Archive for the ‘UN’ Category

The August 5th UNSC sanctions on North Korea: new scope, but same old tools. Will this time be any different?

Sunday, August 6th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

On Saturday August 5th, the UN Security Council passed yet another resolution, 2371, following North Korea’s missile tests. Like resolution 2270 that was passed in March 2016, 2371 also takes aim at North Korea’s mineral exports. The new resolution also bans imports of seafood products from North Korea, and bans member states from hiring new North Korean laborers, but they do not need to fire ones already hired, so it is questionable whether this source of income will decrease and/or disappear, or merely stop increasing.

Unlike 2270 last year, it does not appear to contain a humanitarian exemption or any other loophole for mineral imports. In sum, the new resolution appears much more holistic than its predecessors in fully cutting off North Korea’s most central export revenues.

But while the content of the resolution is different, the tools remain the same. Its efficacy still hinges upon implementation by UN member states, and of course, above all, by China, and it is difficult to see why such implementation would be more likely this time. Both President Trump and the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, have made a big number of China’s and Russia’s vote in favor of the resolution. WSJ reports:

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley praised the council’s solidarity, saying more days like this one were needed at the United Nations. She also personally thanked China for helping move the resolution from talk to action. The U.S., which had drafted and put forward the resolution, negotiated for more than a month with China over the text and final measures targeting Pyongyang.

“This resolution is the single largest economic sanctions package ever leveled against the North Korean regime,” said Ms. Haley, adding the council had put the country and its leadership “on notice” and “what happens next is up to North Korea.”

President Donald Trump said on Twitter, “The United Nations Security Council just voted 15-0 to sanction North Korea. China and Russia voted with us. Very big financial impact!”

However, both China and Russia voted in favor of UNSC 2270 as well, and there are still abundantly clear signs that China did little to implement the ban on imports of North Korean minerals. Had UNSC 2270 been implemented in full, North Korea’s export revenues would already have been badly hit.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s Bank of Korea announced a few weeks ago its estimate that the North Korean economy grew by close to four percent last year. One should read those numbers with a very, very hefty dose of skepticism, given the difficulty in estimating anything relating to the North Korean economy, but at the very least, we can safely conclude that the North Korean economy is not in dire straits. Its foreign trade increased by close to five percent last year, according to KOTRA. Though there have been several reports suggesting difficulties for companies involved in cross-border trade between China and North Korea over the past year, there are no indications that China has implemented the near-blanket-ban in minerals trade that the UNSC resolution from March last year mandates.

So why would this time be any different? My guess is that it won’t be. It is very difficult to imagine that China would have voted in favor of a resolution that would hit North Korea’s economy so badly if it would really have believed that such a resolution would be fully implemented. The basic political dynamics remain: China does not want North Korea to crumble, and China craves geopolitical stability above everything else.

As always, only time will tell. But those who applaud this resolution as a new and radical turn on the global stage in the North Korea issue may want to look back at historical precedent, and moderate their expectations.

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UN security council adopts sanctions banning imports of wide range of North Korean goods

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein: 

On Saturday August 5th, the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution banning member states from importing North Korean export goods such as minerals and seafood products, and from hiring North Korean laborers. Wall Street Journal:

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley praised the council’s solidarity, saying more days like this one were needed at the United Nations. She also personally thanked China for helping move the resolution from talk to action. The U.S., which had drafted and put forward the resolution, negotiated for more than a month with China over the text and final measures targeting Pyongyang.

“This resolution is the single largest economic sanctions package ever leveled against the North Korean regime,” said Ms. Haley, adding the council had put the country and its leadership “on notice” and “what happens next is up to North Korea.”

President Donald Trump said on Twitter, “The United Nations Security Council just voted 15-0 to sanction North Korea. China and Russia voted with us. Very big financial impact!”

Both China and Russia urged a return to talks with North Korea and told the Security Council that the U.S. must abandon its military exercises with South Korea and dismantle the missile-defense system in South Korea known as Thaad because North Korea perceived that as a threat and it undermined the security of the region.

“We stress that additional restrictions cannot be an end to themselves, they need to be a tool to engage in dialogue,” said Russia’s new ambassador to the U.N., Vassily Nebenzia.

The nine-page resolution steps up trade restrictions with Pyongyang by aiming to cut off a third of its $3 billion annual export revenue. It bans North Korea from trading coal, iron, lead, iron and lead ore, and seafood.

