Archive for May, 2008

South Korea to ease regulations on DPRK ventures

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Institute for Far Easter Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 08-5-22-1

Earlier this month, the South Korean government announced that it would seek to relax regulations concerning cooperative ventures and exchanges with North Korea. Currently, South Korean companies, organizations or individuals wishing to enter into business agreements with North Korean partners were required to get government permission not only for the project, but for the individuals involved in the project.

On May 8, the Ministry of Unification announced plans to abolish the system granting (or denying) permission to individuals involved in these ventures, and to maintain only the system through which it grants authority to carry out specific projects.

Cross-border traffic faced similar red tape, as permission was required not only for goods being imported or exported, but for the importers and exporters themselves. The new plan includes measures for these import and export regulations to be loosened so that it is only the goods that need review, not the people involved in the trade. In addition, trucks and other equipment used to carry goods across the border will be certified for a period of five years, more than twice as long as the current two-year licensing system.

The government is also moving to ease requirements calling for South Korean citizens to report all contact with North Koreans, and instead to require reports on conversations only if the topic falls outside that of the approved project.

Reflecting the growing amount and diverse nature of inter-Korean cooperative projects, and the ROK government’s policy of encouraging such exchange, this new proposal is aimed at reducing the red tape and paperwork hassles necessary to launch and carry out these projects by reducing the amount of information required by the applicant and the volume of cross-checking required by government offices. At the same time, the proposal calls for the introduction of fines for those found to be filing false applications or reports.

If this proposal does not get mired in the Cabinet or other committees, it is expected to reach the floor of the National Assembly sometime in June.


Teach English in Pyongyang

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

From the British Council:

English Teacher Trainers, DPRK (North Korea)
Based Pyongyang, reference OA08007

You must read the Information about the Job before you make an application. It contains vital information on how to apply, our selection procedure, and the application deadline, as well as job-specific information.

Senior English Teacher Trainer – £29,361 a year

English Teacher Trainer (three posts) – £25,772 a year

Contract from 1 September 2008 to 31 August 2009 (with the possibility of extension)

Benefits including free accommodation, pension provision, medical insurance and regular flights to Beijing and the UK

The British Council/Foreign and Commonwealth Office English language project in the DPRK aims to deliver high-quality programmes in teacher/trainer training and to develop the curriculum and related materials as well as assessment systems at three leading institution in Pyongyang. This high-profile project has been running since 2000, and we are now seeking four experienced English language teaching professionals to fill the above posts, which will be based at these institutions.

You will have: a diploma-level qualification in TEFL (e.g. UCLES DTEFLA/Cambridge ESOL DELTA, Trinity College London Dip TESOL); a minimum of three years’ ELT and teacher training experience overseas; and course/curriculum planning and materials development experience. An MA in TEFL/Applied Linguistics (or equivalent) and experience of content and language integrated learning (CLIL) and of teaching ESP are desirable. Additionally, for the Senior English Teacher Trainer post you will have knowledge of testing, and people and project management experience is desirable.

Note: local restrictions mean that UK passport holders only can be considered for these posts. These are unaccompanied posts, although in exceptional cases the DPRK authorities might agree to a married couple.

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We work in 110 countries and territories reaching millions of people each year, and increase appreciation of the UK through the arts, education, science, government and sport.

HOW TO APPLY: Visit their website.


Update: 2008 Pyongyang International Trade Exhibition

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Update from Dr. Petrov:

Among the foreign companies attending the 11th Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair in the DPRK last week was Phoenix Commercial Ventures Ltd.

Representatives from Phoenix Commercial Ventures attended the fair and manned a stand representing member companies of the European Business Association in Pyongyang, together with members of the management team from Sinji JVC and Hana Electronics JVC (joint venture companies formed with Phoenix) and Daedong Credit Bank – Phoenix’s banking partner in the DPRK – (since 2000 Daedong Credit Bank has been 70% owned and managed by a company run by professional fund managers. The remaining 30% is held by Korea Daesong Bank).

