Archive for the ‘UN’ Category

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.”


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

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):


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):


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.)*


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.


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


North Korea’s food situation: worse, but maybe just back to normal

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Some days ago, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) sounded the alarm bells on North Korean food production. The drought of last summer, among other factors, has caused North Korea’s food production to drop for the first time since 2010. (Recall that in the past years, both North Korean media outlets and some analysts touted Kim Jong-un’s agricultural reforms — the former claimed that food production was increasing despite the drought. It seems they spoke too soon).

Numbers like this, however, matter little without context. After all, five years is not a very long measurement period. Analysts like Marcus Noland have noted that the years following 2010 were probably exceptionally good. The current downturn might be best contextualized as a return to lower but more normal levels of food production.

How does the latest food production figure look in a larger context? The short answer is: not that bad, even though the downward trend is obviously problematic. Let us take a brief look at North Korean food production figures over the past few years. All following numbers show food production figures in millions of milled cereal equivalent tons:

  • 2008/2009: 3.3
  • 2010/2011: 4.5
  • 2012/2013: 4.9
  • 2013/2014: 5.03
  • 2014/2015: 5.08
  • 2015/2016: 5.06

(Sources for all figures except the 2015/2016 figure can be found here, in a piece I wrote for 38 North late last year. It seems the calculation I made for 2015/2016 was off by 0.01 million tonnes.)

In other words, yes, the latest food production estimate represents a decrease, but it’s not that big. North Korean food production is still far larger than it’s been for most of the 2000s.

It is also interesting to note the striking variation in North Korean government food imports. Marcus Noland and Stephan Haggard wrote in Famine in North Korea that the government downsized food imports as a response to increasing aid flows. Whatever the rationale might be behind the regime’s food import policies, they tend to vary greatly from year to year. In 2012/2013, the country imported almost 400,000 tonnes of cereal. In the mid-2000s, imports were close to one million tonnes, and they dropped to under 300,000 tonnes in 2008/2009.  In 2011/2012, imports climbed to 700,000 tons.

For 2015/2016, FAO projects a gap of need versus production of 694,000 tonnes, but government imports stand at around 300,000 tonnes, a relatively low figure in a historical context. Thus, North Korea is left with an uncovered deficit of 384,000 tonnes. Presumably, this wouldn’t be prohibitively expensive to cover by doubling cereal imports. The economy seems far more healthy today than it was in 2011-2012, and still, it managed to import more than double its planned imports of 2015-2016.

All in all, North Korea’s food production appears to be far from sufficient or stable, but the situation does not appear acute in a historical context. Indeed, one could argue that it’s a matter of policy choices and priorities: the regime could choose to increase imports to offset the decline in production, but its funds are spent elsewhere. And, of course, more efficient agricultural policies overall would make North Korean agriculture and food markets far more resilient to weather variations.


North Korean market condition since new international sanctions

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

It has been almost two weeks since the enforcement of new sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), and so far North Korea’s domestic economy seems calm. Following the sanctions, North Korea has been preparing for the 7th Party Congress in May with its 70-day campaign (or ‘speed battle’). In order for the people to focus on the preparation, the government has reduced the business hours of markets and has begun controlling the street markets (i.e., ‘grasshopper’ markets).

In particular, it was expected that the sanctions would reduce the inflow of goods into the country which would then lead to a rapid rise in market prices and exchange rates, but so far the market prices appear to have remained relatively stable. According to the Daily NK, a South Korean online newspaper reporting on North Korea, 1kg of rice is selling for 5,100 KPW, 5,150 KPW, and 5,080 KPW in Pyongyang, Sinuiju, and Hyesan, respectively. These prices are relatively similar to the prices prior to when the sanctions were in full effect (i.e., 5,100 KPW in Pyongyang and Sinuiju, and 5,260 KPW in Hyesan).

The exchange rate appears no different. One US dollar exchanges for 8,150 KPW in Pyongyang, 8,200 KPW in Sinuiju, and 8,170 KPW in Hyesan. The rate has been only slightly reduced compared to the rate prior to when the sanctions were put in place (i.e., 8,200 KPW in Pyongyang, and 8,290 KPW in Sinuiju, and Hyesan).

