Archive for the ‘Alcohol’ Category

New Czech brewery in Rajin

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

UPDATE 3 (2014-8-14): Reader Théo Clément sent these pictures of the interior of the beef factory/bar:

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UPDATE 2 (2014-8-6): Here is an interview (in English) on Radio Praha with Martin Kovář about the brewery.

UPDATE 1 (2014-7-15):

Czech-brewery-rajin

Pictured above (Google Earth): The new brewery in Rajin

One of the individuals involved in setting up the brewery gave this interview (in Czech). NK News translated some of it:

Zvu Potez Sales Director Martin Kovar said that North Korean representatives in the Czech Republic contacted his company directly, saying they wanted to open a brewery in the DPRK with Czech expertise.

“We took them to a few Czech microbreweries so they could examine them and know what to expect from them,” he said, “And they chose a type of beer that most of them liked”.

The brewery subsequently opened in December last year, with equipment brought directly to the site in shipping containers from Prague, via the Russian railway line across Siberia from Khasan in Russia to Rajin port.

According to visitors to the Rason area in late 2013, two staff from the Zvu Potez company arrived in Rajin to help set up the site and train three to four locals in how to use and maintain the brewery.

Among the Czech staff was Tomáš Novotný, who worked as Chief Technologist for Zvu Potez in North Korea for six months while the brewery was being set up.

His job, he told NK News in an email, was to give the North Koreans the “know-how” and supervise the production of the first beer, which he said would be brewed primarily for the local market.

The Czechs have now all returned home, he said, and the brewery is under the full direction of the North Koreans.

And according to Radio Free Asia:

North Korea then opened a microbrewery in the Rason Special Economic Zone in late 2013 and equipped it entirely with Czech-made appliances and hardware.

In addition to the equipment, Novotny explained that the ingredients – malt, hop, and yeast – were also imported from the Czech Republic.

In this effort, brewing technologist Novotny stayed in the North for six months, beginning last October, to teach two North Koreans what he knows about beer.

Novotny added, however, he does not know what the North plans to do once they use up the one-year supply of ingredients from his country.

So why is the impoverished country striving to improve the quality of its beer? It may be that better beer means better business.

While beer at the bar in Rason is free for locals, tourists must pay about 70 U.S. cents per pint, according to the North Korea-focused website NK News.

Pyongyang is also encouraging foreign visitors to take a tour of its various microbreweries, including the Rakwon Paradise , the Taedonggang Craft Brewery, and the Yanggakdo Hotel Microbrewery.

The Czech company’s work on the Rason brewery has come to an end, and it does not intend to send more experts unless North Korea places additional orders.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-12-2): An article in Forbes tells us that Rason is getting a new Czech brewery:

Tomas Novotny has been in North Korea two days, and he looks frazzled. It was a long journey from Prague, and standing on the street in downtown Rajin, his government minder by his side, he can already see that doing business in the DPRK’s remote northeast will present an unusual set of challenges.

Novotny is here because of that railway line. A brewing technologist with the Czech firm Zvu Potez, he has come to set up a brewery. All the equipment and materials were transported by train–from Prague to Moscow, through Siberia and onto the branch line of the Trans-Korean main line.

“We’re still building the brewery. Come and see it,” says Novotny. The two containers that brought the Zvu Potez equipment from Prague lie 50 meters from the brewery. It’s a great location by the sea in Rajin’s main park. The business is a joint venture between the Czech firm and the Rason regional government, says Novotny, and will target tourists and foreigners. There are about 300 Western tourists–including Russians–a year and about 20,000 Chinese visitors to the country’s northeast.

“When they’ve finished building,” he says, shouting over the drilling, “I’m going to teach three or four locals how to brew. I hope they can speak English. If they can’t it will be interesting.”

He expects to be in Rason for six months establishing the business, but already he misses home and his young son. “I won’t get to speak to them until I go home at Christmas,” he says.

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DPRK trade with Hong Kong in 2013

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

According to Yonhap:

North Korea increased imports of vehicles and alcoholic beverages from Hong Kong in 2013, despite an overall drop in bilateral trade, a South Korean report showed Thursday.

The trade representative office for Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) in Hong Kong said Pyongyang spent US$4.36 million to buy vehicles, up 27.5 percent from the year before, a large number of them with over 3-liter engine and seating capacity for more than 10 people.

Cars were the second-largest single product imported by North Korea from Hong Kong after electronic components, the office said.