Nigel Cowie (CEO of Phoenix, General Manager and CEO of Daedong Credit Bank and Vice President of the European Business Association) said: “The trade fair provides an ideal venue and opportunity for companies to showcase their products and services, as well as providing an excellent networking opportunity. Phoenix Commercial Ventures and Daedong Credit Bank are proud to have participated in this regular event, which provides a springboard for economic development and growth”.

“Although the fair provides the opportunity for participants to establish new contacts for trade relationships, we also wanted to emphasise investment opportunities. Something that is often overlooked is that it is perfectly possible to create and run successful joint ventures in the DPRK. We have shown this with Daedong Credit Bank, which has been operating successfully for 13 years, and with Hana Electronics, which has been doing the same for five years, and are in the process of repeating the process with Sinji JVC, our youngest joint venture,” concluded Nigel Cowie

An extensive gallery of photos from the trade fair can be viewed on the Phoenix website.

DPRK holds it’s largets ever Pyongyang International Trade Exhibition
Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
(NK Brief No. 08-5-19-1)

From May 12th to the 15th, North Korea held the eleventh annual Pyongyang International Summer Product Exhibition in the Three-Revolution Exhibition Center. The trade show hosted over 180 foreign businesses, making it the largest convention to date.

Companies from North Korea, China, Taiwan, Russia, the Netherlands, Germany, Syria, Switzerland, Australia, England, Italy, Spain, Vietnam, Thailand, France, Finland, and several other countries participated in the show, displaying a wide range of manufacturing machinery, electrical and electronic equipment, conveyor systems, petrochemical materials, medical supplies, daily necessities, foodstuffs, and other goods.

With more than 120 Chinese companies and more than 30 vendors from Taiwan, North Korea’s largest-ever convention was host to over 50 vendors more this year than the previous record of over 130, set last year.

With a large-screen television positioned at the entrance of the hall displaying multimedia advertisements and a range of large-scale billboards and advertising displays for North Korea’s domestic companies set up around the exhibition center, there was also a distinct sense of commercialism in the air.

In particular, there were several booths selling the wares of large Chinese industries, as well as several affiliates of the Haier Group Co. Ltd., representatives from TCL Electronics Co. Ltd. , sales staff from China Hong Kong Manufacturers Co. Ltd. and other main offices directly participating in the event.

The Pyongyang International Product Exhibition has been held in the summer annually since 1998, and since 2005, a convention has also been held each fall.


Update: Jang Song Taek’s anti-corruption campaign

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

The Daily NK brings us up-to-date on the DPRK’s  anti-corruption drive.  The Daily NK analysis, however, gives the impression that Kim Jong Il is clamping down on the military, which again raises speculation that this policy is driven by concerns greater than financial leakage:

A source from Shinuiju reported in a telephone interview with Daily NK on May 14th that, “Director Jang Sung Taek has been staying at the Yalu River Hotel in Shinuiju since March, and has been directing inspections at Shinuiju Customs covering imports and exports made by rail, foreign currency-making activity organizations, and trade companies belonging to the army.”

“This inspection is decidedly different in scale and scope from previous inspections which are usually carried out every spring at Shinuiju Customs and various trading companies. The inspection usually targets simple private corruption as well as all fields related to business with China,” said the source.

The inspection group reportedly consists of some 100 agents dispatched from the Ministry of Administration, the Central Prosecutor’s Office, the National Security Agency, the People’s Safety Agency, and the Imports & Exports Guidance Bureau of the State External Economic Affairs Commission. Some 50 other agents were sent as reinforcements in late April.

The inspection group withdrew all trade certificates with exception of those certificates belonging to the families of anti-Japanese guerilla fighters, and those certificates issued by the Ministry of Finance or the Shinuiju Municipal Administrative Committee.  Therefore, presently at Shinuiju Customs, all import items without trade certificates issued by the above mentioned three groups have to be sent back to China.

The whole article is worth reading here.  If any readers have a thoughtful take on these events, please share them.