The reason for the stability in the market and the exchange rate is because even though the market hours have been reduced due to the 70-day campaign, the markets actually are running better than before and in some regions the price has gone down for some goods, presumably because some of these items that were exported in large scale via China have been circulated in the North Korean domestic market.

Also, aside from the underground resources (i.e., minerals) — the sanctioned items that used to account for most of the exports — other goods are still sold accordingly, which helps in stabilizing the market. Furthermore, the improvement of the domestic market cannot be taken lightly when considering the stability of the markets. In other words, unless markets are completely closed, people in North Korea wouldn’t consider it an issue.

Meanwhile, despite the international community’s sanctions against the country, including that of the UN Security Council, North Korea is claiming overproduction in areas such as electrical power and minerals in the run-up to the Seventh Party Congress in May. The North Korean propaganda media ‘DPRK Today’ has mentioned about production and the country’s success in confronting the imposed sanctions.

More specifically, since the initiation of the 70-day campaign last month (February 23rd), in order to boost economic success, Namhung Youth Chemical Complex has reportedly turned out 60% more fertilizer; Pyongyang Railway Bureau increased the traffic by 40%; Ryongyang Mine increased its production of magnesite by 20%; and 2.8 Jiktong Youth Coal Mine produced 7,200t beyond its quota. In addition, Kim Jong Suk Textile Mill reportedly has seen more than 40 labors complete the plan for the first half of the year, while Baekdu Hero’s Youth Power Plant has reached 37,000m2 in dam construction. Previously on March 3rd, the Korean Central Broadcasting radio reported that many of the production targets for February in the national economy have been surpassed.


The UNSC sanctions and the North Korean economy

Friday, March 11th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

In the past few days, Daily NK has carried a number of interesting reports on how the latest round of UNSC sanctions have impacted the domestic economy in North Korea. Below, I’ve gathered a compendium of sorts. I’ll continue updating it as more stories surface.

Only a short while after the sanctions were announced, trucks carrying mineral exports were blocked from entering China. Some businesspeople were apparently surprised at China’s relatively forceful implementation of the sanctions, given that little impact had been seen from past sanctions:

Chinese authorities began prohibiting mineral exports from North Korea on March 1st in a move not strictly related to the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 2270, which outlines sanctions against North Korea. North Korean authorities and foreign-earning currency enterprises tied to the military did not see this move coming and expressed embarrassment and shock.

In a telephone conversation with the Daily NK on March 4, a source from North Pyongan Province said, “Beginning on March 1, mineral exports such as coal and ore have not been allowed to pass through Chinese customs into China. Trucks loaded with mineral deposits have been idly waiting in front of Chinese customs near Dandong. The foreign trading companies are simply waiting for instructions from the higher authorities.”

Full story:
Trucks loaded with mineral exports blocked from entering China
Seol Song Ah
Daily NK

A few days later, Daily NK reported that “panic” had begun to set in, not just among high-level businesspeople and traders involved in the mineral extraction industry, but also among market vendors who worry that they won’t be able to buy products for import from China:

“The news that the UN resolution containing sanctions against North Korea passed unanimously is spreading like wildfire through [domestic] cell phones. People in the North had little interest in sanctions in the past, but these days they are expressing concern that ‘this time things are going to be different,’” a source in South Pyongan Province reported to Daily NK on March 7.

A source in North Hamgyong Province corroborated this news, reporting the same developments on the ground in that region.

“Sinuiju is known as the gateway to China and the ultimate symbol of friendly relations between our two nations. That’s why news of its closure to mineral exports is causing dismay,” she explained, adding that a rumor has also taken off that international customs offices in other border towns such as North Hamgyong’s Rajin and Hoeryong will be shuttered.

Further anxiety is being stoked by the fact that trusted allies such as China and Russia are participating in the sanctions and the fact that residents are getting detailed information about the resolution’s specific clauses.

“People are further concerned because things have apparently changed significantly since China helped the country to overcome the difficulties during the ‘Arduous March,’ [famine] in the mid 1990s. People from all over the country are concerned that China might shut the border down totally. If that happens, it will become difficult for everyone to make a living,” the source indicated.

“Wholesalers and market vendors are feeling the most vulnerable to the UN sanctions. Their greatest fear is that they won’t be able to buy products. Merchants who have been selling Chinese products at cheap prices are expecting a cost increase and have momentarily discontinued sales.”