“The cars were made in other countries and shipped through Hong Kong,” it said.

North Korean imports of alcoholic beverages shot up 51.3 percent last year from 2012, with whiskey and vodka making up the bulk of products shipped. Though liquor products only accounted for 1.4 percent of goods shipped from the former British colony to Pyongyang, its annual growth rate surpassed that of all others last year.

This trend continued into 2014, with North Korea’s purchase of alcoholic beverages soaring 758.8 percent in January and February vis-a-vis the previous year, according to the KOTRA office.

The latest report showed that two-way trade dropped 57.2 percent on-year to $26.99 million, with Hong Kong’s exports falling 53.7 percent. It said no crude oil, grain and fertilizers were shipped to the North.

Imports from North Korea nosedived 87.9 percent to $770,000.

The report showed that in the first two months of this year, Hong Kong’s exports to North Korea was down 67.9 percent on-year, while imports fell 63 percent.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea increases car, liquor imports from Hong Kong in 2013: report
Yonhap
2014-5-1

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The rise and fall of the Rakwon Chicken Specialty Restaurant (a case study in inter-Korean business)

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

UPDATE 4 (2014-2-18): Western tourists are still visiting the restaurant (meaning it has a contract with KITC). The restaurant still has the sign “Rakwon Chicken Specialty Restaurant”, though it is a different color than the original. See tourist video here and here.

UPDATE 3 (2014-2-17): The Hakyoreh updates us on the fate of the inter-Korean chicken restaurant:

In 2005, Choi made his first trip to North Korea to inquire about chicken imports. Soon he had changed plans: he would open his own restaurant there selling South Korean-style chicken. Acquaintances tried to talk him out of it, but he was determined. “I went to Pyongyang and I could see there was money in it,” he recalled. And with economic cooperation between South and North at an all time high, he didn’t see much of a political risk either.

He went back and forth to Pyongyang a few times looking for partners. Finally, in June 2007, he opened up the Rakwon Chicken Restaurant, selling South Korean-style chicken on Puksae Road in the Kaesonmun neighborhood of Moranbong District. His North Korean partner provided the building and staff; Choi was responsible for the interiors, ingredients, recipes, and management system. He reached a deal where he took 70% of profits with a total investment of 500 million won (US$470,000). The opening drew a lot of media attention at the time, with write-ups in the South Korean press and foreign outlets like the Washington Post and Japan’s NHK.

Early on, he did strong business selling at fairly steep prices – the equivalent of US$11.30 for a single bird. His clientele came mainly from the city’s upper class and Chinese visitors. Sales of 100 million won (US$94,000) a year looked to be in sight. “My plan was to open up 100 restaurants in the North,” Choi said.

But in 2008, less than a year after he opened the restaurant, Lee Myung-bak took office as South Korean President. Lee’s administration put a stop to the previous decade’s policies of engagement and cooperation with North Korea, opting for sanctions and containment instead.

“There was a promise between the two sides, and I never thought that would be rejected completely,”Choi said. “Suddenly, that was the reality.”

Bit by bit, exchange ground to a halt. A March 2008 shipment of ingredients through Nampo turned out to be Choi’s last interaction. He had not yet received a single share of revenue.

Then came the announcement of the so-called “May 24 measures” in 2010. Following the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan warship the preceding March, Seoul had called a complete halt to all exchange and economic cooperation with North Korea.

“All the May 24 measures did was drive it home,” Choi insisted. “Most of the economic cooperation had been choked off long before that.”

For the next four years, Choi wasn’t able to set foot in North Korea. Without his support, the restaurant lost its chicken focus and began selling ordinary cuisine. Choi’s other business began to suffer too.
“I’d put my house and buildings up as collateral to borrow the 500 million won to invest in the North,” he said. “Then, to top it all off, there was the US financial crisis. Things began to go downhill rapidly in South Korea, and my business started to fall apart.”

UPDATE 2 (2009-1-1): The BBC offers an update of the new chicken restaurant:

The governments may not be on the best of terms but a South Korean businessman seems to have found a way to North Koreans’ hearts: their stomachs.

Choi Won-ho, the owner of a fried chicken chain, was told he was doomed to fail when he opened his first branch in the impoverished North last year.

But encouraged by his progress so far, he is already preparing to open another one.

Mr Choi runs a fast food franchise in South Korea with a total of 70 stores.

