Archive for January, 2007

N. Korea urges implementation of inter-Korean economic accord

Thursday, January 25th, 2007


North Korea has called upon South Korea to implement an earlier agreement to help revive its light industry in return for tapping into the communist nation’s natural resources, a senior unification official said Thursday.

During Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung’s first visit to the Kaesong Industrial Complex since he took office in December, Ju Dong-chan, head of the North’s Kaesong development agency “asked the minister to honor the agreement, saying it is not an aid, but only swapping of natural resources and raw materials,” the official said anonymously.

In July 2005, South Korea agreed to provide the North with US$80 million worth of raw materials to help it produce clothing, footwear and soap starting in 2006. In return, the North was to provide the South with minerals such as zinc and magnesite, after the mines are developed with South Korean investments, guaranteed by the Pyongyang government.

But the agreement was never carried out as North Korea abruptly cancelled scheduled tests of two cross-border railways in May 2006. North Korea’s subsequent missile and nuclear weapons tests further clouded hopes to implement the accord.

“Lee agreed in principle to honor the accord, but he held the position it is more important to create a favorable environment for carrying out the agreement,” the official told reporters.

Asked about the North’s denial of reports that it scrapped plans to change its partner for tours of Kaesong, the official said it is purely a matter of business, which does not require the intervention of the government.

Just hours after Lee returned to Seoul from Kaesong, an unidentified spokesman for the Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee (KAPPC) said the North “has no formal agreement with the Hyundai side over the issue of tour of Kaesong.”

Despite its earlier contract with Hyundai Asan, North Korea requested a new deal with Lotte Tours Co. in 2005. However, the South Korean government said the change can happen only when Hyundai Asan voluntarily concedes or pulls out of the business.


N. Korea Bans Domestic Use of Foreign Currency

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

Korea Times
Lee Jin-woo

North Korea recently banned the domestic use of all foreign currency in a desperate effort to get hold of U.S. dollars possessed by individuals amid strict financial sanctions imposed by the outside world, reports said.

South Korea’s Ministry of Unification that deals with inter-Korean affairs said it is trying to clarify whether the report is based on the truth or not.

According to the Dong-a Ilbo, a vernacular daily, the Stalinist state Wednesday announced a ban on its people from paying with foreign currency without getting prior approval.

The decision will be applied to all kinds of foreign currency including the greenback and euro as well as the Chinese yuan, it said.

“It seems Pyongyang is trying to overcome its shortage of foreign reserves by gathering what its people are keeping at home,” a North Korean expert was quoted as saying on condition of anonymity by the newspaper.

Those who wish to pay with foreign currency must convert their foreign money into a sort of gift certificate at designated money exchange spots.

Back in the late 1980s, the North maintained a similar regulation, but later withdrew the decision. The measure was shunned in its socialist market.

Shops in the downtown shopping district of Pyongyang, the North’s capital, have sold goods priced in both North Korean won and U.S. dollars.

With the reintroduction of the measure, the North Korean won-U.S. dollar exchange rate in the North’s black market plunged from 3,285 won to 2,800 won, according to the report.

The North’s official, but not internationally accepted, currency ratio is $1 to 143 North Korean won.

However, the decision is unlikely to influence the two inter-Korean projects _ the Kaesong industrial complex and the tourism project to Mt. Kumgang _ as Pyongyang has not informed Seoul of any decision to ban the use of foreign currency including the South Korean won at the two sites.

South Korean companies in the Kaesong industrial complex pay $57.50 per month to their North Korean workers.

The Unification Ministry has explained that most of the U.S. dollars paid in wages to North Korean workers have been used to provide daily necessities for the workers, not to benefit Kim Jong-il’s regime or its nuclear and other weapons programs.


North Korea bites a golden bullet

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

Korea Times
Donald Kirk

Gold fever is rampaging through the ruling elite of North Korea in the quest for relief from seemingly incurable economic malaise exacerbated by more than a year as a total outcast from the international financial community.

Word from Pyongyang is that trading companies and even individuals are offering payments in gold for imports from across the border with China and also in barter deals for products imported from elsewhere. Gold also has become a form of currency in the internal reward system of payoffs and bribes manipulated by Dear Leader Kim Jong-il to guarantee the loyalty of high-ranking officials.