The resolution also prohibits countries from hiring North Korean laborers and bans countries from entering or investing into new joint ventures with Pyongyang.

Diplomats and sanctions experts have long warned that export revenues, even remittances from foreign workers, are cycled back to North Korea’s military and nuclear programs.

A Security Council diplomat offered this estimate on North Korea’s foreign revenue earnings in 2017: $295 million from seafood; $251 million from iron and iron ore, and $400 million from coal trade.

North Koreans work in China, Russia and the Arab countries in the Persian Gulf in a variety of businesses ranging from factories to restaurants and nightclubs and are estimated to send home several billion dollars in revenue, a large portion of which the government claims, according to U.N. sanctions experts.

The new resolution restricts North Korea’s technology trade and tightens enforcement of sanctions on North Korean vessels by banning violators from entering ports around the world.

Under the resolution, North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank, which handles foreign exchange, will be added the U.N.’s sanctions list that freezes the assets of targeted entities.

It remains to be seen whether the new sanctions will deter North Korea’s pursuit of advanced ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons or bring its leader Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table.

North Korea’s economy has managed to stay afloat largely because China, its main trade partner, and Russia and some African nations haven’t fully enforced existing U.N. sanctions. The U.S. Treasury in June sanctioned Chinese entities—primarily banks and shipping companies—and individuals for violating sanctions and conducting trade that contributed to North Korea’s military and nuclear program.

China’s Ambassador Liu Jieyi said his country denounced unilateral sanctions by the U.S. and said action against North Korea must be through the U.N. mechanism. Mr. Liu told the council he welcomed the U.S. position that it wasn’t seeking regime change in North Korea.

“China has always been firmly opposed to chaos and conflict in the [Korean] peninsula,” Mr. Liu said.

Although China and Russia have pushed for a resumption of the six-party talks with North Korea, disagreement remains on how to bring Washington and Pyongyang to the table. China and Russia have called for a freeze-for-freeze plan under which North Korea would halt any more military or nuclear action and the U.S. would end its military exercises with South Korea.

Full article here:
North Korea Hit by $1 Billion Sanctions After Missile
Farnaz Fassihi
Wall Street Journal
2017-08-5

 

The UN summary of the resolution reads as follows:

The Security Council today further strengthened its sanctions regime against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, condemning in the strongest terms that country’s ballistic missile launches and reaffirming its decision that Pyongyang shall abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.

Unanimously adopting resolution 2371 (2017) under Article 41, Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the 15-nation Council decided that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea shall not supply, sell or transfer coal, iron, iron ore, seafood, lead and lead ore to other countries.

Expressing concern that Democratic People’s Republic of Korea nationals working abroad were generating foreign export earnings to support the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, it also decided that all Member States shall not increase the total number of work authorizations for such persons in their jurisdictions, unless approved by the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1718 (2006).

Through the text, the Council decided that States shall prohibit the opening of new joint ventures or cooperative entities with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea entities and individuals, or expand existing joint ventures through additional investments.  In addition, it decided that Pyongyang shall not deploy or use chemical weapons and urgently called for it to accede to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and Their Destruction.

Also through the resolution, the Council named nine individuals and four entities to be subject to a travel ban and asset freeze already in place, as well as to request that the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) issue special notices with respect to designated individuals.

In addition, it reaffirmed that its provisions were not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and that the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1718 (2006), on a case-by-case basis, exempt from sanctions those activities that would facilitate the work of international and non?governmental organizations engaged in assistance and relief activities for civilian benefit.

Furthermore, through the text, the Council called for the resumption of the Six-Party Talks between China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Japan, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation and the United States towards the goal of a verifiable and peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Speaking after the resolution’s adoption, the representative of the United States said the Council had put the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s dictator on notice by increasing the penalty of its ballistic missile activity to a whole new level.  All Member States must do more to put more pressure on that country, she said, adding that the United States would take defensive measures to protect itself and its allies, including through joint military exercises.

China’s representative said that, while today’s resolution had imposed further sanctions, it did not intend to negatively impact such non-military goods as food and humanitarian aid.  Calling on all parties to implement the resolution’s provisions fully and earnestly, he recalled that China and the Russian Federation on 4 July had put forward a road map to resolve the issue through two parallel tracks — denuclearization and the establishment of a peace mechanism.  Recalling that the United States had recently indicated that it was not pushing for regime change or for the Korean Peninsula’s reunification, he said an escalation of military activities would be detrimental to all countries of the region.