He opened one more last year – no real challenge you might think – except this extension to his fried chicken empire is in the heart of one of the most secretive and business-unfriendly places on the planet.

But Mr Choi says the citizens of Pyongyang have been queuing in front of his shop which is taking around $1,000 a day.

He is now preparing to meet North Korean officials in January to finalise the approval for a second outlet.

His customers are almost certainly all members of North Korea’s elite, a country in which the World Food Programme says up to 9m people will face urgent food shortages this winter.

Relations between the two Korea’s have been at a low since the conservative government of President Lee Myung-bak came to power in the South in February.

North Korea has severed official contacts, stopped all cross-border tourism and restricted entry to a joint industrial zone built with southern money.

But despite the chill, Mr Choi’s fried chicken venture seems to be sizzling.

Read the full story here:
South Korea Chicken Success in NK
BBC
John Sudworth
2009-1-1

UPDATE 1 (2008-11-1): The restaurant is set to open in February 2008. According to Yonhap:

An inter-Korean joint-venture chicken franchise will open its first store in Pyongyang early next month, the head of the franchise’s South Korean partner said Friday.

The store set to open in early February will provide a food delivery service using motorbikes for the first time in the communist country, Choi Won-ho, president of the South Korean company said.

No North Korean restaurants offer food delivery service now, according to defectors from North Korea.

Fried, grilled and steamed chicken dishes as well as draft beer are available for delivery, he said, adding the food will be prepared in the North Korean style.

“I recently received a photo of the store’s interior design from our North Korean business partner, Rakwon General Trading Corporation, along with the offer to open the first store before the 66th birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il,” Choi told Yonhap News Agency by phone. “After opening, I will use radio and newspaper ads to promote the business.”

Kim’s birthday, which falls on Feb. 16, is the most festive holiday in the North.

The North Korean company will provide land, some 20 low-cost workers, chicken, and draft beer. The early-stage investment, equipment, cook and spicy chicken will come from the South Korean chicken franchise called “Matdaero Chondak,” Choi said.

The first “Rakwon” chicken restaurant in Pyongyang will have the capacity of seating about 200 people, he added.

The businessman said he will visit North Korea next week to discuss the opening of the store.

“I hope the business will thrive enough so that we can open store No. 10 in Pyongyang,” he added.

Read the full story here:
Inter-Korean joint venture chicken franchise to open first store in Pyongyang
Yonhap
1/11/2008

ORIGINAL POST (2007-11-3): A South Korean entrepreneur is investing in a new fried chicken restaurant in Pyongyang:

According to Reuters:

A South Korean businessman plans to begin a fried chicken delivery service in the North Korean capital, with the first foreign-run restaurant in a country that struggles to feed its own people.

Choi Won-ho, head of a fried chicken franchiser that has about 70 restaurants across South Korea, said Friday he is opening a 50-table restaurant in Pyongyang on Nov. 15. It will also deliver chicken and draft beer to homes.

“I have wanted to be the world’s best chicken brand,” Choi told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

“But I thought it makes no sense to conquer the world without sharing food with our compatriots. That’s why I went there first,” he said. “I plan to get into the Chinese market via Pyongyang.”

He laughed off concerns his venture may be too risky in the impoverished and isolated country of 23 million, where the elite citizens of the capital are much better off than others.

“I don’t think that I’m going to lose money at all,” he said.

It will be the first foreign-run restaurant in North Korea, according South Korea’s Unification Ministry.

Choi, 48, who has been in the fried chicken business for 15 years, said he hired an ethnic Korean Chinese as the main cook for the Pyongyang outlet and taught him all his cooking know-how. About 20 North Koreans will also work at the restaurant and five scooters will be used for deliveries, he said.

Choi said he invested about 500 million won (US$551,339, ?382,264) in the joint venture with a North Korean trading firm that will take 30 percent of the profits from the business.

North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world and has relied on foreign food aid to feed the population for more than a decade since natural disasters and mismanagement devastated its economy.

Relations between the two Koreas have improved significantly since their first-ever summit in 2000, spurring a series of exchange projects between the Cold War rivals that fought the 1950-53 Korean War. That conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the two sides still technically at war.

According to the Joong Ang Ilbo:

South Koreans are making two very different attempts to improve the culinary life of impoverished North Koreans.

First, a South Korean fried chicken franchise will open the only foreign-run restaurant in North Korea, targeting family dining on special occasions.

