ballistic missile that Pyongyang said is capable of striking the U.S. mainland.

The sanctions place caps on the import of crude oil, and refined oil products, such as diesel and kerosene that are crucial to North Korea’s economy. They also impose a ban on the export of a range of products, including food, machinery, electrical equipment, wood, earth, and stones, to other countries.

In early January, China’s Ministry of Commerce began imposing limits on exports of crude oil, refined oil products, steel, and other metals to North Korea, in line with U.N. sanctions.

China suspended North Korea coal imports in 2017 after the U.N. adopted a previous sanctions resolution to punish the country for its nuclear weapons program by tightening restrictions on coal exports.

“Because of China’s sanctions, chemicals, including sulfuric acid, are not allowed to be sent to North Korea,” the source said. “So how can the plant produce batteries without an essential material?”

Authorities let the Chongsu chemical plant fall into neglect in 1996 during the Great Famine during which up to 3 million North Koreans starved to death due to a variety of factors, including the state’s economic mismanagement, an end to aid and trade concessions from the former Soviet Union after it collapsed, and a series of floods and droughts.

“When they initiated the major renovation of the chemical plant, they probably did not expect there would be sanctions against them or any power shortages,” he said.

A North Korean resident of North Hamgyong pointed out that that the chemical factory could not sustain operations after a nearby hydropower plant stopped generating electricity last year when the Supung Dam, its water source, dried up during a drought.

“In order to operate factories in North Korea, raw materials and electricity must be guaranteed,” said the source who declined to be named.

Fertilizer production

The chemical plant was built in 1943 and produced calcium cyanamide, a chemical fertilizer commercially known as nitrolime, and phosphate fertilizers when Korea was under Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945).

In 1966, when North Korea founder and former leader Kim Il Sung was in power, the facility was expanded to produce other chemical fertilizers.

The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies issued a dossier in 2004 listing five major North Korean civilian chemical production facilities that sat on the border with China, including the Chongsu chemical complex.

A report issued five years later by International Crisis Group listed a chemical plant in Chongsu as one of four chemical weapons sites on the border with China, though specific names of the facilities were not given.

Though North Korea has long denied having a chemical weapons program that produces nerve, blister, blood, and choking agents, the U.S. Defense Department believes the rogue nation likely possesses production capability and a chemical weapons stockpile that could be used with artillery and ballistic missiles, according to an Associated Press report in March.

In February, the U.S. determined that North Korean used the chemical warfare agent VX to assassinate Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of Kim Jong Un, at the Kuala Lumpur international airport in Malaysia in February 2017.

In response, the U.S. imposed sanctions on North Korea under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act in addition to existing U.S. comprehensive sanctions targeting unlawful North Korean activities.

Full article here:
Sanctions Force North Korea to Shutter Chemical Factory
Joonho Kim
Radio Free Asia

2018-04-19

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Russian sanctions enforcement grounds business with North Korea to a halt

April 19th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

NPR reports, from Vladivostok, of frustrated Russian businesspeople and halted dealings with North Korea, in the face of sanctions pressure:

In his second-floor office in a shabby building a few steps away from the Hotel Gavan, Vladimir Baranov was fuming over the new restrictions.

In May, his company, InvestStroyTrest, started a ferry service between Vladivostok and the North Korean port of Rajin, a 12-hour ride along the coast.

“Of course I don’t have any cargo volumes with these sanctions, which ban even wheelchairs,” said Baranov. “I’m not working right now because there’s no cargo.”

His company’s ferry, a North Korean vessel named the Man Gyong Bong, is now stuck in Rajin after Vladivostok port officials refused to let it dock under suspicion it was carrying sanctioned goods — a claim that Baranov is disputing in court.

Baranov is still hoping he’ll find passengers among Russian and Chinese tourists, though he can soon forget about the region’s thousands of North Korean migrant workers that Moscow says will have to leave.