Japan’s delegate said the sheer number and frequency of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests “show how unprecedented and unacceptable these provocations are”.  Not only was the quantity outrageous, but the qualitative advancements were alarming.  Noting that today’s resolution would reduce the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s revenue by approximately $1 billion, he said all Member States must demonstrate renewed commitment to implement the Council’s decisions.

The Russian Federation’s representative, while calling on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to end its banned programmes, said progress would be difficult so long as it perceived a direct threat to its security.  Emphasizing that military misadventures risked creating a disaster, he said sanctions must be a tool for engaging Pyongyang in constructive talks rather than to seek the country’s economic asphyxiation.

The Republic of Korea’s delegate said that Pyongyang’s missile provocations on 4 and 28 July, together with its nuclear programme, posed a grave threat to international peace and security.  Indeed, such reckless acts of defiance should be met with stronger measures, he said, adding that additional sanctions contained in resolution 2371 (2017) would significantly cut off the inflow of hard currency that would otherwise have been diverted to illicit weapons programmes.

Full article:
Security Council Toughens Sanctions Against Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2371 (2017)
United Nations Meetings Coverage
2017-08-05

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What about the Chinese companies that depend on trade with North Korea?

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Domestic conditions within China are often underestimated as a factor when it comes to the country’s enforcement of sanctions against North Korea. In the grand scheme of things, they may not be a major constituency, but it is difficult to imagine that for a government that values economic growth and social stability as much as China does, it would not factor in the sentiments and demands of domestic businesses who depend on trade with North Korea.

Indeed, when one travels to Dandong, the border town most central to trade between China and North Korea, one can begin to appreciate the magnitude of the trade ties between local businesses and their neighbors on the other side of the Yalu river. I have posted some pictures here. Parts of the city are almost wholly dominated by businesses and stores that cater to North Korean customers, some that are clearly tailored for private and large-scale buyers of goods like cars, machinery, kitchen items such as refrigerators, et cetera. Many companies along the border deal in export-import with North Korea. Southern China Morning Post has an interesting story out today about some of these businesses, often an underestimated constituency in the sanctions analyses:

Su Nan, a trader along the China-North Korea border, used to be a busy man. He used to wake early in the morning, fill his schedule with endless phone calls, and in a good year close deals worth millions of US dollars. But now, all of that has gone.

“We have no revenue so far this year,” Su told This Week in Asia. “In fact, we have been struggling since 2016, with fewer and fewer orders coming.”

Although his company hasn’t lowered his salary or laid off workers, Su said he can’t help but worry. After all, “we just sit in the office and do nothing”, he said.

Su works at Dandong Sevsuns Trading, an export firm located in Dandong, a stone’s throw from North Korea. China’s 1,420km-long border with North Korea has fostered many cross-border businesses – Dandong alone hosts 600 such firms by some estimates.

[…]

Since attempts to halt North Korea’s nuclear tests through diplomacy have fallen flat and Beijing doesn’t want a war near its soil, “curbing North Korea’s nuclear ambition through tougher economic sanctions has become the only choice”, Cheng said.

But that worries the many Chinese whose livelihoods rely on trade with North Korea. For Su, the trader in Dandong, such a move could be “a killer blow”.

Su’s firm helps international organisations purchase and deliver supplies of humanitarian aid to North Korea. International relief to North Korea has almost dried up in recent months, and Su said his company had likewise been struggling to stay in business.

“If China suspends more trade activities, then we will have no choice but to shut down,” he said.

Other Chinese traders share his concern.

“Selling fruit to North Korea is the only source of income for my family. What shall we do for a living if China will no longer trade with North Korea?” said Wu Xiuhua, a middle-aged Chinese woman in Tumen, a border city an hour’s drive from North Korea.

Like other traders, Wu used to drive her produce straight over the Tumen River; now all must apply for permits to take their goods across the border.

Since the summer months are traditionally a low season for fruit sales, Wu is able to cope with the financial losses – for now. But other Tumen traders recently took to the street, she said, angry about the costly and time-consuming change.

The local authority in Tumen declined to comment.

It is unclear how many Chinese traders living along the border have been, or will be, affected by the sanctions, but Wu is not optimistic.