Second, the labor union of a South Korean conglomerate has built a plant in Pyongyang to provide cheap corn noodles to northerners who suffer from food shortages.

Choi Won-ho, who runs Matdaero, a 70-store fried chicken franchise in the South, said yesterday he would open a restaurant in a joint venture with a North Korean state-run trading company, near the Arch of Triumph in central Pyongyang on Nov. 15.

The restaurant will both receive walk-in customers and deliver chicken and draft beer to homes. Such places are common in South Korea, but it will be the first chicken joint of its kind in North Korea.

Choi has invested 500 million won ($551,000) in the restaurant’s cooking facilities, interior decoration and delivery scooters. He will split the profit 70-30 with the North Korean firm.

Choi, 48, who has been a chicken entrepreneur for 15 years, said there should be sufficient demand despite North Korea being one of the world’s poorest countries, because he plans to offer lower prices to locals.

“I will charge about $3 for a whole chicken for North Koreans and at least $12, the same price as in South Korea, for tourists from the South and other countries,” Choi said yesterday by phone. “One whole chicken will be enough for a four-member family, so the price of $3 will not be too burdensome for special occasions.”

The store will hire about 20 North Koreans to take telephone orders, fry the birds and make home deliveries. It will have seating for 50.

Separately, the labor union of Hyundai Motor Company, Korea’s top automaker, said in a statement that it has completed an 1,800-square-meter corn-noodle plant in Pyongyang. The plant can produce two tons of corn noodles a day, it said.

Hyundai Motor’s 44,000 unionized workers agreed in August to help a South Korean humanitarian group build the noodle factory. Workers donated about 12,000 won each, 500 million won in total, for the facility.

“The plant will be a great help to relieve the food problems of North Koreans,” Chang Kyu-ho, a spokesman for the labor union, said. “Corn is a staple food for North Koreans.”

Read the full stories here:
Fried chicken franchise goes North
Joong Ang Daily
Moon So-young
11/3/2007

S Korean businessman to debut fried chicken at first foreign-run restaurant in North Korea
Reuters (Via DPRK Studies)
Jaesoon Chang
11/3/2007

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Recent developments in Rason

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

A new article in Forbes updates us on some of the changes in Rason:

Tomas Novotny has been in North Korea two days, and he looks frazzled. It was a long journey from Prague, and standing on the street in downtown Rajin, his government minder by his side, he can already see that doing business in the DPRK’s remote northeast will present an unusual set of challenges.

Novotny is here because of that railway line. A brewing technologist with the Czech firm Zvu Potez, he has come to set up a brewery. All the equipment and materials were transported by train–from Prague to Moscow, through Siberia and onto the branch line of the Trans-Korean main line.

“We’re still building the brewery. Come and see it,” says Novotny. The two containers that brought the Zvu Potez equipment from Prague lie 50 meters from the brewery. It’s a great location by the sea in Rajin’s main park. The business is a joint venture between the Czech firm and the Rason regional government, says Novotny, and will target tourists and foreigners. There are about 300 Western tourists–including Russians–a year and about 20,000 Chinese visitors to the country’s northeast.

“When they’ve finished building,” he says, shouting over the drilling, “I’m going to teach three or four locals how to brew. I hope they can speak English. If they can’t it will be interesting.”

He expects to be in Rason for six months establishing the business, but already he misses home and his young son. “I won’t get to speak to them until I go home at Christmas,” he says.

North Korea’s telecommunications challenges are a headache for business, too. Foreigners are able to get 3G on their phones, but it is expensive. International calls are possible but equally pricey.

“When telecommunications become a little more open that will indicate the seriousness of purpose,” says Andray Abrahamian, who directs Choson Exchange, a Singaporean nonprofit that focuses on business and legal training for young North Koreans in the DPRK.

Abrahamian has been watching North Korea for a decade and visited Rason several times. He says things are finally moving, a result of legal changes made in 2010 that helped make Rason more autonomous. Further legal changes two years ago were intended to harmonize Rason’s economic laws with those of China, he says.

“The degree to which [Pyongyang] will allow autonomy to the regional decision makers or local planners has yet to be seen. That’s a key issue for Rason–how autonomous are these places really?” asks Abrahamian, 36.

“Chinese small and medium-size enterprises, from Jilin Province but also Heilongjiang Province, are continuing to come in–Rason is experiencing growth,” says Abrahamian.