Full story:
Panic sets in as sanctions specifics circulate 
Daily NK
Choi Song Min

Not just mineral exports to China have taken a hit. Food products specialties like hairy crab, frequently imported to cities like Yanji in China from North Korea’s northern fishing cities like Rajin, are now being sold at domestic markets instead:

“These days items that were previously hard to find because they were earmarked for export are suddenly emerging at the markets,” a source from North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Thursday. “The price haven’t gone down enough yet, so you don’t see too many people actually buying them. But you do see flocks of curious people coming out to the markets to see all the delicacies for sale.”

She added, “High-end marine goods like roe, sea urchin eggs, hairy crab, and jumbo shrimp and produce like pine nuts, bracken, and salted pine mushrooms were once considered to be strictly for export, but now they’re easy to find. The number of such products, referred to as ‘sent back goods,’ at Sunam Market and other markets around Chongjin is growing by the day.”

Additional sources in both North and South Hwanghae Provinces reported the same developments in those regions.

Despite the sanctions that have already kicked in, products from China are still flowing into North Korea. however, the goods sold in bulk to China–minerals like coal, marine products, etc.– have nowhere to go and are therefore making their way back into the country.

Full story:
Would-be food exports to China popping up in jangmadang
Choi Song Min
Daily NK

Politically, too, the topic of sanctions has become highly sensitive. According to reports by Daily NK, surveillance authorities have increased their focus on certain groups that they deem as more likely than others to speak out about the added pressures from the sanctions:

The boost in surveillance is interpreted as a move by the regime to nip in the bud any rumblings of political unrest engendered by members of society more likely to speak out about the pressure squeezing North Korea. Those tracing the lines of the circumstances leading to this pressure, namely a volley of sanctions lobbed at North Korea by the international community in response to its nuclear test and rocket launch, are a threat to the regime’s authoritarian grip over the population.

A source with the Ministry of People’s Security [MPS, or North Korea’s equivalent of a police force] informed Daily NK on March 8 that internal orders came down at the beginning of March for the MPS to survey and track the recent movements of those anyone ascribed to the “wavering” cohort. Two separate sources in the same province verified this information, but Daily NK has not yet confirmed if the same orders are in effect in other provinces.

Full story:
MPS steps up surveillance to suppress potential ‘pot stirrers’
Kang Mi Jin
Daily NK

(UPDATE 2016-02-18): a couple of days ago, Daily NK published another piece on this topic. They note that market prices have remained relatively stable, and that many people don’t seem to treat this sanctions round as anything out of the ordinary:

Market prices in North Korea have remained relatively stable despite stronger sanctions enforced by the international community, including China, as well as greater limitations on market operationsdue to nationwide preparation for Pyongyang’s May Party Congress.

Multiple Daily NK sources within the country have confirmed that rice prices in Pyongyang, South Pyongan Province’s Sinuiju, and Ryanggang Province’s Hyesan are trading at 5,100 KPW, 5,150 KPW, and 5,080 KPW per kilogram, respectively, similar to levels before sanctions were stepped up (5,100 KPW, 5,100 KPW, 5,260 KPW).

This is also the case on the foreign exchange front, with 1 USD trading for 8,150 KPW in Pyongyang, 8,200 KPW in Sinuiju, and 8,170 KPW in Hyesan, showing some signs of strengthening for the local currency from pre-sanction rates (Pyongyang 8,200 KPW, Sinuiju·Hyesan 8,290 KPW).

“There had been concern we would see fewer goods in the market because of UN sanctions, but in reality, there hasn’t been much difference,” a source from North Pyongan Province told Daily NK in a telephone conversation on Sunday. “The state is placing restrictions on opening hours for the market for the ‘70-day battle’ (mobilization for the Party Congress), but the markets have remained lively, and there’s not much change in terms of market prices.”

Further confirming trends previously reported by Daily NK last week, an additional source in North Hamgyong Province reported yesterday that some people had stocked up food worried about sanctions from the UN, but that this hasn’t led to a violent gyration in prices. “Actually, in some regions, we’re seeing prices of certain products drop,” he noted.

This price stability seen in the marketplace, in spite of the sanctions having kicked in earlier this month, can be attributed to the fact that most products are still trading as they would have save one of the North’s main export items: minerals.