“Many people here are running cross-border businesses,” she said, adding that some of her friends had even invested in North Korea, building warehouses equipped with industrial cooling systems to store imported seafood.

“All these investments will go down the drain if China cuts off economic ties with North Korea,” she said.

Besides traders, any business that deals with North Korea, however indirectly, is also at risk.

At a garment factory in Fengcheng, another city near Dandong, an executive told This Week in Asia that although his company did not sell to North Korea, it had hired at least 100 North Korean workers to make clothes – ironically – for customers in Europe and the US.

“If Beijing expands its sanctions to include the hiring of North Korean workers, that would have a negative impact on our business,” said the executive.

“North Koreans work for a lower salary,” he said. “It is also hard to find enough Chinese workers, as Fengcheng, like many cities in China, faces a labour shortage.”

Labour exports are considered a major source of income for North Korea.

Nearly 80,000 North Korean working overseas send up to US$2.3 billion back home annually, according to a report by the North Korean Strategy Centre, a defector group. The report said more than half of them work in China and Russia.

The factory has yet to receive any official notices that restrict hiring, but some residents say changes are already underway. “A restaurant here used to have a lot of North Korean waitresses, but many have disappeared in the past few months. Nobody knows why they left or where they went,” said one resident.

The only businesses that remain unaffected, and at least in some respects optimistic about the future, are Chinese companies that arrange cross-border trips to North Korea.

In fact, an agent at Dandong China International Travel Service said their business had been going so well that the company now ran the tour daily.

“Many Chinese are curious about North Korea,” said the travel agent, who gave only her surname, Wang. “We now send more than 30 tourists to North Korea every day, with some clients coming all the way from Hong Kong and Macau.”

Full article:
SANCTIONS ARE FINE, BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CHINESE WHO DEPEND ON TRADE WITH NORTH KOREA?
Coco Liu
South China Morning Post
2017-07-09

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Still too early to tell on Chinese imports of North Korean coal

Monday, March 27th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

It is still far too early to say anything of certainty or substance on Chinese compliance on the UN resolution cap of $400 million on coal imports from North Korea. A few figures have come out over the past week that are of interest on the issue. Altogether, the statistics suggest that two parallel processes are at play. While China certainly seems to have imposed the coal ban at least in part to comply with the UN-mandated $400 million import cap, it also continues to shift its consumption to domestic coal in the face of a drive to draw down on coal consumption altogether.

As UPI reports, one angle is that China instituted the ban to pre-emptively ensure compliance with the cap, knowing that deliveries early in 2017 would come close:

The official, who spoke to local news service Newsis on the condition of anonymity, said a Chinese decision announced Feb. 18 to suspend all North Korean coal imports included an accounting of “excess” North Korean coal that was delivered to China in late 2016, according to the report.

“China is of the mind to carry over the excess of December [imports] to this year’s upper limit,” the official said.

Resolution 2321 also bans North Korea sales of copper, nickel, silver, zinc and even statues.

China agreed to play a key role in the agreement. All exports of North Korea coal would not exceed $400 million per annum or 7.5 million tons yearly.

In 2017, China has so far imported about $126 million of coal in January and $100 million in February.

While the total number of coal imported appears to be well below the annual quota, when the December data is included China reaches the upper limit of coal restrictions, the South Korean official said.

Full article:
Report: China suspended North Korea coal imports to not exceed quota
Elizabeth Shim
2017-03-23
United Press International

Bloomberg reports the same figures, but give an added context. It is not only coal imports to China from North Korea that have fallen. Those from Australia and Mongolia have dropped, too:

China’s imports of North Korea anthracite coal in February fell 18.7 percent from a year ago to the lowest since January 2015, after a ban on imports as a result of the reclusive nation’s missile program. Imports of anthracite coal, a hard coal with a high energy content used in steel mills, dropped to 1.23 million tonnes in February from 1.45 million tonnes in January, data from the General Administration of Customs released on Thursday.

Waning shipments from North Korea follows Beijing’s decision in late February to ban coal imports entirely after Pyongyang tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile in a direct challenge to international efforts to stabilise the Korean peninsula.