Not all the factories are new. The Rajin Garment Factory was built in 1958, long before talk of special economic zones. In the early days it produced school uniforms for North Korean students. After 1991 it took orders from China and today employs 180 staff.

The factory manager stands on the front steps. It’s early evening, and he’s watching a staff volleyball game in the car park. Has business improved since Rason was made a special economic zone?

He shrugs and says: “It’s hard to say. It’s different. For every school uniform we used to get paid 800 won and a 1,200-won government subsidy. Now there is no government subsidy.”

The workers, nearly all women, are given housing and paid 600? to 700 won a month, plus overtime, he says. Inside the factory, on the first floor, close to 100 women are clocking overtime. Wearing blue uniforms and matching head scarves, they are sewing puffer jackets, hurrying to complete a big order. The final step of the process is to sew in the label: “Made in China.”

The tag is written in English, and the woman packing the jackets doesn’t understand the visitors’ raised eyebrows. Apparently this is a common practice.

It’s noisy on the factory floor. The popular all-girl band Moranbong blasts out of speakers, drowning out the whir of sewing machines. It’s impossible to hear the drone of the generator, switched on after yet another power failure, a regular feature of life in the DPRK.

There is a deal in place to bring power from Jilin Province, but the Chinese have been holding it up using the pretext of an environmental impact study.

More Chinese power can’t hurt, says researcher Melvin, “but there are many more substantive problems the North Korean must overcome before serious large-scale investment can move into the country. The DPRK cannot currently credibly commit to any policy–no policy stability, rule of law–and has a poor record of honoring its agreements and impartially enforcing contracts. No independent company will risk serious capital in this environment.”

Another matter is fuel. Joseph Naemi is director of HBOil, an oil trading and refining company based in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. HBOil grabbed a few headlines in June when it was reported the firm had acquired a 20% stake in Sungri oil refinery in Rason. That was premature, says Naemi: HBOil has 20% of a state-dominated joint venture called Korean Oil Exploration Corp. International, and a formal commitment with Sungri has yet to be made. Another option is to invest in a refinery on the west coast of the DPRK.

“The easy option is Sungri oil refinery because it’s based on Russian technology and because of its location in terms of the dynamic state of affairs in Rason Special Economic Zone. We are conducting engineering assessment of the refinery to determine the various phases of upgrading and expanding–it’s a work in progress,” says Naemi.

Describing Rason officials as well educated and smart, he says they understand issues of foreign investment protection, taxation and the need to not only be fiscally transparent but also to offer attractive terms to investors.

“I know a number of Mongolian companies, all privately owned, that are at various stages of either investing in North Korea or finalizing their joint ventures so that they can invest. There is a robust relationship between Mongolia and North Korea,” says Naemi.

For anyone doing business, there will be surprises. Standing on the terrace of the new brewery, Novotny looks out at the recently planted lawn. The seeds have been planted in rows, five centimeters apart, all the way down to the sea. Come summer and the warmer weather, the grass should have taken. It stands to be a great spot for a bar.

“Yeah, if we’re still open,” says Novotny and laughs. He drops his voice and out of earshot of his minder adds: “Look at the grass, see how it grows in such straight lines. Things are different here.”

Read the full story here:
Things are Brewing in North Korea’s Rason Zone
Forbes
Kate Whitehead
2013-11-20

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Bulgaria to export wine to the DPRK

Monday, November 4th, 2013

According to Standart News:

Bulgarian wines conquer an unusual new market: Two of our wineries will now export their products to the despotic North Korea, Standart daily reports, citing Executive Agency on Vine and Wine head Krasimir Koev.

One of the companies is Brestovitza, the first cooperative winery with 450 growers. The second firm that will export to the Communist country is from Dobrich. Our companies will pour the Asian country with red wines.

Bulgarian wines are also sought after in the other two new and fast-growing markets in North Korea’s region: these are China and Vietnam. Three BG companies have already taken a strong position in Vietnam, while 16 wineries are exporting to China. It is expected that this number will increase after an upcoming wine expo in Shanghai, where many of the Bulgarian companies will have the chance to attract new buyers from the Asian giant.

The Russian market is also about to take on large amounts of BG wines. Though it is a traditional niche for Bulgaria, but now the Bulgarian manufacturers will have to fill a new gap after it was revealed that Russia banned the import of wine from Moldova.

The Bulgarian wine sector is developing very well: only this year four new wineries were opened and one additional is expected to be started soon in Yambol, Krasimir Koev noted.