The simple reality that people have experienced similar times before is also at play. “In the past, people who had stockpiled food during other sanctions discovered that after the political climate evened out a bit they were unable to get their money’s worth for everything they bought. This is why we’re seeing less of it,” a source from Ryanggang Province explained. “Initially there was a little bit of noise, but in general people are remaining calm.”

Full article:
Market prices so far showing resilience against sanctions
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin

Also, Marcus Noland recently launched a “Black Market Contest” at the Witness to Transformation blog, letting readers bet on what will happen with the unofficial exchange rate as a result of the sanctions:

The exchange rate issue has re-emerged with the imposition of sanctions. My colleague Steph Haggard leans toward the view that the imposition of a broader set of sanctions, particularly with respect to mining, together with enhanced Chinese enforcement will generate a balance of payments cum financial crisis with uncertain implications for political stability. I am more skeptical of both the additional coverage and the likely Chinese rigor in enforcement.

But this is an empirical issue. If the sanctions bite, then one would expect to see their effects manifested in the black market rate on the won. So we decided to offer up this conundrum to the wisdom of the crowd, or at least of our readership, in this Witness to Transformation Black Market Contest. Yes, you can ply your wits against North Korean loan sharks and black market traders. Or maybe the North Korean monetary authorities. Here’s how it works.

Steph thinks that within two months, evidence of the impact of sanctions should begin to emerge. So the object of the contest is to guess the black market won-dollar rate two months hence. Since the sanctions resolution passed 2 March, we will use the first DailyNK average rate applying to the post-2 May period as the reference. So you have the next month to analyze trade data, contact spies in Dandong, or call in favors in Switzerland to inform your estimate. Whoever guesses closest to the May black market rate wins. In the event of a tie, whoever submitted their entry first wins.

Please list your estimate in the comments section below. The entry period closes 15 April.

Full article:
Witness to Transformation Black Market Contest
Witness to Transformation blog
Marcus Noland

(UPDATE 2016-05-02): DailyNK continues to cover domestic prices in the context of the sanctions. In late April, vegetable prices rose, but rice prices remain notably stabile:

Despite these high prices, movements on the rice and foreign currency front have remained relatively stable, leading people to believe the spike in vegetables will be short lived.

“Vegetables are not export items and therefore their prices are determined by domestic supply and demand,” the Pyongyang-based source noted. “However strong the sanctions may be, rice prices have nonetheless remained the same and, under these conditions, not many will choose to eat expensive cabbages over rice,” the source added, suggesting that prices are likely to return to normal as the markets readjust for supply and demand.

Full article here:
Vegetable prices spikes, rice remains stabile 
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin


North Korea emphasizes economic independence amid pending international sanctions

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

With the soon-to-be announced UN Security Council’s sanctions against the DPRK in response to the country’s recent provocations, North Korea is urging economic independence through its ‘speed battle’ to confront the resolution.

On February 29, the state-sponsored Rodong Sinmun newspaper emphasized that “against the sanctions, building an independent national economy based on today’s modern technology is the utmost important mission for us . . . as without strong self-reliant economy, we cannot move towards autonomy.”

The newspaper also defined the building of the independent national economy as “a historical mission that is challenging but needs to be achieved for a bright future.”

Such claims by the DPRK can be interpreted as a means to unite the country behind the Party and prepare the people for the upcoming sanctions, as the UN Security Council is about to pass the most impactful sanctions against the country ever.

North Korea is also urging its people to join the ‘70-day campaign’ to greet the upcoming Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea, which is to be held in May. The 70-day campaign is a ‘speed battle’ (as it is traditionally known), which is a socialist mobilization technique employed to increase people’s performance in order to meet economic production or construction targets in the building of a strong country. This technique was first introduced in North Korea’s economic planning back in the early 1970s. The newspaper emphasized that the goal of this year’s 70 day-long campaign is to overcome the struggle in solidifying the Party under the monolithic leadership based on the philosophies of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il – i.e., Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism.

The 70-day speed battle will be a good opportunity to observe the leadership capabilities of Kim Jong Un following the era of his late father Kim Jong Il. With the international community gearing towards announcing sanctions against North Korea due to the country’s latest nuclear test (of possibly a hydrogen bomb) and launch of a long range missile, economic stabilization of the country through robust policy can be regarded as a ‘battle’ related to Kim’s leadership. That is, the 70-day speed battle is not just an ordinary economic mobilization campaign, but 70 days of establishing Kim Jong Un as ‘leader’ as the Party Congress approaches.