The ban has also sent steel mills who use anthracite as a feed stock to find alternatives in the domestic market. Chinese anthracite prices gained more than 50 yuan($7.26) per tonne to around 780 yuan($113.26) in February, data provided by China Sublime Information Group showed. Imports from China’s top supplier Australia <COA-AUCN-IMP> in February plunged 29 percent from January to 5.16 million tonnes, the lowest since May. Still, Australian imports were 16.8 percent higher than a year ago, the data showed. The decline adds to speculation that China is trying to control coal imports to aid the country’s efforts to reduce overcapacity at domestic mines.

The head of China’s quality supervision agency vowed to crack down on low-quality coal import. Traders in southern Chinese ports also reported cases of cargoes delayed due to customs checks. Coal shipments from Mongolia <COA-MNCN-IMP> tumbled 37 percent from January to 1.97 million tonnes, though it more than doubled from the same period last year.

Full article:
China’s North Korean coal imports drop to two-year low on ban
Reuters
2017-03-23

In other words, it is not only imports of North Korean coal that have dropped. Imports from other countries have fallen too. The “import ban” and fall in imports, rather than being linked by direct causation, may stem from a combination of factors that were already at play. Any conclusions that “China is putting the squeeze on North Korea” or the like are still premature.

On a different note regarding China-North Korea-trade, NK Economy Watch editor Curtis Melvin notes on Radio Free Asia that the Nampo port oil terminal has been upgraded. Perhaps a sign of long-term expectations on the North Korean side of long-run trade ties with China…

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Sanctions hurting North Korean sports development, KCNA says

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reports Yonhap:

North Korea on Monday denounced a set of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions against Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests as they are hampering the country’s development in the sports field.

Kang Ryong-gil, deputy secretary general of North Korea’s Olympic Committee, told foreign reporters in Pyongyang that the sanctions “hinder the aspiration of North Koreans to develop sports,” according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

He claimed that the UNSC sanctions resolution adopted in March last year even included recreational sports equipment on a list of banned luxury goods.

Kang’s remark came as the UNSC imposed tough sanctions against North Korea in March and November 2016 for its two nuclear tests and a long-range rocket launch. The resolutions focused on curbing the inflow of hard currency to the regime. It also came as North Korea plans to take part in the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, which will be held from Feb. 19 to 26.

The sanctions led some countries to impose exports bans on North Korea over such sports equipment as skis, yachts and mountaineering boots, he said. The blockade of money transfers also prevents fund assistance which the International Olympic Committee (IOC) provides for sports development in member countries.

“The thing is that sports firearms can never be turned into rockets nor rockets be fired from them,” Kang said.

Original article:
N.K. claims U.N. sanctions hamper its sports development
Yonhap News
2017-02-13

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Pyongyang under UN Sanctions

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

There has been much interest in Kyodo’s (a Japanese wire service) reports on the atmosphere in Pyongyang following the imposition of sanctions on North Korea back in March by the UN Security Council. According to Kyodo’s ‘current report’ on the subject from August 21, ‘200 Day Speed Battles’ and ‘Mallima Speed Creation’ slogans can be seen in many of Pyongyang’s streets.

While surprisingly Pyongyang appears unchanged following UN sanctions, the entire nation is subject to a general labor mobilization. The 200 day speed battle began in June and aims to raise food production. Mallima Speed Creation is a slogan created to inspire workers to engage in productive activities at the same speed as a horse that can cover 10,000 li (around 3,927 km) in a day.

Construction of the frame for a 70-storey apartment block on Ryomyong Street, which began after the announcement that the block would henceforth be a site to house educators, has almost been completed. There are large tour groups to be seen at the Nature Museum and Central Zoo (the construction of both was completed last month). The Nature Museum, with its models of dinosaurs and taxidermied animals, is particularly popular, with a member of staff reportedly saying “there is a daily limit of 6,000 on the number of visitors admitted, and we have to turn people away every day.”

The Mirae Shop, a department store refurbished and reopened in April, has a tidy display of imported cosmetics and electrical appliances, but is largely devoid of visitors. A member of staff explained that “because people are busy with the 200 day speed battle, there are not many customers.” The Kyodo report thus argues that the effect of sanctions on Pyongyang is as yet limited.

The Kyodo report also includes an interview with Kim Cheol (43), the head of the Economic Research Centre in North Korea’s Academy of Social Sciences. In the interview, Kim Cheol asserts that “the North has hewed to a line of constructing a self-sufficient economy, and therefore the [UN and other] sanctions have very little impact.” Kim offered an optimistic vision: “struggles to increase the proportion of facilities and raw materials sourced domestically continue. . . . With or without sanctions, with our energy and technology we shall construct an economy with a high degree of self-sufficiency.”