Most of these laborers work on construction sites and farms in the Russian Far East, though some are employed at the North Korean restaurants that dot Vladivostok. At the Koryo restaurant next to city hall, young North Korean women in traditional costumes belt out sentimental Korean tunes over the karaoke system.

“They’re great workers who’ll work day and night,” said Valentin Pak, a Russian entrepreneur and politician whose own ancestors emigrated from Korea five generations ago. “They will be sorely missed.”

Pak said it will be hard to replace the North Koreans and is skeptical of statements by regional officials that they can be replaced with workers from India or Central Asia.

Ever since Russia began settling its remote Pacific territories in the mid-19th century, labor shortages have been a serious problem — and workers from neighboring Korea were a logical choice to help fill the gap. During Soviet times and into the 1990s, North Koreans toiled under brutal conditions in Siberian logging camps run by the North Korean government under an agreement between Moscow and Pyongyang.

Today the government in Pyongyang still profits from its citizens going to Russia for work, which is the whole idea behind the restrictions on North Korean workers.

“For North Korea, it’s a business, because all the laborers who work here pay their government to be here,” said Irina Tyan, a businesswoman who co-owns a farm with the North Korean consulate in Vladivostok. Like Pak, she is a member of Russia’s ethnic Korean community, which is well-integrated into Russian society.

Tyan’s North Korean partners invested $2 million into a 10,000-acre farm that grows soy, corn, wheat and oats. Until last year, the business employed 10 Russians and about 20 North Koreans.

The North Korean workers earned 20,000 rubles ($320) per month plus room, board and clothing, Tyan said, though she didn’t pay them directly but via their North Korean government supervisor.

She disagrees with reports thatNorth Koreans work in slave-like conditions in Russia. They just don’t make the same demands as Russian workers — such as an eight-hour workday with lunch and smoking breaks — and are under the strict guidance of their North Korean minders, Tyan said.

“They’re afraid, that’s clear,” she said. “But they’ll still do anything to get here because they can go where they want, go shopping, buy whatever they want or need. They won’t say it out loud, but it’s clear that they want to continue living and working here.”

After her quota of 30 North Korean workers was canceled because of the sanctions, Tyan’s last eight North Koreans are due to go home this month. If the sanctions aren’t lifted by next year’s planting season, she said she would have to sell the business.

“Of course, nobody knows what will happen next,” Tyan said. “Maybe they’ll lift the sanctions tomorrow, maybe in a year, maybe never.”

One Russian businessman who remains optimistic is Ivan Tonkikh, who runs RasonConTrans, a cargo terminal in Rajin, North Korea, jointly owned by Russian Railways and the North Korean state.

Although the venture is exempt from the latest U.N. sanctions, Tonkikh is having trouble finding partners who would be willing to export coal via Rajin. While business is at a standstill, he said that he wants to convince the U.N. to allow the delivery of humanitarian shipments to his port.

Tonkikh downplays the economic levers Moscow has over Pyongyang, though he adds that the cargo terminal is an investment in a brighter future.

“Rajin is only the beginning. It’s the first segment of a restored trans-Korean railway,” said Tonkikh. “We call Rajin the ‘short track to consensus’ on the Korean Peninsula.”

Article source:
Sanctions Targeting North Korea Ripple Into Russia
Lucian Kim
NPR
2018-04-19

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Use of Yuan in the North Korean economy

April 16th, 2018

According to the Asahi Shimbun:

The Chinese yuan apparently has growing currency in North Korea and is commonly used in daily transactions such as paying taxi fares and restaurant bills.

The situation is a far cry from the 1990s, when only 4.9 percent of defectors said foreign currencies, including the U.S. dollar, were commonly used in daily transactions.

Lee’s study targeted around 1,000 defectors. The results, released Feb. 28, found that 44.3 percent of defectors between 2011 and 2015 said foreign currencies were often used for transactions. However, 52.5 percent of defectors after 2013 said the yuan is chiefly used nowadays.