Read the full story here:
Bulgaria to export wine to North Korea
Standart News
2013-11-4

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Haeju’s new brewery

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

I am unable to find an article about this in either Rodong Sinmun or KCNA, but according to Yonhap:

North Korea completed construction of a brand new brewery in Haeju city that has up-to-date production facilities, the communist country’s leading newspaper said Thursday.

The Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, said the brewery has fermentation, filtering, cold storage and bottling facilities that will allow it to produce alcoholic beverages to benefit people.

It said trial runs have been successfully carried out and efforts are currently underway to secure production materials to make beer.

The latest report comes after microbreweries in the communist country such as Taedonggang Craft Brewery and Yanggakdo Hotel Microbrewery have received acclaim by some for making the best beverages on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia. The secret behind the taste, experts have said, lies with North Korea using less rice and corn to make its beverages compared to South Korean manufacturers.

Such quality products have even spurred visits by foreigners who want to taste the beer.

The paper, meanwhile, did not give exact details on the size of the new brewery other than to say it covered several thousand square meters.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea sets up modern brewery in Haeju
Yonhap
2013-9-19

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Chongjin’s Wongang Beer…almost

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

Reuters offers a cautionary tale of investing in the DPRK:

Setting up a brewery in North Korea seemed like a good idea to Harry Kim and his Chinese friends two years ago. Everyone likes beer, even in one of the world’s most closed and least understood countries, they reckoned.

Kim and his partners even got the beer flowing after workers strapped equipment onto a truck in the Chinese border town of Tumen and drove it to the North Korean coastal city of Chongjin. Chinese engineers taught the locals how to brew. City officials loved the taste, he said.

But the small Chinese-North Korean venture ran aground within months after failing to get final approval from authorities in Pyongyang.

Kim’s experience is an illustration of both the challenge and the potential of doing business in North Korea, which has grabbed global attention in recent weeks with its threats to wage nuclear war on South Korea and the United States.

“It wasn’t rejected. We just waited. The central government didn’t come and say ‘no’, but the documents were just never issued and so we eventually gave up,” said Kim, a Chinese national of Korean descent living in Tumen in China’s northeastern Jilin province.

There is little public information on North Korea’s beer market but one thing seems clear – demand outstrips supply.

Troy Collings, a director at Young Pioneer Tours, a travel operator based in China which takes groups into North Korea and has organised brewery visits, said there were probably less than a dozen locally made beers available in the country.

In Pyongyang, two hotels concoct their own microbrews. The Rakwon department store creates its own eponymous beer, too, he said.

“They can’t produce enough for the domestic market,” said Collings.

The opportunity was clear – and reinforced for Kim when he saw the elite in Chongjin drinking a lot of Heineken and Corona.

So, in mid-2011, Kim and two friends joined up with a North Korean businessman to put the brewery plan in motion.

Approval from Chongjin city came easily, he said. The province, North Hamgyong, gave the green light too. And the first of three investments in equipment and supplies – the initial one worth about 200,000 yuan – was made.

Since North Korea has no system of credit and the risks of investing were high, Kim and his partners tied the beer project to seafood exports.

Before each investment was made, they were allowed to buy a cargo of North Korean seafood to sell in China. The first was about 50 tonnes of squid, he said.

It took about nine hours to drive from Tumen to Chongjin with the brewery equipment, including stops at customs.

The equipment was installed quickly and Chinese engineers showed the North Koreans how to brew. Soon, suds were flowing. The product was dubbed Wongang, or ‘river source’, beer.

On the first day of business the investors invited senior city and provincial leaders to the brewery for a sample. All approved, Kim said.

But the new brewery could not ramp up production without authorisation from Pyongyang, which never came despite months of waiting. There was never a response and the investors never got an explanation.

“If you push too hard it could raise suspicions,” Kim said.

It was a pity, because the North Koreans were good workers, he said, citing how the investors overcame the frequent power cuts which made it hard to use a computer to monitor the brewing process.

Instead, the investors stationed North Korean workers at each of the pressure gauges on the brewing equipment in 12-hour shifts. The workers were told if the dial reached a certain level they should turn a knob to let off pressure.

“They got chairs and sat there looking at the gauges, not sleeping all night, one person at each position,” said Kim.

Thanks to the squid hedge, the Chinese investors basically broke even. Kim now runs his restaurant in the space where the brewing equipment was stored before it was hauled to Chongjin.

