Archive for the ‘Switzerland’ Category

DPRK imports from Switzerland in 2014

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

The communist country’s imports of Swiss tobacco machinery components reached US$180,000 in the January-June period, far more than the $24,000 worth of imports recorded for all of 2013, according to the report by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA).

The latest spike is seen as indicating North Korea’s growing interest in investing in the country’s cigarette industry.

According to a previous KOTRA report, North Korea’s cigarette imports far exceeded its exports last year.

The country imported $65.28 million of tobacco in 2013, about 77.8 times what the country sold overseas, the report showed.

Another academic report showed that the smoking rate among North Korean men aged 15 or more stood at 45.8 percent, while the global average was 31.1 percent.

Meanwhile, the latest KOTRA report said North Korea’s imports of Swiss watches and related watch components fell to zero in the first six months of this year. The country imported $116,000 worth of Swiss watches and related goods for the whole of 2013.

Read the full story here:
N. Korean imports of Swiss tobacco machinery parts jump in H1


DPRK imports from Bangladesh in FY 2014

Friday, July 11th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

The North spent over US$146,000 to buy medical supplies from Bangladesh in the fiscal year 2014, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported, citing trade statistics from the Bangladeshi Export Promotion Bureau.

The figure is more than double the $68,000 tallied in the fiscal year 2013. The country closes its books in June.

The North likely chose Bangladesh as its trading partner because the latter can copy patented drugs and sell them abroad for now as per an international agreement brokered by the World Trade Organization, the Dhaka office of the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency said.

North Korea also bought $163,000 worth of instruments used in radiology from the U.S. in May, trade documents by the U.S. Commerce Development showed earlier this month.

Though it is too early to tell, the RFA speculated that the North’s sudden interest in medical import may be closely related to leader Kim Jong-un’s recent campaign to boast his “love for the people,” a move possibly aimed at assuaging public outrage over a deadly collapse of an apartment building in Pyongyang in May.

The North’s healthcare spending has been among the least in the world, with the World Health Organization estimating that it had put in less than $1 per person in 2006.

Separately, the Swiss government has said it will continue its humanitarian assistance to North Korea for the next two years, the U.S.-based Voice of America reported Friday.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) will extend its 2012-2014 Medium-Term Programme, an aid plan aimed at helping North Korea exploit sloping lands for farming purposes and gain better access to clean drinking water, by another couple of years, the report said.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea ramps up import of medical equipment, drugs in past year: RFA


DPRK imports of Swiss watches declines

Friday, October 25th, 2013

According to the Daily NK:

North Korea imported 386 high-end Swiss watches this year, it has been revealed.

According to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, mechanical and digital watches with a combined value of US$76,000 were purchased by the North in 2013.

This figure represents a 50% decrease from 2012.

“North Korea purchases a very small number of watches, as the domestic market for watches is small,” Head of the Economy and Statistics Department at the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry Philippe Pegoraro told Radio Free Asia on the 24th.

Some North Korea watchers have questioned if the reduced import volume reflects worsening economic conditions.

North Korea imported approximately 2000 Swiss watches in 2005, but this figure dropped precipitously to 26 the following year as a result of United Nations economic sanctions initiated in response to the North’s nuclear test.

Imports have been on the rise since 2007, with 450 watches imported in 2008, 660 in 2009 and 590 in 2011.

Kim Jong Eun is known to engage in “gift politics” by presenting watches and other luxury items in exchange for loyalty.

Read the full story here:
Sharp Decline in Swiss Watch Imports
Daily NK
Jin Dong Hyeok


Pyongsu to open new pharmacy in Phyongsong

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

According to Yonhap:

A joint venture between North Korea and Switzerland will open its first chain drugstore in a provincial city in the communist country by the end of this year, according to the company’s website Sunday.

The new store will be situated in Pyongsong, South Pyongan Province, where many of the North’s well-off people who can afford medicine live, the Pyongsu Pharma J-V Co. said.

Launched in 2004 as a joint venture between Parazelsus, a Swiss investment and management company with a focus on healthcare, and Pyongyang Pharmaceutical Factory under the North’s health ministry, Pyongsu Pharma has since opened nine chain stores in Pyongyang to provide North Koreans with essential medicine, such as aspirin and digestive aids.