North Korean Economy Watch has thoroughly covered news of the DPRK’s anti-corruption drive (here, here, here, here, and here).  We have speculated as to whether this campaign is motivated by primarily fiscal concerns or whether it is a broader realignment of state, party, and military portfolios necessary for a policy/personnel change within North Korea’s socialist system.

Hideko Takayama at Bloomberg highlights the fiscal aspect of the anti-corruption campaign and is the first to announce the Kim Jong Il’s brother-in-law is leading it:

Jang, 62, was sent to Beijing and the Chinese city of Dandong near the border with North Korea in February to root out corruption at North Korean corporations operating in China, the businessmen and officials said.

Jang, who was dismissed from Kim Jong Il’s power circle in 2004, was rehabilitated in December 2005 and appointed to be Director of Administration of the Workers’ party last October, an official at Chosensoren, a North Korean organization in Japan which acts as a de facto embassy, said, requesting anonymity.

The leader’s brother-in-law is also responsible for the State Security Department, the People’s Security Ministry and the Central Prosecutor’s Office, according to the Chosensoren official. In addition, Jang runs a campaign against what the government calls anti-socialist activities.

Jang’s mission was to find and punish people who were diverting profits that were supposed to be repatriated to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

“Jang is familiar with how the business is done outside the country and knows all about money and corrupt ways of making money,” Lee Young Hwa, professor of developing economies at Osaka’s Kansai University, said. “His assignment is like sending a thief to catch a thief.”

Read the full stories here:
Kim’s Brother-in-Law Heads North Korea Anti-Corruption Campaign
Hideko Takayama

Shinuiju Inspectors Investigate Corruption
Daily NK
Jung Kwon Ho, Park In Ho


Pyongyang undergoes facelift

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Pyongyang, May 19 (KCNA) — A campaign for putting Pyongyang on a new look has been vigorously launched with the approach of the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the DPRK.

The city is abustle with the work of paving most of the streets with asphalt, greening areas along streets and painting buildings.

More than 20 streets including Ryongnamsan, Ponghwa, Yongung, Changgwang and Hyoksin Streets and their sideroads and roads leading to and in parks, recreation grounds and other cultural resorts around Moran Hill and along the Taedong River have been already asphalt-surfaced.

According to the data available, the pavement project has been carried out over 50 per cent.

Great efforts are also directed to the projects for paving sidewalks with color blocks and for repairing and building infrastructure including water supply and sewage works.

The finishing touch is being given to the work of transplanting good species of trees including ginkgo and cryptomeria and flower shrubs and additionally planting turf.

Meanwhile, the project for plastering and painting buildings is also at its height.


Hyundai projects picking up this year – still not profitable

Monday, May 19th, 2008

UPDATE: Although the Daily NK originally reported stellar growth rates in 2008 for Hyundai’s North Korea projects, today the Choson Ilbo highlights that profits are still elusive:

According to the Financial Supervisory Service on Sunday, Hyundai Asan suffered a net loss of W9.64 billion (US$1=W1,041) in the first quarter this year, three times greater than the W3.34 billion in the corresponding quarter last year.

Despite the large number of tourists, which, at 125,000 as of mid May this year, nearly doubled since last year, it is the largest loss reported since the tours to Mt. Kumgang began in 2004. Over 45,000 people have traveled to the North Korean city of Kaesong since the tour program began in December 2007, and it is almost certain that the company would reach its goal of 100,000 tourists for this year.

So what is the explanation given for this?

The reason for such struggle is the weakness of the won against the U.S. dollar, since North Korea charges admission fees to Kaesong and Mt. Kumgang in dollars — US$ 100 for one and $80 for the other per person for three days and two nights. As the dollar has risen more than 10 percent since the beginning of the year, from W940 to W 1,040, so has the initial cost. The tour program to Kaesong has reportedly gone into the red already. Moreover, Asan has to pay off $200 million of North Korean foreign debt in return for the license to develop Mt. Kumgang granted in 1999.   

From the Daily NK:

According to the Ministry of Unification, despite the stalemate between North and South Korea, cooperation and exchange at the civilian level have increased rapidly in the months of January to April compared to the previous year.