The rush to sell gold – and, to a lesser extent, silver – has sharply escalated in the 16 months since the US Treasury Department blacklisted Banco Delta Asia (BDA) in Macau, banning all firms doing business with US firms from dealings with that bank. The Treasury Department charged that the BDA had been the principal conduit through which North Korea was shipping counterfeit US$100 “supernotes” printed on a highly sophisticated Swiss-made press in Pyongyang.

It’s well known that the US ban forced the BDA to impose a freeze on North Korean accounts totaling $24 million, but less well known that the bank also stopped purchasing gold produced by North Korea’s historic gold mines, in operation, sporadically, since the late 19th century.

Output of the mines, in mountains about 160 kilometers north of Pyongyang, fell sharply in the late 1990s as a result of flood and famine but, with foreign expertise, has begun to pick up in the past few years.

The impact of the ban, moreover, goes far beyond a single bank in Macau. Although North Korea last spring sold $38 million in gold and silver in Thailand, Pyongyang has been frustrated in reviving its presence on the London bullion market, the world’s largest marketplace for precious metals, amid increased US pressure on the large international banks that are the major buyers of gold.

It was in the aftermath of the ban on the BDA that North Korea’s Chosun Central Bank coughed up the information required by the London Bullion Markets Association (LBMA) for listing as a “good deliverer” of gold. North Korea from 1983 to 1993 had been in the LBMA’s good graces, averaging a ton a month in sales to London buyers that included some of the world’s leading banks, but had slipped off the list after failing to keep up deliveries.

The fact that the Chosun Central Bank again is listed with the LBMA, however, is no guarantee North Korea will be able to sell its gold. The US Treasury ban on dealings with the BDA – as well as sanctions unanimously imposed by the United Nations Security Council after North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test in October – has spooked buyers in London.

While the LBMA disavows “political criteria” in deciding on eligibility for its “good delivery list”, an LBMA memorandum leaves no doubt how buyers are likely to respond to overtures from a country or company on an international blacklist. None of them, according to Stewart Murray, the LBMA’s chief executive, is willing to take delivery from a company or country that is subject to sanctions.

Or, as the LBMA memorandum puts it, “If, for instance, a bullion custodian considered that it was bound by national or international sanctions that were in force against a particular country, it would have to refuse to accept bars from a refiner in that country.”

The memorandum, moreover, does not mince words when it comes to stating the importance of a “good deliverer” rating. “Given the status of London as the world’s leading center for bullion trading,” it says, “the LBMA List has become the de facto world list of quality refiners and Good Delivery accreditation is a highly sought-after accolade.”

In recent years, “the List” – capitalized in the memo – “has grown primarily due to the listing of refiners in China and Russia” and now totals 77 refiners in 31 countries.

Investors see North Korea as competing on a world stage once sanctions are lifted. “What we’re doing is normal business,” said Roger Barrett, whose firm, Korea Business Consultants, operates in North Korea from headquarters in Beijing. By reviving old minesand developing new ones, he argued, “We’re creating jobs for people, in line with the UN basic charter, in line with economic growth.”

Barrett also believes North Korea may somehow get around the sanctions by finding new markets. “Why would you go to the trouble of going to London?” he asked. “They’re totally entitled to sell their gold.” The fact is, however, that London remains the place to sell gold in significant quantities on a regular basis.

Under the circumstances, Colin McAskill, chairman of Hong Kong’s Koryo Asia Ltd and the guiding light of the Chosun Development and Investment Fund, dedicated to investing in North Korea, accused top US Treasury officials of waging a campaign to make sure the ban on banks dealing with the BDA extends to gold and silver.

McAskill accused US officials, led by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Stuart Levey, under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, of “using coercion, innuendo and sheer force to intimidate banks from dealing with North Korea”.

Among the victims of the US campaign is one of Koryo Asia’s projects, the Daedong Credit Bank, the only foreign bank based in North Korea, set up primarily to deal with accounts of foreign firms and embassies in Pyongyang. The freeze of North Korean accounts in the BDA, according to McAskill, includes about $7 million funds of Daedong Bank customers.

McAskill avidly supports North Korean demands for the US to lift the ban on the BDA – a move that would not only open up the frozen North Korean accounts but would provide the opening needed for Pyongyang to trade in a wide range of products around the world.