Pyongsong, located just north of Pyongyang, is the capital of North Pyongan Province. It was developed into a science-research city, housing many research institutes in the 1960s, but now is a hub of logistics for distributing everyday goods all over the country.

Last month, the North Korean authority opened the city to foreign tourists, according to a Chinese tourism agency specializing in tours to the North.

“Since medicine is as precious as rice in North Korea, Pyongsong will be crowded with people coming to buy medicine from other parts of the country if a drug store opens in the city, which has a relatively well-developed traffic network with other cities,” a source well informed on North Korea said.

Read the full story here:
N.K.-Swiss joint venture to open drugstore in N.K. provincial city


DPRK imports Swiss firearms

Friday, October 26th, 2012

According to Yonhap:

North Korea imported US$170,000 worth of firearms from Switzerland in the first half of this year, Seoul’s trade agency said Friday.

The communist country brought in about $100,000 of guns such as shotguns, air and gas rifles, and revolvers while importing around $70,000 worth of firearm components, according to the report by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, or KOTRA.

The state-run agency said the North had no record of firearm imports from Switzerland since 2009 until last year when it started to ship them in the first half.

Some experts said the new trend may be due to the fact that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un spent his adolescence in the country.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea imports US$170,000 of firearms from Switzerland


Swiss assistance to the DPRK

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

According to Swissinfo:

Agape international is a Swiss charity with about 60 development and aid projects on the go in 15 countries. It has been active in North Korea since 1995, where its focus is agriculture and energy.

Burckhardt travels to North Korea a couple of times a year and has even lived there for up to a few months at a time. Despite his knowledge, he has experienced ageism personally.

“As long as you don’t have grey hair, you cannot tell an older person to do something. I can make suggestions, but I cannot tell someone what to do,” Burckhardt told

One area where North Korea has really needed advice is agriculture. After initial donations of food to help fight the famine of the mid-1990s, Agape has been helping local farmers improve their techniques.



DPRK emigration data

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Josh points out this table from the UNHCR (originally published by RFA):


Click image for larger version.


Swiss aid agency to leave DPRK

Monday, January 18th, 2010

According to this SDC web page:

Following a decision made by the Swiss Parliament, the SDC’s special programme in North Korea will be discontinued at the end of 2011.

There was not much in the media on this, but a reader pointed me to this article:

Switzerland is standing by a decision to stop development aid to North Korea, which has focused on improving food security in the internationally isolated country.

The foreign ministry says it now has a strategy for the withdrawal of Swiss development workers from the communist country by the end of 2011.

In 2008 the government approved a motion by parliamentarian Gerhard Pfister demanding a halt to development aid in response to North Korea’s continuing nuclear ambitions.

“The atomic weapon programme violates international agreements. North Korea has shown itself to be utterly uncooperative, despite international efforts. It threatens to destabilise the region,” the motion said.

Although Switzerland has no official representation in the communist country, diplomatic relations were established in 1974.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has had an office in the capital, Pyongyang, since 1997 [Possibly located here]. According to the motion, the SDC justified its work there by saying that “supporting the reform process” should improve food security. The SDC cited a “tentative opening” of the country as a success.

Pfister maintains that today North Korea is no longer showing a “tentative opening” – rather the opposite.

The SDC’s main priority in the country has been aid projects aimed at improving the efficiency and sustainability of North Korean agriculture.

Consistent policy?

The central question is whether it is wiser to isolate a totalitarian regime or to cooperate with it. The attitude of the Swiss parliament and government is clear: stop development aid.

But is the issue simply black and white? On December 21 Switzerland celebrated – in the presence of the North Korean foreign minister – the 35th anniversary of diplomatic relations.

On December 28 Blaise Godet, the Beijing-based Swiss diplomat responsible for North Korea, told the Neue Zürcher Zeitung that Switzerland had nurtured a consistent policy of engagement and political dialogue. “We want to contribute to solutions,” he said.

As for the ending of aid at the end of 2011, foreign ministry spokesman Erik Reumann told that “the SDC would follow the decision of the government and parliament. A dismantling plan exists that will guarantee a well-organised withdrawal from North Korea”.