Compared to the same period last year, North-South trade increased by 37% (corresponding to USD 410.099 million the same period last year) and the coming and going of people and the tour of Geumgang Mountain increased by 144% and 76% respectively, contributing to a significant rise in civilian cooperation and exchange.

Related to the North-South trade, following the expansion in economic cooperation, commercial transactions (regular trade + processing of brought-in materials + economic cooperation) increased by 53.3% (to USD 531,960,000) compared to the same period last year (USD 346,990,900). Only, uncommercial trade decreased by 53.8%, recorded at USD 29,570,000 according to the reduction in aid to North Korea.

69 enterprises are operating in the Kaesong Industrial Complex as of April 2008 and 44 of them seem to be constructing factories. It is anticipated that 100-some enterprises will be operating by the end of the year.

The first quarter production volume increased 71% or by USD 6,770,000 compared to the same period last year. The export amount declined 58% to USD 13,280,000. The total number of North Korean workers is 26,885 and South Korean sojourners 1,018, the latter rising by 52.6% from the previous year, despite the evacuation of South Korean personnel.

The Mount Geumgang and Kaesong tours, compared to last year, are maintaining a huge growth rate. The number of Mt. Geumgang tourists have increased 76% to 100,510 and the Kaesong tour, which began in December of last year, logged 40,525 visitors thus far.

The number of coming and going of people, excluding the Mt. Geumgang and Kaesong Complex tourists, increased by 144% within the year to 93,019 and such a growth rate seems to have originated from the hike in visitors related to economic cooperation and North-South trade as well as the Complex itself. Only, the number of visitors related to aid to North Korea was reduced from 2,935 to 1,129.

Although the increase in tourism numbers was expected, the positive spin put on the Kaesong Zone contradicts earlier reports.  

Read the full stories here:
North and South, Politics at a Stalemate, Economic Cooperation Is Bright
Daily NK
Jeong Jae Sung

Hyundai Asan Losses From N.Korea Tours Mounting
Choson Ilbo


DPRK wants to be a Wal-Mart supplier

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

From the Korea Times

North Korean officials are reportedly interested in signing a deal to export textile products to Wal-Mart, a U.S. corporation that runs a chain of large, discount department stores, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported Friday.

Wal-Mart is one of the largest retailers in the world, with an estimated 20 percent market share of the retail grocery and consumables business in the United States. The company relies on an extensive overseas outsourcing and subcontracting system, particularly with Chinese manufacturers.

Tony Namkung, senior advisor to New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, recently returned from his trip to North Korea where he met with senior North Korean officials, the report said.

He said the North Korean government has high hopes for the lifting of economic sanctions, the Trading with the Enemy Act and the terrorism-sponsoring list, according to the report.

Namkung said North Korean officials seriously talked about the possibility of economic cooperation with U.S. companies. They mentioned the possibility of exporting North Korean textiles to U.S. retail stores, specifically mentioning Wal-Mart. The officials reportedly told Namkung that they were hoping Wal-Mart could come in with a textile quota.

He also said North Korea officials made references to exporting magnesite and working with U.S. mining companies to develop mineral sites. In the past few years, North Korea has sharply increased mineral exports to neighboring countries, including zinc exports to South Korea and China and gold exports to Thailand.

Read the full story here:
NK Seeks Textile Exports to Wal-Mart
Korea Times


DPRK offers US$100,000 aid to China

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

From the Associated press (via the Herald Tribune)

North Korea is offering China US$100,000 (€64,500) to help earthquake survivors.

The North’s Korean Central News Agency said Saturday the country made the offer to China’s government, which is scrambling to cope with the aftermath of Monday’s magnitude 7.9 quake. It did not elaborate.