The financial issue is assumed to have ranked at the top of an agenda discussed in meetings in Berlin between the chief US envoy, Christopher Hill, and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye-gwan. Hill, reporting on the Berlin talks in stop-offs in Seoul, in Tokyo and Beijing, seemed hopeful about “progress” in the next round of six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons, expected to open in Beijing next month, after the failure of negotiators to get anywhere in the last round before Christmas.

South Korean media said North Korea had agreed to shut down its five-megawatt reactor at its nuclear complex Yongbyon in return for the US promise of massive aid, the crux of the 1994 Geneva Framework Agreement that blew up in 2002 amid US charges of a separate, secret North Korean program for developing warheads from enriched uranium.

There was no assurance, however, that the US is ready to relent on the BDA or that the UN Security Council will consider lifting its own sanction – enough to dissuade banks in London from buying North Korean gold regardless of the US ban on the BDA.

McAskill believes the rationale for the crackdown on the BDA is flawed. He questions the validity of the counterfeit charge and, in any case, says most of the frozen funds are not those of the North Korean government, even though they’re tired up in North Korean accounts. “We want to get a breakthrough on the six-party talks by getting the sanctions eased or lifted entirely,” he said. “We’re at a very delicate stage.”

Whatever happens, McAskill sees North Korea as ripe for investment, with precious metals high on the list of potential exports. “North Korea wants to move back into legitimate business,” he said. “They have a wealth of minerals – gold, silver, zinc, magnesite, copper, uranium, platinum – that needs investment to extract.”


Kaesong tour to have limited influence in ramping up peace mood

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

Sohn Suk-joo

North Korea on Wednesday opened the main street of its medieval capital city to South Korean visitors, including Seoul’s top unification official, for the first time in half a year.

The move raised hopes for providing an impetus for improving the inter-Korean relationship, which hangs in the balance since the communist country’s surprise nuclear device test in October last year.

But analysts cautioned the trip will likely have a limited impact on bringing the South-North Korean relations back to the pre-nuclear test level, and the fate of the six-nation talks on the North’s nuclear weapons program may hold the key to their economic partnership.

Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung and his entourage toured downtown Kaesong, the capital of the Koryo Dynasty (918-1392), which has been closed off to South Korean citizens since July 2006 in retaliation for the South’s refusal to allow the North to change its South Korean tour partner.

Lee’s trip came just a few days after North Korea notified South Korean officials that it withdrew plans to change its partner for tours of Kaesong, suggesting Hyundai Asan Corp., the operator of the tourism business at the North’s Mount Geumgang, will soon promote the city tour to South Korean citizens.

Some analysts were quick to interpret the reopening of downtown Kaesong as part of North Korea’s efforts to cash in on hard currency to improve its people’s lives. North Korea is expected to undergo yet another bad food crisis in March or April as United Nations sanctions over its nuclear weapon test are put in place.

In its joint New Year editorial, North Korea stressed it will focus on solving the economic plight facing its people.

“North Korea is eager for more economic gains, but it is very worried about the volatile political situation in South Korea ahead of the presidential election,” said Lim Eul-chul, a research professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies.

Lim, traveling with the unification minister in Kaesong, said the smooth operation of the Kaesong economic complex and the city tour will be very limited in exerting influence on improving the inter-Korean relationship.

“After all, the developments of the six-party talks will largely decide the fate of the inter-Korean relationship, so it is too early to be optimistic,” said Lim, who also made a trip to Pyongyang last week and talked with North Korean scholars and officials.

The latest six-party talks — involving the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia — ended in Beijing in December without any progress or a date set for the next round. The six-nation talks started in August 2003.

But envoys to the talks said the negotiations could resume in a few weeks, and separate talks between the U.S. and North Korea over the financial sanctions were likely to be held on Wednesday in Beijing, according to reports.

In Berlin last week, Christopher Hill, the top U.S. negotiator at the nuclear talks, and his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-gwan reconfirmed the principle of the September 2005 agreement, which is to ensure aid and security guarantees for the North in return for its nuclear disarmament.


N. Korea Picks Hyundai as Partner for Kaesong Tour-Not

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

Well it seems that reports of the deal were premature–Hyundai Asan is not a shoe in.  the updated report is below.  The original story in the Korea Times is posted belw it.

N.K. denies report it will keep Hyundai Asan as partnerfor Kaesong tour

North Korea on Wednesday denied reports that it withdrew plans to change its partner for tours of Kaesong, a border town, and collaborate with Hyundai Asan Corp., the operator of tours to the North’s Mount Geumgang, the North’s official media reported.