The survey highlighted the fact that China’s currency is increasingly in circulation in North Korea, which helps explain why the reclusive country’s commodity prices and exchange rates have remained relatively stable.

The Pyongyang regime’s decision to revalue its won currency in November 2009 eroded public trust in the monetary system by 2013 as it wiped out the savings of many North Koreans, sparking incidents of unrest and a thriving black market.

North Korea’s official exchange rate is pegged at 108 won to the dollar. But on the black market, $1 (107 yen) fetches about 8,000 won.

Since 2013, the U.S. dollar has continuously traded at around 8,000 won. There are suspicions that Pyongyong has reduced the volume of won in circulation amid the influx of foreign currencies in daily transactions.

Read the full story here:
China’s yuan now firmly part of North Korea’s daily economy
Yoshihiro Makino
Asahi Shimbun
2018-4-13

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What North Korea’s 2017 budget report and 2018 projections tell us about its economy

April 16th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

What could be better on a rainy Sunday (at least for those of us on the U.S. east coast) than to delve a little deeper into North Korea’s 2017 budget reporting? I don’t have as much time as I would wish at the moment to give the topic the attention it deserves, so I would advise readers who wish to do more research on their own to use Ruediger Frank’s previous writing on the topic as a guide to making sense of the most recent budget report (see, for example, here, and here), in combination with information about the budget report itself.

Before delving into some points from the report, here’s the usual mantra about figures from North Korea: numbers should never be taken as exact, and their reliability is sketchy at best. It is impossible to tell for sure what is propaganda and what is actual, realistic information, and all figures should be taken as indicative only.

With that out of the way, here are some observations, in no particular order:

The economy has grown, according to North Korea’s own figures, but by less than previous yearsThat is, if you take Ruediger Frank’s view that growth of state budget revenue is a proxy for overall economic growth, which went up by 4.9 from the previous year. This is significantly lower than the past few year’s estimates and results, so in a way, it’s an admission of a real decrease in economic performance. Thus, it is an admission of sorts that the economy isn’t doing all that well at the moment. There are several potential reasons for this figure (which, again, may not even be true or accurate). Recall that exports only started dropping in any drastic sense from early fall last year, when Chinese sanctions enforcement began.

For 2018, the “envisaged” growth rate is much lower, at 3.2 percent. Perhaps this, too, is overtly optimistic given how difficult things seem at the moment. Or perhaps it’s a realistic anticipation of a real downturn, but no disaster.

The budget report recognizes that a significant share of economic activity occurs out of the central government’s handsThough North Korean publications do not explicitly recognize private economic activity, they’re less and less shy about talking quite openly about key facets of the marketized system. Frank pointed out previously, for example, that budgetary items such as revenues from provinces, according to some, essentially represent incomes from the non-centrally planned share of the economy. If this interpretation is correct, over a quarter of economic production (26.1%) is openly admitted by Pyongyang to be out of central planning hands. The share may well be more than the double of that in reality, depending on how you count. In any case, the budget report – and this isn’t new at all, I should point out – recognizes that a significant share of the economy is out of central government hands: “[…] 도,시,군들에서 자체의 수입으로 지출을 맞추고 많은 자금을 중앙예산에 들여놓을것으로 예견하였다 (Provinces, cities and counties are expected to balance expenditure with their own revenue and contribute lots of funds to the central budget)”.

The state foresees continued growth from private and semi-private enterprise revenue next yearTo see why, consider two budget posts that may appear especially peculiar for a nominally socialist economy: the social insurance fee (사회보험료수입금) and the real estate rent (부동산사용료수입금). The income from the former is expected to grow by 1.2 and 1.8 percent respectively. Revenues from the transaction tax (거래수입금) anticipated to grow by 2.5 percent. These, too, have been mentioned in previous budget reports so their appearance per se is not new. Information about what exactly they are is rather tricky to come by, and I’m grateful to my good friend and colleague Peter Ward for sending me excerpts from a 2010 North Korean dictionary (광명백과사전) on the social insurance and real estate rent fees.