Similarities with Switzerland

While the Swiss government and parliament want to end development aid to North Korea, former justice minister Christoph Blocher, a leading figure in the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, has written in detail about his visit to the country – on a hiking holiday.

The self-confessed anti-communist noted in the Weltwoche weekly magazine in November that “one thing North Korea and Switzerland have in common is that both countries want to keep their autonomy and are working for a safe future”.

In Pyongyang Blocher said he came across “normal conditions”, but admitted that “we only had access to those areas and streets considered presentable”. Nevertheless, he continued, “the streets are tidy and the Korean people are all clean and decently dressed, and go everywhere on foot. People walk”.

But Blocher agreed that the food situation was unsatisfactory.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SADC) web page is here.Here is a report they helped produce: Tools for building Confidence on the Korean Peninsula.


Quintermina AG

Monday, September 21st, 2009

*Note, this information was posted in 2009 and is now outdated.

ORIGINAL POST (2009-9-21): Swiss mining company Quintermina AG seems to have a stake in North Korea. According to their web page (Feb 2009):

IT’S ALL HAPPENING in the magnesia supply market. Further to last month’s lead news report on Russian magnesia supply breaking into the European market through a German trader (see IM January ’09, p.6), IM has learned that the considerable magnesite resources of North Korea are to be made available to the global market through Quintermina AG of Switzerland.

Although the company was unable to disclose details at time of press, IM can reveal that the new business is to facilitate supply of North Korean “competitive quality magnesia” for agricultural, industrial, and refractory applications.

The main focus is caustic calcined magnesia (CCM; low iron grade, agricultural grade, including 90200, 92200, 94200), and dead burned magnesia (DBM; including 9003, 9010), and later, perhaps fused magnesia (including 96%, 97% MgO).

Quintermina is headquartered in Chur, Switzerland, and is managed by David Coplet, who is also the Managing Director of Steinbock Minerals Ltd.

Details that are available in the public domain reveal that Quintermina is a joint venture between RHI and Coplet.

It would seem that RHI and Steinbock have formed a joint venture to secure magnesia materials from North Korea.

The magnesite resources of North Korea, an extension of the magnesite-talc belt from Liaoning, China, are considerable, amounting to some 3,000m. tonnes. Current production is in excess of 100,000 tpa DBM.

Sourcing magnesite from North Korea over the last few decades has been tackled by few, and even fewer have succeeded. Key challenges include lack of fuel and power supplies, basic infrastructure for freight, and modern technology, not to mention dealing with a very sensitive government.

However, Steinbock and its associates, notably the logistics company Yasheya Ltd, have a respected pedigree in dealing with North Korean minerals going back many years. Steinbock told IM that it has managed to regularly ship lots of 5-10,000 tonne CCM and DBM on a monthly basis over the last two years.

RHI, a leading refractories producer and consumer of magnesite, has made little secret of its intention to secure and invest in raw material resources worldwide (see IM October’08, p.6).

Outside China, North Korea stands out as the relatively untouched “Eldorado” of magnesite. Last month we reported “North Korea as an alternative [magnesia source] is looking no closer to coming to large scale commercial fruition.” Perhaps we are about to be proved wrong.

IM intends to publish a more detailed report on Quintermina in a forthcoming issue.

David Coplet of Quintermina will be speaking on Supply of magnesite from North Korea and China at MagMin 2009, 10-12 May 2009, Amsterdam – see p2&3. (PDF)

There is more information and pictures published from May 2009 here and here.


Swiss authorities question U.S. counterfeiting charges against North Korea

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

McClatchy Newspapers
Kevin Hall

Swiss police who closely monitor the circulation of counterfeit currency have challenged the Bush administration’s assertions that North Korea is manufacturing fake American $100 bills.

President Bush has accused North Korea of making and circulating the false bills, so perfect they’re called supernotes, and in late 2005 the U.S. Treasury took measures to block that country’s access to international banking. North Korea subsequently halted negotiations over dismantling its nuclear weapons program, a process that remains in limbo because of the dispute.

The Swiss federal criminal police, in a report released Monday, expresses serious doubt that North Korea is capable of manufacturing the fake bills, which it said were superior to real ones.