According to the Korean Central News Agency, a spokesman for the Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee (KAPPC) said it “has no formal agreement with the Hyundai side over the issue of tour of Kaesong and, moreover, there was no agreement with the latter in this regard in recent days.”

“The KAPPC’s stand (on the Kaesong tour project) is consistent and it feels no need to examine or consider any change,” it added.

Korea Times
Lee Jin-woo

North Korea has hinted that it is willing to start the long-delayed Kaesong tourism project with Hyundai Asan instead of Lotte, a Unification Ministry official said on Sunday.

“When former Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok visited the Kaesong industrial complex on Dec. 8, North Korean officials said they have finalized their decision to carry out the project with Hyundai,” said the official on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

The former minister stepped down from the post on Dec. 11. His successor, Lee Jae-joung, has not made any specific comment on the issue.

The official also said North Korea’s Asia Pacific Peace Committee has given a positive signal to Hyundai Asan Chairman Yoon Man-jun during Yoon’s visit to a joint inter-Korean tourist site at Mt. Kumgang in North Korea.

Pyongyang has not issued any official document to confirm the verbal promise of the committee, according to the ministry and Hyundai.

Pyongyang has asked Seoul several times to accept Lotte Tour, a subsidiary of Lotte Group, in place of Hyundai Asan, the North Korea-related business arm of Hyundai Group.

The South Korean government, however, has rejected the request, saying, “The contract signed between the North and Hyundai is still effective and legally binding unless the two sides agree to nullify the deal.”

On June 30, the former unification minister met with Lotte Tour Chairman Kim Ki-byung, asking the chairman not to get involved in the inter-Korean business.

Experts said the North and Hyundai are expected to have a tug-of-war over the Stalinist state’s request for a payment of $150 per tourist to Kaesong, the capital of the Koryo Kingdom (918-1392).

Pyongyang has set the higher admission fee, nearly 20 times more than the $20 Hyundai pays to North Korea for every South Korean traveler to Mt. Kumgang. Hyundai has claimed the demand is outrageous.

Since July 1, the North has banned South Korean visitors to the Kaesong inter-Korean industrial complex from visiting the city’s downtown area including historic sites.

Hundreds of South Koreans, mostly businesspeople and government officials, had been allowed to make an excursion to Kaesong during their visit to the industrial complex.

The Stalinist state also stirred much controversy by signing an overlapping contract with a small South Korean company, Unico, in 2005 despite its initial contract with Hyundai Asan to develop golf courses at the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Hyundai signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Emerson Pacific Group, which has been constructing golf courses at the scenic resort area at Mt. Kumgang, for the project in Kaesong.

Hyundai plans to develop a total of 66 million square meters of land by 2012, including information-technology complexes and residential districts at the industrial complex. The project commenced at an historic inter-Korean summit in June 2000.


Citizens Exploited As the Nation Cannot Produce Its Own Income

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

Daliy NK
Yang Jung A

North Korean authorities are requesting “implied” voluntary offerings to be made to the army, placing a greater burden on the North Korean citizens who are battling a tough winter due to the bitter cold and dire food crisis.

The first journalist to report about North Korea Lee Joon said that at a people’s unit meeting held in the rural district of Dancheon, North Hamkyung from January 7th to the 13th, orders were made from the central committee indicating a “severe food crisis amidst the people’s army,” reported Japan’s Asia Press on the 22nd.

Lee Joon is the first underground journalist to work in North Korea and has exposed the daily lives of North Korean citizens through video footages, collections of still life photos and voice recordings both nationally and worldwide.

At the people’s unit, an order was made “The food shortage in the people’s army is severe. With a devoted heart to the nation, every family must voluntarily offer food to the army.” Though the orders imply donations as a voluntary act, it is in fact forced upon the citizens or as it implies otherwise, suffer the consequences.

Lee informed “The exact amount of donations were not specified, though citizens are being pressured to increase their offerings as one person was said to have offered 600kg and another even up to 1tn.”

Lee said “Though the army declares a shortage in food, the cost of rice and corn at the markets has not risen in comparison to late November and early December” and commented “There does not seem to be a great shortage in supply as merchants at the markets sell rice imported from China.”