The social insurance fee, basically, is just what it sounds like: a fee charged from “socialist organs and factories” as well as individual worker’s earnings, to help guarantee a decent life for “people who loose their ability to work [로동능력을 잃은 사람]” as well as the elderly and others in need. The real estate usage fee is explained as a revenue from “socialist organs and factories” charged in order for the government to maintain the quality and standard of its property, i.e., its buildings and land (which technically is all the land and all the buildings in the country). In other words, this is a fee charged to enterprises in a general sense, it seems. Both the social insurance fee and the real estate usage fee are probably best thought of as general revenue streams for the government, rather than income later used for a specific purpose. The transaction tax was first mentioned in the budget report for 2011, and is most likely a form of general tax on enterprise activity.

Again, these revenue flows are not new, and neither is their reporting. But fact that these revenue channels are institutionalized parts of the official economy say something about how far North Korea has gone from the Stalinist economic model, even nominally speaking. In a fully planned economy, there would be no need for fees or taxes (and indeed, North Korea claims to be a tax-free society) because all production would be planned, and its results collected in full and distributed by the state. Fees and taxes are only necessary when economic production occurs outside of state hands, which likely about half or more of economic activity in North Korea does.

Conclusion

No reader should take this post to mean that the North Korean economy is doing well, improving, or remains untouched by sanctions. Politically, it would likely be very tough for the state to report a major downturn in a year of such scaled-up sanctions and international pressure. But the overall assessment, that things are getting tougher but are not yet catastrophic in any way, may well be accurate. The question is how long it can go on this way, and it seems to me that economic projections for 2018 may well be more optimistic than they should be. Of course, with China’s sanctions enforcement reportedly letting up in some respects, there might be more cause for optimism than we realize.

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North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly Session: Economic reporting

April 12th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

On April 11th, 2018, North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament held a session in Pyongyang. Some news media has focused on Kim Jong-un’s absence from the session, but some interesting reporting on the economic situation came out of the session as well. Here are the key points on the economy (from KCNA on April 12th, with my annotation and emphasis added):

Deputy Pak Pong Ju, premier of the Cabinet, delivered a report on the fulfillment of the work of the Cabinet for Juche 106 (2017) for carrying out the five-year strategy for national economic development and its tasks for Juche 107 (2018) at the Sixth Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly held on Wednesday.

Last year was a year of great victory in which a great progress had been made in carrying out the five-year strategy for the national economic development under the outstanding and seasoned guidance of the respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, repelling unprecedentedly grave challenges stemming our advance, the reporter said.

According to the report, last year the Cabinet organized a drive for putting the nation’s overall economy on a higher stage with a main emphasis put on revitalizing the production by locally producing equipment, raw and other materials on the principle of self-support and self-sufficiency while focusing the state efforts on augmenting the foundation for electricity production, rounding off the system of Juche iron production and realizing the independence of chemical industry in line with the five-year strategy for national economic development set forth by the Party.

Note the emphasis here on local production, the expansion of which has been a key policy under Kim Jong-un.

The achievements made last year, a year of crucial importance in carrying out the five-year strategy for national economic development, proved once again that no desperate sanctions and pressure moves of the U.S. and its vassal forces to destroy the sovereignty of the DPRK and its rights to existence and development can ever check the progress of the Korean people dynamically advancing with firm faith in the validity of their cause and its final victory under the wise guidance of the Party and that the cause of building a powerful socialist country is sure to be accomplished.

Saying that this year we are faced with the tasks to make a breakthrough of revitalization in the economic front as a whole while frustrating the challenges of the hostile forces, who are making last-ditch efforts, through all-people offensive under the militant slogan of “Let us launch a revolutionary general offensive to achieve fresh victory on all fronts of building a powerful socialist country!”, the reporter specified them.