With respect to last year’s food production figures, he said that “though they have not been released, the price of rice remains the same as last year, while other cereals are around 65~70% the price they were last year. . . . Given price fluctuations, it is estimated that food production has increased.”

Regarding the supply of and demand for electricity, he stated that “while we cannot fully satisfy demand, the development and introduction of coal additives in coal-fired power stations has dramatically increased production. . . . Many hydroelectric power stations making use of rich hydropower resources have been constructed.” Hence it can be inferred that while electricity supplies remain insufficient, they continue to increase.

Moreover, with respect to effect of coal export bans, Kim said that “the development of the economy is on an upward trajectory, so actually coal resources are needed more inside the country. . . . Improvements are aimed at raising the proportion of domestic production [in all areas] thus raising the proportion of resources used within the country.” At the same time though, he acknowledged that “because of a reliance on imported oil products like kerosene and airplane fuel, there certainly has been some impact.”

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North Korean iron ore continues flowing into China, reports suggest

Friday, August 12th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Despite firm promises from Chinese officials of full sanctions enforcements, reports from Daily NK suggest that iron ore is still being exported in substantial quantities from North Korea. Sanctions allow imports of iron ore when proceeds benefit “livelihood purposes,” but this seems to be a very difficult criteria to ensure in practice:

Thousands of tons of iron ore exports from the North are pouring into China daily, despite UN Security Council sanctions issued in April that ban states from procuring minerals from the regime unless related to “livelihood purposes”, Daily NK has learned.
“The Chinese regions facing Musan County in North Korea are teeming with thirty- and forty-ton trucks loaded with iron ore,” a source in China with knowledge of North Korean affairs told Daily NK in a telephone conversation on August 11.
Sources in North Hamgyong Province corroborated this news.
The trucks, he added, are mostly transporting iron ore to a classification yard near Helong City in China. In the past, the railways near Helong running along the Tumen River border area were not frequently utilized. But recently China added express freight trains on this route, presumably to facilitate more expedient transport of North Korean iron ore to local steel mills. More broadly, the source asserted the development indicates Beijing’s future intentions to expand trade with the North.
Connecting dozens of 100-ton freight cars, the express trains transport some 2,000 tons in a single shipment, with several round trips transpiring daily. Moreover, the source noted, “Some cargo trucks transport goods from Musan Mine across the submerged bridge on Tumen River directly to steel mills in China.”
The partially underwater bridge, made by connecting slabs of rock large enough to permit vehicular transport, was constructed in the early 2000s to facilitate the Sino-North Korean iron ore trade industry. However, following the implementation of strong global sanctions earlier in the year, iron exports plummeted, rendering the bridge obsolete.
More recently, however, this crude piece of infrastructure is experiencing a resurgence, coming as quite a surprise to local Chinese residents. The source explained that goods passing through Chilsong Customs are checked thoroughly, item by item. Customs officers at the underwater bridge, on the other hand, merely record the total number of shipments passing through, making it the preferred conduit for proscribed goods.
The general rise in trade can also be noted in Dandong, the gateway to 70 percent of trade between the North and China. A source in the city told Daily NK earlier in the month that after the reopening of the aging Sino-North Korean Friendship Bridge, after yet another round of repairs, the volume of shipments has been on a steady uptick.
“Roughly 1,000 trucks, each with a 20-ton loading capacity, are laden with diverse goods and pulling into Sinuiju daily. That’s more than a ten-fold increase,” she said.
Full article:
North Korean iron ore exports to China booming despite sanctions
Daily NK
Choi Song Min
2016-08-12
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Is North Korea’s food situation really getting worse? The markets don’t think so.

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Since early 2016, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) has been sounding the alarm bells on North Korea’s food situation. In an interview a few weeks ago with Voice of America’s Korean-language edition, FAO-official Christina Cosiet said that this years’ harvest would be the worst one in four years. One question, dealt with before by this blog, is how bad this really is. After all, the past few years seem to have been abnormally good in a long-run perspective.

But another obvious question is: why do market prices in North Korea tell the opposite story about food supply?

Prices for both rice and foreign currency (US-dollars) have remained remarkably stable for a situation where people should be expecting a worse-than-usual harvest. It is important to bear in mind that prices are largely seasonal and tend to increase in September and October. But unless prices somehow skyrocket in a couple of months, things do not look that bad.