Some day Pyongyang may give the green light, Kim says, but he is not holding his breath.

“As I was leaving they said ‘It’s not that we don’t want to do it, and it’s not that our senior leaders or the central government don’t want to do it, but we just don’t have practical experience with this kind of thing’.”

UPDATE: Simon notes in the comments:

There are not about a dozen locally brewed beers in the DPRK, there are literally dozens, if not many more. A great many restaurants and bars brew their own beer. The number quoted in the article isn’t close to the reality that small brewing set-ups are quite widespread in Pyongyang and other cities too.

Read the full story here:
Nuclear threats to squid hedges: it’s hard to get a beer in N.Korea
Reuters
John Ruwitch
2013-4-14

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DPRK luxury good import data

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Picture above via Wall Street Journal.  Click image for larger version.

Quoting from the article:

An examination of U.N. and Chinese trade data reveals that exports to North Korea of products including cars, tobacco, laptops, cellphones and domestic electrical appliances all increased significantly over the past five years. Most items crossed the border from China.

The data reveal glaring loopholes in the sanctions regime, demonstrating how China has stepped in as North Korea’s main supplier of goods considered luxuries as other countries have clamped down on such exports.

But the figures also hint at the emergence of a new entrepreneurial class in North Korea rich enough to buy imported goods. Some analysts say this group could represent the strongest impetus for economic reform, and potentially undermine the totalitarian grip of the Kim family dynasty.

Since 2007, North Korea’s imports of cars, laptops and air conditioners have each more than quadrupled, while imports of cellphones have risen by more than 4,200%, with the vast majority of items coming from China, according to the U.N. data. Chinese customs data show those trends continuing in 2011.

“The sanctions don’t work because as long as China allows the export of luxury goods, the North Korea elite will be paid with them to support the regime,” said Jiyoung Song, an associate fellow at London-based think tank Chatham House, who has studied North Korea since 1999.

At the same time, she added, “Things like DVDs and mobile devices will help to change North Korean society in a gradual manner by teaching them about the outside world, and showing them these things don’t just come through the benevolence of their leaders.” She said last year she interviewed a North Korean defector—the daughter of a trade official—who claimed she had been given an iPad and two laptops by the “Dear Leader,” as Kim Jong Il was known.

The growing demand for Chinese consumer goods is no longer confined to the political elite, according to Andrei Lankov, a leading expert on North Korea at Kookmin University in Seoul.

He estimated that the political elite consists of a few thousand key decision-makers and about a million people with midlevel or senior positions in the bureaucracy. Most of the rest of the population of 24 million receive an official monthly salary of $2 to $3 which they can top up to about $15 by selling things in private markets, he said.

More recently, though, a new entrepreneurial class of up to 1% of the population, or about 240,000 people, has emerged that is earning at least a few hundred dollars a month, said Prof. Lankov.

“This growing demand for luxury goods is being driven by the new bourgeoisie,” he said. He said he had met a defector who as early as 2008 claimed to have been earning $1,000 a month by importing tobacco from China and selling it in North Korea in fake packaging.

It is impossible to verify who precisely is driving the demand for Chinese consumer goods. North Korea does not publicize any kind of trade data, let alone allow independent market research. But other countries do report their exports to North Korea, and figures through the end of 2010 are compiled in the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database, or UN Comtrade. China’s customs authorities provide data for its exports to North Korea through last November.

Among the exports of liquor to North Korea from Hong Kong in 2010 were 839 bottles of unidentified spirits, worth an average of $159 each, and 17 bottles of “spirits obtained by distilling grape wine or grape marc” worth $145 each, according to the U.N. figures.

In 2010, North Korea also imported 14 color video screens from the Netherlands—worth an average $8,147 each—and about 50,000 bottles of wine from Chile, France, South Africa and other countries, as well as 3,559 sets of videogames from China, the U.N. data show.

Some of this might have been to cater to the small number of tourists, diplomats and foreign businesspeople in the country. Many items, however, were clearly destined for North Koreans. Cars, for example, are one of the highest status symbols, and are often given as gifts by the state to loyal senior officials.

In 2010 alone, North Korea imported 3,191 cars, the vast majority from China—although one, valued at $59,976, placing it in the luxury category. came from Germany.

One of the most striking figures is a dramatic increase in imports of mobile telephones—ownership of which was once considered a crime. In 2010 alone, the country imported 433,183 mobile phones, almost all from China, and with an average value of $81 each. Egyptian telecoms company Orascom, which launched North Korea’s first and only mobile network in 2008, said that its North Korean network had 809,000 subscribers at the end of the third quarter of 2011.