The fighting goals for the third year of the five-year strategy for national economic development should be attained without fail with a firm hold on the key tasks of strengthening the independence and Juche character of the national economy and improving the standard of people’s living.

The power industrial sector should put defective generating equipment into good shape and reinforce them, take scientific and technological measures for lowering the standard of coal consumption at thermal power plants and put the operation of generating equipment additionally installed at the Pukchang Thermal Power Complex on a normal track and thus increase the electricity production with the use of thermal power source onto a high stage.

The emphasis on independent electricity consumption makes a lot of sense, particularly as North Korea’s oil and fuel imports are being squeezed. But it’s a problem going back much, much further than the past year’s sanctions.

The coal industrial field should attain the monthly and quarterly coal production goals and create more coal fields so as to fully meet the demand for coal increasing in different sectors of the national economy.

Note: the national economy. The dependence on revenues from coal exports has been a problem, and one side-effect of sanctions may be that domestic industries get access to more and cheaper coal.

In the field of metal industry, Korean-style Juche-based iron making production system should be further perfected by the use of oxygen heat blast furnace and efforts be put into improving the quality of steel and diversifying the kinds of steels through introduction of advanced technologies so as to fully meet the demand for iron and steel of the national economy.

Again, national economy. Diversification is also an important and long-standing goal, and North Korea has long sought to not just export raw materials, but manufacture and sell more of end-products as well.

The field of chemical industry should unconditionally hit the fertilizer production target to timely provide nitrogenous fertilizer to the agricultural field ahead of farming processes. The production at the February 8 Vinalon Complex should be invigorated to fully supply various chemical products including vinalon, caustic soda and vinyl chloride to various sectors of the national economy.

Vinalon…Good luck.

Along with the establishment of various catalyst production bases, the construction of main production processes should be pushed forward at the Sunchon Phosphate Fertilizer Factory and the process for production of carbonate of soda with glauberite as starting raw material should be renovated and perfected.

The machine industrial sector has to step up the modernization of machine factories, unconditionally hit the target for production of tractors and trucks and put the quality of machinery on the world level.

Advanced mining methods should be widely introduced to increase the production of minerals and nonferrous metal.

The railway transport sector should ensure in a responsible manner the transportation of materials necessary for various sectors of the national economy and capital construction projects.

The Cabinet will bring about a remarkable turn in improving the standard of people’s living through production surge in the fields of light industry, agriculture and fisheries this year.

Equipment and production processes should be rearranged on a manpower-saving and electricity-saving basis, diverse and quality light industrial goods produced on a larger quantity with locally available raw and other materials, and local economy should be developed in a peculiar way with reliance on the domestic resources.

High-yielding farming methods should be positively introduced and the proportion of farm work done by machines should be drastically increased to attain the grain production goal for this year without fail.

The fisheries field should unconditionally hit the fish production target and at the same time finish the construction of projects for consolidating the material and technical foundation of fisheries ahead of schedule.

Big efforts should be directed to sprucing up Samjiyon County into a standard and model county under socialism and the construction of the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist area should be finished within specified date. And such capital construction projects as the Tanchon Power Station and the second-phase waterway project in South Hwanghae Province should be pushed forward.

The rate of rooting of saplings should be ensured at more than 90 percent through efficient tree planting and meticulous cultivation of planted trees and the appearance of the country be bettered through the technical renovation and repairing of highways and tourist roads in a qualitative way and the rearrangement of key rivers and streams based on an all-people movement.

All the sectors and units should solve the sci-tech problems arising in completing the domestic production of materials and equipment and the structure of self-supporting economy with firm reliance on science and technology.