Contrastingly, Lee explained “From a national perspective, it seems that the supply of food had been considered low as international aid was terminated and crop output minimal.”

In addition to this “As the nation does not have any funds, an order was made for each family to invest their money into banks” and again “Though the exact amount was not specified, this order was indisputably forced” upon the citizens, Lee said.

Lee continued “Even 3 years ago, as a 10 years redemption national loan, the people had to support the nation with their funds” and “As there were many complaints from the people, the idea was changed to a look like a savings account. I believe that forcibly collecting money is no different to the national loan.”

At present, as there are many cases where North Korean banks cannot pay interest or capital from investments, any person that does invest in banks is called as a fool. Even though the government enforces a directive, it is unlikely that the people will invest their money in banks.

Lee said “Each person must gather 2.5tn’s of provisions and offer it to the local farms because a task was assigned to increase the output of fertilizer.” and remarked “It’s something that happens often, but it did come earlier than expected.”

“The poor collect excrement from their homes or public places whereas the rich slip through the cracks by either buying goods from the markets or offering bribes” Lee explained.

Complaints are rising against the government’s frequent tasks of offering goods, though “with feelings of discontent (resulting from international sanctions) the government exploits the people as they cannot make any money” Lee said.

In particular, “There is a general consensus amongst the people who now believe that the government is not trying to change the economy (through openness and reform) but only making their lives more difficult” revealed Lee.


A dismal year at Kumgang, but tour firm still hopeful

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Joong Ang Daily
Seo Ji-eun

Last year was a nightmare for Hyundai Asan Co., the sole domestic operator of inter-Korean businesses. But the Hyundai Group affiliate sees brighter days ahead for its tourism program at Mount Kumgang, a scenic North Korean resort, this year, and is stepping up marketing efforts.

Earlier this month the company launched a radio ad campaign featuring a decades-old Korean children¡’s song including the lyric, “Let¡’s go to Mount Kumgang.” The commercial does not identify Hyundai Asan as the tour operator, and Hyundai Asan said the broadcast was aimed at promoting the destination among tourists.

The company is also offering discounts of 25 percent for people born in the year of pig, which falls this year and every 12th year, and students who took college entrance exams late last year. One parent per student can also receive the discount, which will last until late next month.

Perhaps helped by those events, a Hyundai Asan spokesman said the number of reservations for January has passed 10,000, which is around the monthly average.

“When tour programs to the inner part of Mount Kumgang launch this spring and the golf resort opens in October after starting trials in June,” the spokesman said, “we definitely expect more tourists unless unexpected political factors erupt.”

Hyundai Asan earlier in the month said it aims to attract 400,000 tourists to the North Korean mountain this year. It set the same goal last year but fell far short with 240,000 tourists when reservations plummeted after North Korea’s missile launch in July, severe floods during the summer and the North¡’s nuclear test in October. Immediately after the nuke test, 65 percent of customers began to cancel their reservations, and a large portion of travelers who would have crowded the resort to see the autumn foliage didn’t come.

More than 300,000 people, a record-breaking figure, visited Mount Kumgang in 2005.

Meanwhile, a government source close to North Korea said yesterday that North Korea would start a tourism project at Kaesong, a joint inter-Korean business site in the North, with Hyundai Asan instead of Lotte Tours, the company North Korea wanted to work with instead. Neither the Unification Ministry nor Hyundai Asan released an official statement regarding that issue.


Female Ratio in KPA Now More Than 10%

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Daily NK
Kim Min Se

What is the gender ratio in Korean People’s Army?

A 28-year old recent defector Kim and a 38-year old former KPA Air Force engineer Choi said that female members of KPA could take up to ten percent of the total armed forces from administrative positions to front battalions.

Kim testified “Most of small-caliber anti-aircraft guns are operated by women and there are even all-female independent brigades and regiments.”

“North Korean authorities encourage women to be enlisted in coastal artillery by advertising ‘recruiting songs.’”

Kim also said that virtually all of the North Korean train tunnels and bridges were guarded by women forces armed with 14.5mm machine gunnery.

Korean People’s Army, according to the South Korean Ministry of Defense’s White Paper, boasts 1.17 million soldiers, and the government in North Korea has increasingly enlisted women since the population shrank in mid-90s.