The Swiss report includes color enlargements that show the differences between genuine bills and counterfeit supernotes. The supernotes are identical to U.S. banknotes except for added distinguishing marks, which can be detected only with a magnifying glass. In addition, under ultraviolet or infrared light, stripes appear or the serial numbers disappear on the supernotes.

The Bundeskriminalpolizei didn’t hazard a guess as to who’s been manufacturing the supernotes, but said experts agreed that the counterfeits weren’t the work of an individual but of a government or governmental organization.

The U.S. Secret Service, the lead federal agency in combating counterfeiters, declined to provide details or respond to the Swiss report. But spokesman Eric Zahren said the agency stood by its allegations against Pyongyang.

“Our investigation has identified definitive connections between these highly deceptive counterfeit notes and the North Koreans,” Zahren said. “Our investigation has revealed that the supernotes continue to be produced and distributed by sources operating out of North Korea.”

The Swiss report says the Secret Service has refused to provide any information about its investigations. It notes that if the United States produced concrete evidence to back up its allegations, “it would have a basis for going to war.” Under international law, counterfeiting another country’s currency is considered a cause for war.

But if the U.S. has a reason to go to war, against whom?

The Swiss police noted that before charging North Korea with counterfeiting, U.S. officials had mentioned Iran, Syria and East Germany as possible manufacturers. North Korea’s capacity for printing banknotes is extremely limited, because its banknote printing press dates from the 1970s. Its own currency is of “such poor quality that one automatically wonders whether this country would even be in a position to manufacture the high-quality `supernotes,’ ” the report says.

For years, analysts have wondered why the supernotes – which are detectable only with sophisticated, expensive technology – appear to have been produced in quantities less than it would cost to acquire the sophisticated machinery needed to make them. The paper and ink used to make U.S. currency are made through exclusive contract and aren’t available on the open marketplace. The machinery involved is highly regulated.

In theory, if North Korea were producing the notes, it could print $50 million worth of them within a few hours – as much as has been seized in nearly two decades, the report said.

“What defies logic is the limited, or even controlled, amount of `exclusive’ fakes that have appeared over the years. The organization could easily circulate tenfold that amount without raising suspicions,” says the Swiss police report, which also says Switzerland has seized 5 percent of all known supernotes.

Moreover, it noted that the manufacturer of the supernotes had issued 19 different versions, an “enormous effort” that only a criminal organization or state could undertake. The updates closely tracked the changes in U.S. currency issued by the Federal Reserve Bank.

The fact that the Swiss are questioning the veracity of the U.S. allegations against North Korea carries special weight in the insular world of banknote printing.

“The producers of the most sophisticated products used in banknote printing are Swiss or at least of Swiss origin. That goes for the (specialty) inks and that goes for the machines,” said Klaus Bender, a German foreign correspondent and the author of “Moneymakers: The Secret World of Banknote Printing.”

“Can the North Koreans do it, are they doing it? The answer is couched in diplomatic language, (but) the answer is clearly no,” Bender said.


“According to the US Secret Service, $50 million worth of `super-fakes’ were confiscated worldwide over the past 16 years, only a small portion of them within the United States. Measured against the US annual counterfeit damage of $200 million, the damage from $50 million worth of `super-fakes’ is not that significant. The Federal Reserve Bank produces genuine $100 dollar bills mainly for the foreign market. On their return to the U.S., the issuing bank after examination can easily distinguish the `supernotes’ from originals using banknote testing equipment, due to altered infrared characteristics. For this reason, the United States over the years has hardly suffered economic damage due to the `super dollar.’

“A (banknote) printing press like the one in North Korea can produce $50 million worth of bills in a few hours. Using its printing presses dating back to the 1970’s, North Korea is today printing its own currency in such poor quality that one automatically wonders whether this country would even be in a position to manufacture the high-quality `supernotes.’ The enormous effort put into the making of the 19 different `super-fakes’ that we know of is unusual. Only a (criminal) governmental organization can afford such an effort. What defies logic is the limited or even controlled amount of `exclusive’ fakes that have appeared over the years. The organization could easily circulate tenfold that amount without raising suspicions.”