The reporter stressed that the Cabinet and other state economic guidance organs would work out in a practical way an operation plan for hitting this year’s targets and push forward its implementation in a responsible manner through skillful operation and command to successfully attain the fighting goals set forth by the Party and thus fully discharge their responsibility and duty in glorifying this year marking the 70th anniversary of the DPRK as a year of victory to be specially recorded in the history of the country.

I don’t have time to add more commentary right now, but will hopefully be able to return to this later. Below is KCNA’s rendition of the state budget report on last year and this year and there’s lots of interesting stuff to discuss here:

Deputy Ki Kwang Ho, minister of Finance, made a report on the fulfillment of state budget for Juche 106 (2017) and on the state budget for Juche 107 (2018) of the DPRK at the 6th Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly held on Wednesday.

According to the report, last year the state budgetary revenue plan was over-fulfilled by 1.7 percent or 4.9 percent increase from the previous year.

The local budgetary revenue plan was carried out at 100.5 percent.

Last year the state budgetary expenditure plan was carried out at 99.8 percent.

15.8 percent of the total expenditure was earmarked for the increasing of the military capabilities of the country and 47.7 percent for the development of the national economy.

Investment in the field of science and technology increased 8.5 percent as over the previous year, thus contributing to settling the scientific and technological problems arising in the economic development and to accomplishing the tasks for studying ultra-modern field.

5.2 percent more fund was allocated to key sectors of the national economy and for the improvement of people’s livelihood than the previous year, thus actively promoting the drive for putting power, coal, metal, chemical, machinery and light industrial fields on a Juche basis and updating their production processes. In particular, it helped build a Korean-style oxygen heat blast furnace at the Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex and attain the goal of producing new type tractors and trucks.

2.6 percent more investment was made for the construction field than the previous year, while 36.3 percent of the total expenditure was directed to facilitating the building of a highly-civilized socialist power, thus contributing to the implementation of the Party’s policies of prioritizing the education and health care and to the development of sports and literature and arts.

According to the report, the state budgetary revenue and expenditure for this year have been shaped in such a way as to carry out the five-year strategy for the national economic development.

The state budgetary revenue envisages 3.2 percent increase over last year, of which the transaction tax, key item of the budgetary revenue, is expected to swell 2.5 percent while the profits from state enterprises is expected to grow 3.6 percent, to hold 85.3 percent of the total revenue.

The income from cooperative organizations is expected to grow 0.9 percent, the real estate rent 1.8 percent, the social insurance fee 1.2 percent, while the revenue from property sales and price differences is to grow 0.5 percent and other revenue 0.8 percent. The revenue from economic trade zones is expected to increase 2.5 percent.

The central budgetary revenue out of the state budgetary revenue stands at 73.9 percent which means that the revenue from the central economy holds an overwhelming proportion. Provinces, cities and counties are expected to balance expenditure with their own revenue and contribute lots of funds to the central budget.

The state budgetary expenditure is to grow 5.1 percent over last year’s.

An investment in strengthening the independence and Juche character of the national economy and improving the standard of people’s living will increase 4.9 percent as against last year and thus relevant fund will go to 47.6 percent of the total expenditure.

An investment in the field of science and technology will increase 7.3 percent.

Expenditure for the overall national economy including power, metal, coal, chemical and machine industries, railway transport, light industry, agriculture and fisheries will increase 5.5 percent.

The financing necessary for actively promoting the capital construction and further expanding the achievements of forest restoration campaign will swell 4.9 percent.

5.9 percent more fund will go to the education field, 6 percent more fund to public health, 5.1 percent more to sports field and 3 percent more to literature and art.

15.9 percent of the total expenditure will go to increasing the military capabilities for self-defence.

This year also, lots of educational aid fund and stipends will be sent for the children of Koreans in Japan.

The reporter said that the state budget for this year will be successfully carried out through meticulous organization of economic operation and command and thus financially back the building of a powerful socialist country.