Kim is a former female member of the KPA 4-25 Training Camp (equivalent to a corps) 331st Brigade 6th Mechanized Battalion. She had served since 1997, the peak of starvation period. At that time many North Korean parents sent their daughters to the army for them to avoid hunger.

Female officers have been mass-recruited since 1995 among women NCOs of proven party loyalty and good family background. They were trained for two years and then stationed in each unit.

For the enlisted, both men and women are conscripted at their age of 17 while the female soldiers receive trainings specialized in anti-aircraft guns.

However, some others, as their male compatriots, are more fortunate, due to their superb ancestral or family background, to be stationed in army hospitals or other more comfortable places than coastal artillery.

“In more recent days,” another defector Choi said, “even aircraft pilots of Soviet-built IL-28 Bombers are filled with women.”

North Korean enlisted women usually serve six to seven years, in contrast with ten to thirteen years of men’s service.

Female veterans automatically become KWP member as they are discharged and enjoy higher chance to be selected as junior party official, but not as preferable marriage partner.


Will Economic Sanctions Have Impact on N. Korea?

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Korea Times
Chang Se-moon

Obviously, it is important to know the correct answer to this question. Sanctions that have no impact on North Korea’s economy will not change the behavior of North Korean leaders. If sanctions do have a significant impact, the possibility that North Korean leaders may be tempted to resolve the pending security issues through negotiations exists.
In answering the question, however, we need to keep in mind what the British economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) said: “The theory of economics does not furnish a body of settled conclusions immediately applicable to policy. It is a method rather than a doctrine, an apparatus of the mind, a technique of thinking which helps its possessor draw correct conclusions.’’ In plain English, Keynes stressed an unbiased economic way of thinking that could help us draw correct conclusions. In other words, until we review all the facts with an open mind we should not make up our minds.

This is exactly what we will do by assessing the impacts of economic sanctions on North Korea.

The first question that comes to mind is which sanctions are we talking about. If we review U.S. sanctions on North Korea since the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, there would be too many sanctions imposed on North Korea to be practical. There are three important sanctions that are still in effect, however. One is the U.S. denial of a Most Favored Nation (MFN) trade status on North Korea’s exports.

This sanction was imposed on North Korea’s exports to the United States on September 1, 1951, following the outbreak of the Korean War. MFN tariffs are the lowest tariffs that are levied on imports to the U.S. Over 99 percent of imports to the United States qualify for the MFN tariffs. Without MFN status, tariffs on North Korean exports to the United States are so high that North Korea simply cannot even imagine exporting anything to the United States.

The second of the three important sanctions stemmed from the bombing of Korean Air 858 by North Korean agents on November 29, 1987. The explosion killed 115 innocent passengers and crew members. On January 20, 1988, North Korea was placed on the list of countries that supported international terrorism according to the U.S. Export Administration Act of 1979.

The importance of this sanction is that placement on the list has made it impossible for North Korea to borrow money from international financial institutions including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Like the denial of MFN status, the placement of North Korea on the list of countries supporting international terrorism continues to this date.

The third of these three key sanctions relates to tightening of North Korea’s illegal financial transactions, which culminated in Banco Delta Asia’s termination of business dealings with North Korea as of February 16, 2006. You may know that Banco Delta Asia had long been suspected of handling North Korea’s illicit activities overseas such as laundering of counterfeit U.S. dollars and sales of illegal drugs

Banco Delta Asia is located in Macao, which is a Special Administrative District of China. Tightening of North Korean financial transactions was extended to North Korean trade during 2006. This added pressure on North Korea originated from U.N. Resolution 1540 following North Korea’s test-launching of long-range missiles on July 5, 2006, as well as from U.N. Resolution 1718 which followed North Korea’s nuclear test on October 9, 2006.

Are these sanctions having an impact on North Korea’s economy? Perhaps, a more accurate question is whether these sanctions are placing enough pressure on North Korean leaders to reconsider the possibility of returning to the negotiation table?

One aspect is the status of North Korea’s trade deficit. As you probably know, North Korea buys from other countries much more than it sells to other countries. When the amount of imports exceeds the amount of exports it’s called a trade deficit. North Korea’s annual trade deficit averaged about $800 million from 2003 to 2005. This figure does not include North Korea’s trade deficit against South Korea, since South Korea appears to consider any financial support to the North as a long-term investment rather than a trade deficit.

How has North Korea been paying for the trade deficit? The ways have been unique. Almost the entire deficit appears to have been financed by weapons sales, illicit activities, and funds flowing from South Korea through joint projects.