Read the full article here:
North Korea offers US$100,000 in aid for Chinese earthquake survivors
Associated press (via the Herald Tribune)


US resumes food aid to DPRK

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

North Korea acknowledges US aid in domestic media.  From the Choson Ilbo:

North Korea on Saturday said through its official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), “The food aid of the U.S. government will help settle the food shortage in (North Korea) to a certain extent and contribute to promoting the understanding and confidence between the peoples of the two countries.” This announcement came 12 hours after the U.S. offer of 500,000 tons of food aid to the Stalinist country.

On Sunday, North Korea also reported on the U.S. offer of food aid through North Korea’s state-run Korean Central Broadcasting Station, a broadcaster designed for domestic audience, and Radio Pyongyang, a broadcaster designed for overseas audience.

Full story here:
Pyongyang Reacts Promptly to U.S. Food Aid Offer
Choson Ilbo

The USAID press release is below.  USAID is supplying 500,000 metric tons of aid to North Korea.  This comes in at 12.5% of the approximately 4 million tons needed to support the population per year (according to Noland, Haggard, Weeks).

Supposedly USAID and the DPRK have reached an agreement on monitoring the distribution of aid – to make sure it gets to where it is needed most.  The specifics of this deal have not been made public as far as I am aware (if any readers know the procedures, please pass them along). 

USAID press release:
Resumption of U.S. Food Assistance to the North Korean People
May 16, 2008
Press Office: 202-712-4320
Public Information: 202-712-4810

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) have reached an understanding on the parameters of a program for the resumption of U.S. food assistance for the North Korean people. International organizations and experts have expressed concern about a severe food shortage in North Korea, and the DPRK has explained to the United States that it faces a major shortfall in food supplies. In response, the United States has pledged significant assistance. The two sides have agreed on terms for a substantial improvement in monitoring and access in order to allow for confirmation of receipt by the intended recipients.

The United States intends to provide the DPRK with 500,000 metric tons in food commodities over the course of a 12-month program beginning in June 2008, with the World Food Program (WFP) to distribute approximately 400,000 tons and U.S. NGOs approximately 100,000 tons. The United States and the DPRK have agreed on a framework to allow WFP and NGO staff broad geographic access to populations in need and the ability to effectively monitor the distribution of U.S. commodities. The food aid will come from the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust. The exact commodity mix and delivery schedules will be based on the outcome of a joint needs assessment to be conducted in coming weeks.

An experts’ meeting will be convened in Pyongyang in the near future to work out operational matters and commence detailed implementation of the program. Premised on a successful outcome of those discussions, the United States will deliver a first shipment in June, in light of the urgency of North Korea’s food shortfall. This program has developed through close coordination and extensive consultation with experts in the South Korean government.


Nobody knows how much food the DPRK needs–especially them.

Friday, May 16th, 2008

According to the Choson Ilbo:  

While the World Food Program says the North is facing a food crisis, exact statistics appear to be tough to gauge. Returning from food aid talks in the U.S., a ranking Seoul diplomat told reporters, “The U.S. also seems to be experiencing difficulties figuring out the exact food condition in North Korea, as it has to rely on remarks by North Korean officials [but] the North appears to have become more flexible on monitoring issues in the last couple of months.”

In all honesty, North Korean officials probably have no idea how much food their country needs either. Why? 

1.  North Korea’s statistical apparatus broke down a long time ago.  Production records are still kept on-site in paper notebooks. There is no comunications or computing technology to measure actual production. Throw in a few fires, floods, etc. and you are running blind.  But even if such technology existed, collective farmers, as with most factory workers in socialist systems, routinely inflate their production numbers, and the regime’s ability to detect and punish this kind of behavior is very weak–and they know it.

2. There is no commodities market in the DPRK to tell officials how much food is being produced privately.  Additionally, the paucity of communications and transportation infrastructure, combined with severe barriers to entrepreneurship, prevents North Korea’s agricultural markets from becomming as integrated as they could be.  Higher price volatility and short term scarcity are the results.  Rumors can send prices through the roof because nothing can be confirmed.

3. There has been no audit of the DPRK’s population since before the last famine, so we don’t even know how many of them there are or where they live.

In all honesty, I think we (the international community) can do a better job of determining how much food they need than they can.  Here is a great place to start.