DPRK creates Ministry of External Economic Affairs

According to KCNA:

Ministry of Foreign Trade Reorganized as Ministry of External Economic Affairs

Pyongyang, June 18, 2014 20:58 KST (KCNA) — The DPRK decided to reorganize the Ministry of Foreign Trade as the Ministry of External Economic Affairs of the DPRK by merging the Joint Venture and Investment Commission of the DPRK and the State Economic Development Committee of the DPRK with it.

The Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly promulgated a decree in this regard on Wednesday.

Here is what Choson Exchange, who predicted the merger, had to say:

We think this is a good thing. Investor agreements, ‘exclusive’ rights and attraction need to be streamlined to prevent multiple ‘exclusive’ rights being sold. While this can bureaucratize the investment process, things really can’t get more bureaucratic than it is now in North Korea.

Here is analysis by the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) (2014-6-26):

North Korea Establishes “Ministry of External Economic Affairs” to Oversee Economic Cooperation and Attraction of Foreign Capital

On June 18, 2014, North Korea established the “Ministry of External Economic Affairs,” a massive organization that will oversee the state goals of attracting foreign capital and international economic cooperation. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that this change came through a decision made by the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), who announced, “The Joint Venture and Investment Commission and the State Economic Development Committee have been combined with the Ministry of Foreign Trade and renamed to the Ministry of External Economic Affairs.”

The KCNA did not report on the new ministry’s specific status or duties, nor reveal the name of who has been chosen to lead it. The three organizations that have been combined to create the Ministry of External Economic Affairs are all Cabinet-affiliated economic groups.

The Ministry of Foreign Trade and the Joint Venture and Investment Commission were previously responsible for the nation’s foreign trade and attracting foreign capital, respectively. The State Economic Development Committee, which had its status elevated from the State Economic Development Board in October 2013, oversees the establishment and management of the various regional economic development zones (EDZ). It appears that although the three agencies targeted for the merge were separated by name according to their respective domains, there are several aspects of their duties which overlap with one another.

Therefore, the creation of this new Cabinet-affiliated ministry can be interpreted as an attempt to reach a breakthrough in North Korea’s stagnating international economic cooperation.

In May 2014, Foreign Trade Minister Ri Ryong Nam visited Syria and discussed plans to invigorate mutual investment and economic cooperation between the two nations not only through trade, but through agriculture and various other methods. On May 12, Ri Song Hyok, the director of the Joint Venture and Investment Commission, announced a development plan for the Wonsan-Kumgang Special Tourist Zone at an investment briefing in Pyongyang aimed at attracting foreigners. The management of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) is the responsibility of the State Economic Development Committee.

In 1998, the Ministry of Foreign Trade was established and encompassed the entirety of North Korea’s international economic activities. However, in July 2010, the Joint Venture and Investment Commission was created and oversaw the attraction of foreign capital, and in October 2013 the State Economic Development Committee was established to develop North Korea’s SEZs. With the creation of these additional organizations in 2010 and 2013, it became inevitable for the work and responsibilities of each agency to overlap one another.

While the Kim Jong Un regime has been focusing its efforts on attracting foreign capital and developing SEZs by strongly supporting the two recently established committees, the Ministry of Foreign Trade was unable to operate properly due to international sanctions. This has led to the recurring observation that, in reality, the ministry has become a titular institution.

The establishment of the Ministry of External Economic Affairs can be seen as a measure taken to increase the efficiency of decision-making and implementation of foreign trade-related issues, and to put an end to the confusion and inefficient inter-competition that arose out of the creation of these additional agencies. From the start of his leadership, Kim Jong Un stressed “constructing a strong economic nation” as a top national goal; attraction of foreign capital and international economic cooperation has become the vital factor to achieve the desired rapid economic development, for the lack of internal resources.

The newly appointed Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong—at the 1st session of the 13th SPA in April 2014—is well-versed in economic affairs. His appointment appears as a strategic move to increase the importance of economic cooperation within North Korea’s diplomatic relations. Ri Su Yong was chairman of the Joint Venture and Investment Commission from 2010 to 2012. With the establishment of the Ministry of External Economic Affairs, which will oversee all of the nation’s foreign economic activities, it is expected that North Korea will steadily push to attract additional foreign capital and develop special economic zones.

Here are previous posts on the Ministry of Foreign Trade, the Joint Venture Investment Commission (JVIC), and the State Economic Development Committee (SEDC).

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