On the same day (February 29), the Choson Sinbo (the pro-North Korean newspaper published in Japan) emphasized in a column that “the initial bill on sanctioning the DPRK has been drafted for the fifth time. . . . which shows that no sanctions can compromise Choson [DPRK] from building an autonomous strong nation.”

The newspaper criticized the United States saying “the United States has shown the most savage and brutal side of imperialism by asking China to join the sanctions against the DPRK with such terms that completely isolates the DPRK from the world, aiming for the country to be unable to exist and ultimately collapse as a state.”

The newspaper also said that the claim that the UN sanctions will not affect the North Korean people’s livelihoods is completely hypocritical and cunning, and expressed disappointment with China’s agreement to the sanctions.


Russian food donation to North Korea

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The World Food Program (WFP) has announced that Russia has donated 4 million dollars worth of wheat to feed particularly vulnerable populations in North Korea. According to the WFP, the amount will contribute to feeding about 620,000 people for four months. I’ve pasted the WFP press statement below, but interested readers should also check out the Facebook post of the Russian Embassy in Pyongyang, which has pictures of the delivery ceremony. WFP’s statement:

PYONGYANG – A ship carrying wheat donated by the Russian Federation successfully delivered its cargo in the port of Nampo today. The wheat will help the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to meet the nutritional needs of more than 620,000 children and women for a period of four months.

“Russia takes an active part in WFP’s operations in general, and in particular in its activities in DPRK. We highly appreciate WFP’s efforts aimed at providing aid to the most vulnerable strata of the country’s population, including children and pregnant and nursing women. We know that the Koreans feel deep gratitude because of this timely and valuable help. We consider it important that Russian flour and wheat are used to produce nutritious cereals and biscuits in local factories,” said Alexander Matsegora, Russian Ambassador to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The wheat will be used in locally-produced fortified biscuits and “cereal milk blend” – a specially designed flour fortified with essential micronutrients, which is used to make pancakes or bread.

“I would like to thank the Russian Government for this generous donation and its continued commitment. The Russian contribution is timely following a poor harvest after last year’s drought and comes at the end of the cold and harsh winter. WFP’s assistance is crucial to ensure young children grow into healthy adults by giving them the nutritious food they need,” said Darlene Tymo, WFP’s Representative and Country Director in DPRK.

The wheat was procured by WFP thanks to a contribution of USD 4 million from the Russian Federation. In the last five years, Russia has donated a total of USD 22 million to WFP in DPRK.

Almost a third of children under five in DPRK do not have enough diversity in their diet and are short for their age – a condition known as stunting. If children miss out on crucial vitamins and minerals in the first few years of their lives, it can affect long-term development and growth. WFP’s nutrition assistance helps to provide vital nutrients to children, as well as to pregnant and nursing mothers.

Full statement here:
Russian Contribution Support WFP Nutrition Assistance In DPRK
World Food Program


UN releases emergency funds to North Korea

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

From a press statement today by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA):


(Bangkok, 2 February 2016)

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 29 January 2016 released US$ 8 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for severely underfunded aid operations in the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK). These funds will enable life-saving assistance for more than 2.2 million people most vulnerable and at risk of malnutrition.

The DPRK was one of nine countries to receive such grants within the overall $100 million allocation to underfunded emergencies. Undernutrition is a fundamental cause of maternal and child death and disease: in DPRK, chronic malnutrition (stunting) among under-five children is at 27.9 per cent, while 4 per cent of under-five children are acutely malnourished (wasting).

Around 70 per cent of the population, or 18 million people, are considered food insecure. Food production in the country is hampered by a lack of agricultural inputs and is highly vulnerable to shocks, particularly natural disasters. Due to drought in 2015, 11 per cent of the main harvest was lost.

Health service delivery, including reproductive health, remains inadequate, with many areas of the country not equipped with the facilities, equipment or medicines to meet people’s basic health needs. Under-five children and low-birth-weight newborns are vulnerable to life-threatening diseases, such as pneumonia and diarrhoea if they do not receive proper treatment or basic food, vitamins and micronutrients.

Full press statement available here.