N. Korea to focus on improving livelihoods this year


Saddled with a severe food shortage problem, North Korea is poised to raise people’s standard of living this year by concentrating on agriculture and light industry.

In a session of its parliament held on Wednesday, North Korea said its major economic goal is “to improve the living standards of people on the basis of the existing foundations of agriculture and light industry.”

In a related move, the North replaced Prime Minister Pak Pong-ju, the control tower of its economy. It named Transport Minister Kim Yong-il as its new premier. Pak is believed to have been in conflict with senior North Korean officials over electricity supplies.

“Kim is in his early 60s, relatively young for North Korean cabinet members, and he has no prestigious political or educational background. He seems to be credited by his track record of economic expertise and achievement,” a senior Unification Ministry said, asking to remain anonymous.

The impoverished country has depended on international handouts to feed a large number of its 23 million people.

In a recent meeting with U.N. World Food Program officials, a North Korean vice agriculture minister acknowledged that the communist country has a shortfall of about 1 million tons of food and called for aid from the outside world.

“The cabinet will concentrate state efforts on agriculture this year, too, considering it as a mainstay, to thoroughly implement the WPK’s policy of agricultural revolution and make a signal advance in the efforts to settle the people’s problem of food,” Vice Premier Kwak Pom-gi said in a report to the delegates at the session. WPK is the acronym for the North’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea.

To that end, North Korea plans to raise spending on agriculture by 8.5 percent and on light industry by 16.8 percent compared with last year.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il also attended the meeting of the parliament, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

The North is officially headed by its titular leader Kim Yong-nam, the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s parliament.

But Kim Jong-il rules the country with an iron grip. He is officially the chairman of the National Defense Commission and general secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party. He reserves the office of president for his late father as a way of showing filial piety.

The North also said it will kick off a drive to modernize major light industrial factories and reinforce the production of daily necessities, while state efforts will be channeled into the construction of houses in major cities, the KCNA said.

The North earmarked 40.8 percent of the total budget expenditure for the national economy this year, and in particular, spending on the development of science and technology will rise as much as 60.3 percent compared with last year.

Based on the report from the North’s parliament, South Korea’s Unification Ministry estimated the North’s 2007 budget at US$3.09 billion, up 5.9 percent from a year earlier.


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