There seem to be two possibilities here: either official production and food supply through the public distribution system simply does not matter that much, because shortages are easily offset by private production and/or imports. Or, the FAO projections simply do not capture North Korean food production as a whole.

For an overview of food prices in the last few years, consider the following graph (click here for larger version):

graph1

Graph 1: Prices for rice and foreign currency, in North Korean won. Prices are expressed in averages of local prices in Pyongyang, Sinuiju and Hyesan. Data source: DailyNK market prices.

As this graph shows, both the exchange rate and rice prices have remained relatively stabile over the past few years. Thus far, this summer has been no exception. The following graph shows exchange rates and rice prices from the spring of 2015 till July 2016 (click here for larger version):

graph2

Graph 2: Prices for rice and foreign currency, April 2015–July 2016, in North Korean won. Prices are expressed in averages of local prices in Pyongyang, Sinuiju and Hyesan. Data source: DailyNK market prices. 

This does not look like the behavior of a nervous market where supply is declining at a drastic rate. Of course, a number of caveats are in order: again, prices are likely to rise through September and October, as they have in the past. Moreover, markets may react to any harvest declines at a later point in time, as they become more apparent.

Even so, it seems inconceivable that market prices would remain so stable if North Korea was experiencing a steep dive in food production. After all, farmers would be able to see signs fairly early on, and their information would presumably spread through the market as a whole. In short, it is logically unthinkable that markets simply would not react to an unusually poor harvest.

This all begs the question of how much market prices tend to correlate with the FAO:s harvest figures overall. The short answer appears to be: not much. The graph below (click here for larger version) shows the average prices for rice and foreign exchange per year on the North Korean market since 2011, and harvest figures drawn from reports by the FAO and the World Food Program (WFP). (See the end of this post for a more detailed explanation of the underlying calculations.)*

graph3

Graph 3: Yearly average market prices for rice and US-dollar (in North Korean won), and FAO food production figures. Data source: DailyNK market prices. 

As this graph shows, there is generally fairly little correlation between market prices and harvests as calculated by the FAO. Harvests climbed between 2009 and 2015, while market prices climbed and and flattened out from 2012, around the time of Kim Jong-il’s death. Exchange rates and rice prices unsurprisingly move in tandem, but appear little impacted by production figures as reported by the FAO.

It is possible that prices react in a delayed manner to harvests, and that the price stabilization on the market is a result of increased harvests over time. But the consistent trend over several years, with prices going up as harvest figures do, is an unlikely one. Again, it is also difficult to imagine market prices not reacting relatively quickly to noticeable decreases in food production.

So what does all this mean?

It is difficult to draw any certain conclusions. But at the very least, these numbers suggest that the FAO food production projections are not telling the full story about overall food supply in North Korea. Moreover, market signals are telling us that food supply right now is far from as bad as the FAO’s latest claims of lowered production would have it. Rather, prices seem normal and even slightly more stabile than in some previous years with better harvests. In short, the narrative that this year’s harvest is exceptionally poor seems an unlikely one.

 

*A note on graph 3:

 For market prices per year, I calculated an average price from all observations in a given year. The DailyNK price data is reported for three cities separately: Pyongyang, Sinuiju and Hyesan. I have used an average of these three cities for each data observation as the base for calculating yearly averages. This is a somewhat tricky way of measuring, as the amount of data observations, as well as their timing, sometimes varies from year to year. The steep decline in 2009–2010 is primarily caused by the currency denomination, and should not be taken for a real increase in supply.

The FAO food production figures are not reported by calendar year, but published in the fall and projected for the following year. Since these figures best indicate available supply for the year after they are reported, I have assigned them to the year following the reporting year. That is, the figure for 2014 comes from the WFP-estimate for 2013/2014, and so on and so forth.

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DPRK food rations at 60% of UN recommendation

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

According to Yonhap:

North Korea has been providing just 360 grams of daily food rations to each of its citizens in the second quarter of this year, far below the United Nations’ recommendation, a media report said Thursday.

Citing the report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the U.S.-based media Voice of America (VOA) said the daily ration is 12 percent less than last year during the same period which was 410 grams, and 10 grams less than the previous quarter’s 370 grams.

This is far less than the U.N.’s recommendation of 600 grams as well as the North Korean government’s target of 573 grams.