In fact, a study by the Korean Institute for Defense Analysis indicates that full implementation of U.N. Resolution 1718 would cause North Korea to lose just about the same amount ($700 million to $1 billion) by stopping exports of weapons and illegal drugs and counterfeit money.

The Economist Intelligence Unit is quoted to have estimated in 2003 that “North Korea earned as much as $100 million a year from counterfeit money, while in 2005, a U.S. task force estimated that “$45 million to $60 million in Pyongyang’s counterfeit currency (primarily in U.S. $100 bills) is in circulation,’’ reportedly, including some in Seoul’s Namdaemun Market.

Assuming that recently added sanctions will cause North Korea to lose about $800 million that it has been earning overseas each year, the next interesting question is how North Korea will pay for the annual trade deficit of $800 million in the future? If North Korea does not pay for its imports, other countries will refuse to sell products to North Korea and the North Korean economy will suffer.

North Korea cannot borrow from world financial institutions because of the 1988 U.S. sanctions that branded North Korea as one of countries supporting international terrorism. They cannot use the money from foreign direct investment because China and Korea are the only two countries that have been willing to invest in North Korea, but the combined amount is not even close to paying for the annual trade deficit.

Think of it this way. If you borrow money every year, and lenders believe that your ability to pay off the debt is rapidly declining, will lenders continue to lend you money? Not likely. With sanctions adversely affecting North Korea’s ability to pay for imports, North Korea will find it increasingly difficult to buy what it needs. The breaking point may not be imminent, but the future is predictable.

This is what I think will happen. North Korea will ask China to increase its foreign direct investment in North Korea by giving China more incentives for such investment. These incentives may include low taxes and free land. North Korea will ask South Korea to send more money.

For instance, as of July 1, 2004, Hyundai Asan and North Korea set the entrance fee to Mt. Kumkang at $10 for a day trip, $25 for a two-day trip and $50 for a three-day trip. On May 1, 2005, these fees were raised to $15, $35, and $70. On July 1, 2006, these fees were raised again to $30, $48, and $80. This is just one way.

North Korea may also ask South Korea to lend it a large sum of money with an empty promise of paying it back. This explains in part why it is so important for North Korea to have leaders of the South Korean government who are friendly to North Korea.

These desperate acts are likely to be very short of paying for the majority of the annual trade deficit. If sanctions continue to be effective, the likelihood of North Korea returning to the negotiation table increases. Economics is rarely boring, especially when it deals with real problems.


N. Korea to focus on inter-Korean economic projects in 2007: think tank

Monday, January 22nd, 2007


North Korea will put strong emphasis on inter-Korean economic projects this year as the communist state insinuated that it is suffering from economic difficulties, a state-run think tank said Monday.

In its new year commentary, Pyongyang partially admitted that its economy is in bad shape and said its highest priority for 2007 is boosting the sagging economy, the Korea Development Institute (KDI) said in a report.

“Unlike in previous years, when the North placed political ideology, the military and the economic sector, in that order, as its three key areas of importance, North Korea set the economic sector ahead of those two other sectors in the commentary this year,” the KDI said.

“The North also skipped over commenting on a series of economic achievements, except for saying that it has secured a foothold for a new leap. … In addition, it said that it has gone through the ‘worst adverse situation’ in the past 10 years, showing that the economy was still suffering from difficulty in 2006.”

To boost the economy, the North may actively push for inter-Korean economic projects and depend on the South for increased economic support as its economic cooperation with other nations such as the United States and Japan has come to a near halt, the institute said.

In the commentary, the North also used a slogan, “put an importance on the Korean people,” a comment indicating increased inter-Korean cooperation, the KDI said.

Every Jan. 1, the communist nation releases its new year commentary on three state dailies, including the Rodong Sinmun, one of the only sources of information on the country’s economic policy plans.

Under the title, “Create a prosperous era of the Songun (military-first) Choseon,” the North urged its people to make concerted efforts to solve the economic problems in 2007 and make the country an economic power as a socialist nation.

According to many analysts, the North’s annual economic growth may have fallen below 1 percent last year, down from an estimated 1 percent growth in 2005 and 2.2 percent in 2004. A variety of global economic sanctions against Pyongyang could have contributed to the slower growth in 2006, the institute said.