Read the full story here:
Luxuries Flow Into North Korea
Wall Street Journal
Jeremy Page
2012-1-7

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Taedonggang Beer to go on sale in US this year?

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

UPDATE 1 (2011-4-22): Apparently extended/new sanctions announced by the Obama administration this week will not affect the import of Taedonggang Beer by Mr. Park.  According to KBS:

Following the latest sanction passed by the Obama administration, the United States importation of the North Korean beer brand Taedonggang was in doubt.

But a U.S. State Department official said that individuals or companies who gained import permits for North Korean goods before the order passed can continue with importation.

The official added that the new directive does not affect any North Korean imports that have been approved by the United States government.

U.S.-based firm Korea Pyongyang Trading U.S. has been given the green light to import 400-thousand bottles of Taedonggang beer this June.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-3-6): According to the Korea Times:

The VOA also confirmed that the U.S. government last year authorized the import of a North Korean beer, called “Daedonggang”.

“I received the final authorization on Sept. 30,” said Steve Park, a U.S-based importer. The first 2,000-2,500 cases of beer will be on sale this summer.

Steve Park first gained notoriety trying to import North Korean soju to the US. He was also prosecuted for being an unregistered foreign agent. You can read about these stories here.

But I wish him all the best in this endeavor.  Taedonggang beer tastes pretty good. It is a British lager after all.

Read the original story here:
N. Korean delegation to visit NY
Korea Times
Kim Se-jeong
3/4/2011

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“Marketization” diminishing importance of leader’s birthday

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

According to the Choson Ilbo:

The most important dates for North Koreans born since the 1970s are the birthdays of former leader Kim Il-sung on April 15 and present leader Kim Jong-il on Feb. 16. North Koreans may forget their parents’ birthdays but they always remember the leaders’, because that is when gifts of food and other daily necessities are doled out and a festive mood prevails throughout the country.

But now, due to international sanctions and the spread of grassroots capitalism, the traditional “gift politics” may be coming to an end as the regime can no longer afford to dole out grace and favor.

Gift Packages

The candy and cakes that were doled out on Kim Il-sung’s birthday were traditionally much better quality than those available in ordinary shops. Nylon and tetron fabric were also distributed, much more highly prized than the normally available synthetic cotton, mixed-spun or vinalon fabrics that shrink in the wash. Parents who can barely afford to clothe their children have no choice but to be grateful to Kim Il-sung.

On the two birthdays, a bottle of liquor, five eggs, two day’s supply of milled rice, 1-2 kg of meat, and cigarettes are distributed to every household. These are precious commodities not normally available to everyone. Thanks to these gift packages, the birthdays of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il have long become established as major holidays.

The elite of the Workers Party are given luxurious houses, luxury cars like Mercedes and Swiss-made Omega gold watches. Quality wristwatches are given to ordinary people who have distinguished themselves meritorious and are preserved as heirlooms.

Economic Changes

But amid a food shortage and international sanctions, the regime is having to rethink the practice. And markets are booming there now despite the regime’s attempt to suppress them, so North Koreans can buy Chinese-made candies and cakes and other necessities without much difficulties. This makes the leaders’ birthday gifts look not so special any more.

The quality of gifts is also falling year by year. Senior officials, unable to live on gifts and official supplies alone, enrich themselves through corruption. An increasing number of officials secretly hoard hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it is therefore natural that the leader’s gifts lose their luster.

January 8 was the birthday of Kim Jong-il’s son and heir Jong-un. Although there had been rumors that the regime would designate Kim junior’s birthday as a national holiday and hold lavish celebrations, it passed quietly.

The North designated Kim Jong-il’s birthday as a national holiday quite a few years after he made an official debut in 1974. It was also only when his power base was cemented that he began to dole out gifts to celebrate his birthday. While Kim Il-sung was alive, he gave gifts only to close associates as a gesture of courtesy to his father. So long as Kim Jong-il is alive, therefore, chances are that there will be no gifts to the public or nationwide celebrations on Jong-un’s birthday.

This story is reported every year for the leader’s birthday. Here is a link to previous posts on this topic.

Read the full story here:
N.Korean Regime’s ‘Gift Politics’ Starts to Lose Its Luster
Choson Ilbo
2/2/2011

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