According to the FAO’s recent report on the North’s food supply and demand for the grain in 2015-2016, the country’s grain production in 2015 was 5.42 million tons, a 9 percent decrease from the previous year.

The report said North Korea’s rice harvest dropped 26 percent to 1.95 million tons last year from a year earlier, while its corn harvest contracted 3 percent to 2.3 million tons during the same period.

FAO said that North Korea’s food shortage this year will be 694,000 tons which has to be filled either by external assistance or by imports from other countries.

This is the isolated country’s worst food shortage since 2011. If North Korea manages to import some 300,000 tons of food this year, it will still face a shortage of 394,000 tons, VOA said.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s food rations remain at 60 pct of U.N. recommendation: report
Yonhap
2016-6-16

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Russia sanctions DPRK

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

According to the Choson Ilbo:

Russia has halted financial transactions with North Korea, and the EU has added 18 individuals and one organization to its North Korea sanctions list.

The international sanctions aim to strangle the flow of hard currency into the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

The Russian central bank last Thursday told all Russian banks to halt financial dealings with North Korean agencies, organizations and individuals on the UN Security Council sanctions list, Radio Free Asia reported.

The order said the banks must immediately freeze bonds held by sanctions targets and close accounts related to the North’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

A Russian presidential decree will also take effect soon to close North Korean bank branches and joint venture firms.

But Russia will continue to allow financial transactions between Russian and North Korean banks authorized by the UN.

The measures deal a blow to North Korea because the two countries have only recently increased cooperation.

Russia has been criticized for giving the North Korean regime a lot of leeway by allowing its banks to open accounts for North Korean banks and settling business with North Korea in roubles.

“What’s important is whether the international community including Russia and Switzerland will put their decisions into action,” a diplomatic source said. “If they do, the North will suffer a lot.”

A recent gasoline price hike in the North seems due to Russia’s downsizing of supplies to the North.

The EU has announced its third round of sanctions since the North’s latest nuclear test. This has brought the number of sanctions targets to 66 individuals and 42 organizations. They will be banned from entering EU countries and their assets will be frozen.

Here is coverage in the Joong Ang Ilbo:

Russia’s central bank called for a suspension of all transactions with North Korea, media outlets reported Friday, which follows Switzerland’s toughened sanctions on the regime earlier this week.

The move is in line with the strongest-ever United Nations Security Council resolution adopted in early March to penalize North Korea for its fourth nuclear test and long-range missile launch and curb its weapons of mass destruction program.

The Russian central bank was reported to have issued an order to local banks and financial institutions to suspend transactions with Pyongyang on Thursday, according to Radio Free Asia.

The order stated that transactions with Pyongyang were possible only with the permission of the United Nations.

The central bank further declared an immediate freeze on bonds held by North Korean individuals, agencies and organizations blacklisted by the UN Security Council.

Likewise, Russian financial institutions will have to close any accounts that have possible links to the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

On Wednesday, Switzerland imposed tighter sanctions on North Korea, ordering the freezing of assets held by North Koreans in the country and closure of their bank accounts as well as blocking funds owned by the North Korean government.

The Swiss government made the move to block all funds and economic resources connected with North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2270, which was adopted in March in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear test in January and a ballistic missile test in February.

This included mandatory inspections of all cargo going in and out of North Korea, a ban on exports of coal, iron and other mineral resources from the North, as well as prohibiting aviation and rocket fuel exports into the country.

Russia and China, two of the five permanent members of the 15-member Security Council, have generally defended Pyongyang’s stance in the council. They also negotiated some room for leeway in the March resolution on North Korea. How they implement the sanctions will be crucial to cutting the cash flow into Pyongyang’s WMD program.

The Swiss government extended an existing ban on exports of luxury items to include more goods and prohibited North Koreans from studying in Switzerland in higher physics or nuclear engineering.

On Thursday, the European Union expanded its sanctions against Pyongyang, adding 18 individuals and an entity it deemed related to its weapons program to its blacklist.

This brings the EU blacklist to 66 individuals and 42 entities considered to be involved with North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.

When asked about the government’s position on Russia’s sanctions, South Korean Ministry of Unification spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said in a briefing Friday, “We strongly welcome that countries around the world, including China and Russia, are actively taking part in these strong sanctions.”

Read the full story here:
Russian Central Bank Halts Dealings with N.Korea
Choson Ilbo
2016-5-23

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