(UPDATE 4-15-2018: Korean original for the budget report added below, date fixed above):

지난해 국가예산집행의 결산과 올해 국가예산에 대한 보고

(평양 4월 12일발 조선중앙통신)

11일에 진행된 최고인민회의 제13기 제6차회의에서 조선민주주의인민공화국 주체106(2017)년 국가예산집행의 결산과 주체107(2018)년 국가예산에 대한 재정상 기광호대의원의 보고가 있었다.

보고에 의하면 지난해 국가예산수입계획은 101.7%로 수행되였으며 전해에 비하여 104.9%로 장성하였다.

지방예산수입계획은 100.5%로 수행되였다.

지난해 국가예산지출계획은 99.8%로 집행되였다.

나라의 군력강화에 지출총액의 15.8%를 돌렸으며 인민경제발전에 지출총액의 47.7%를 돌리였다.

과학기술부문에 대한 투자를 전해에 비하여 108.5%로 늘여 경제발전에서 제기되는 과학기술적문제들을 해결하고 첨단분야의 연구과제를 완성하는데 기여하였다.

인민경제의 중요부문과 인민생활향상에 전해에 비하여 105.2%로 늘어난 자금을 지출하여 전력,석탄,금속,화학,기계,경공업부문의 주체화와 생산공정의 현대화를 적극 추동하였으며 특히 김책제철련합기업소에 우리 식의 산소열법용광로를 건설하고 새형의 뜨락또르와 화물자동차생산목표를 점령하는데 이바지하였다.

건설부문에 전해에 비하여 102.6%로 투자를 늘이였다.

사회주의문명강국건설을 앞당기는데 지출총액의 36.3%를 돌려 당의 교육중시,보건중시정책을 관철하고 체육과 문학예술을 발전시키는데 이바지하였다.

보고에 의하면 올해 국가예산은 국가경제발전 5개년전략수행의 요구에 맞게 국가예산수입과 지출을 편성하였다.

국가예산수입은 지난해보다 103.2%로 장성할것으로 예견하였으며 그가운데서 예산수입의 기본항목인 거래수입금은 102.5%로,국가기업리익금은 103.6%로 늘어나 수입총액의 85.3%를 차지할것으로 보았다.

협동단체리익금은 100.9%,부동산사용료는 101.8%,사회보험료는 101.2%,재산판매 및 가격편차수입은 100.5%,기타수입은 100.8%,경제무역지대수입은 102.5%로 늘어나게 된다.

국가예산수입에서 중앙예산수입은 73.9%로서 중앙경제에 의한 수입이 압도적비중을 이루며 도,시,군들에서 자체의 수입으로 지출을 맞추고 많은 자금을 중앙예산에 들여놓을것으로 예견하였다.

국가예산지출은 지난해에 비하여 105.1%로 장성하게 된다.

인민경제의 자립성과 주체성을 강화하고 인민생활을 개선향상시키기 위한 투자를 지난해에 비하여 104.9%로 장성시켜 지출총액의 47.6%에 해당한 자금을 돌리게 된다.

과학기술부문에 대한 투자를 107.3%로 늘인다.

전력,금속,석탄,화학,기계공업과 철도운수,경공업,농업,수산업을 비롯한 인민경제전반에 대한 지출을 105.5%로 늘인다.

중요대상건설을 적극 추진하고 산림복구전투의 성과를 더욱 확대해나가는데 필요한 자금보장을 104.9%로 늘이게 된다.

교육부문에 105.9%,보건부문에 106%,체육부문에 105.1%,문학예술부문에 103%로 투자를 늘인다.

자위적국방력을 강화하는데 지출총액의 15.9%를 돌리게 된다.

올해에도 재일동포자녀들을 위하여 많은 교육원조비와 장학금을 보내준다.

보고자는 경제작전과 지휘를 빈틈없이 짜고들어 올해 국가예산을 성과적으로 집행함으로써 사회주의강국건설을 재정적으로 안받침해나갈것이라고 강조하였다. (끝)

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