Archive for the ‘Ministry of Foreign Trade’ Category

Mongolia to hire North Korean workers

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

From Daily Business News Mongolia:

At the submission of the Government of Mongolia, the Parliament ratified Mongolia-North Korea Inter-governmental Agreement on exchanging work forces on the 20th of July, 2007. According to the Agreement, Ministry of Social Welfare and Labor of Mongolia is to negotiate in the near future with Foreign Trade Ministry on realizing the agreement and exchange of work force, especially number and need of work force, the minimum wage /by USD/, labor conditions /normal and abnormal/, social welfare /social insurance/ and therefore those interested in employing North Korean wok force in 2009 should formulate their TORs accurately as well as submit them to the MSWL within 23 July. Currently orders should be submitted on the basis of position vacancy since number of workers is not specified yet.

Read more here.

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Pyongyang Autumn International Trade Fair announced

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

From the European Business Association (EBA) web site:

4th Pyongyang Autumn International Trade Fair
September 22nd – 25th, 2008, 9:30am-6:00pm
Further details here

Information flyer here: eba.pdf
Registration flyer here: registration.doc

The European Business Association (EBA) in Pyongyang issues this bulletin in order to inform about special conditions for participation by European businesses in the upcoming international trade fair in Pyongyang.

EBA Pyongyang and Korea International Exhibition Corporation (KIEC) will co-organise a special collective booth to host European businesses for the third time.

European companies interested in taking advantage of this opportunity are invited to visit the EBA website www.eba-pyongyang.org to see reports about the EBA booths in October 2007 and May 2008, which both were very successfull. Please also click through to membership and consider becoming a member of EBA.

The collective EBA booth has proven to be a convenient and cost-effective way to introduce European companies to the North Korean market. The participation fee is 600 or 700 Euro.

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KFA wraps up business delegation to DPRK…

Monday, March 10th, 2008

In the words of Alejandro himself:

[The] Korean Friendship Association concluded its first busines [sic] delegation, headed by Mr. Alejandro Cao de Benos, Special Delegate and KFA President, in collaboration with the DPRK Committee for Cultural Relations, Ministry of Trade and the DPRK Chamber of Commerce. The group included companies from Australia, France, Spain and Lebanon in different sectors like ship building, foodstuff production, medicine, IT and infrastructure, etc. The visit was a big success and 75% of the investors signed letter of intentions and contracts. All of the participants agreed that DPR Korea has a huge potential and new market with many interesting opportunities with the lowest taxes and wages but with the most skilled, motivated workforce. The companies fullfiled [sic] all their plans and resolved the questions during the visit and they had meetings with their Korean counterparts as well as with the officials of Trade, Chamber of Commerce, Banking authorities and logistics.

They visited a Foodstuff factory,  Heavy Machinery complex, Ostrich farm as well as the ‘Kaesong Industrial Zone’ in the border with South Korea, were they had a briefing by the Director representative of Hyundai-ASAN.

After that, the investors visited a South Korean cable-making factory and a garment manufacturing plant specialized in high quality sport brands.

From KFA we congratulate the companies that concluded agreements and established Joint Ventures in the DPRK and wish them success in their projects.

From a follow up post on the KFA forum, one of the attendees appears to be Mr. Kevin Liu, head of Asian Division of London-based Exclusive Analysis.

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North Korea Google Earth (Version 7)

Friday, December 14th, 2007

The most authoritative map of North Korea on Google Earth
North Korea Uncovered v.7
Download it here

koreaisland.JPGThis map covers North Korea’s agriculture, aviation, cultural locations, manufacturing facilities, railroad, energy infrastructure, politics, sports venues, military establishments, religious facilities, leisure destinations, and national parks. It is continually expanding and undergoing revisions. This is the sixth version.

Additions to the latest version of “North Korea Uncovered” include: A Korean War folder featuring overlays of US attacks on the Sui Ho Dam, Yalu Bridge, and Nakwon Munitians Plant (before/after), plus other locations such as the Hoeryong Revolutionary Site, Ponghwa Revolutionary Site, Taechon reactor (overlay), Pyongyang Railway Museum, Kwangmyong Salt Works, Woljong Temple, Sansong Revolutionary Site, Jongbansan Fort and park, Jangsan Cape, Yongbyon House of Culture, Chongsokjong, Lake Yonpung, Nortern Limit Line (NLL), Sinuiju Old Fort Walls, Pyongyang open air market, and confirmed Pyongyang Intranet nodes.

Disclaimer: I cannot vouch for the authenticity of many locations since I have not seen or been to them, but great efforts have been made to check for authenticity. These efforts include pouring over books, maps, conducting interviews, and keeping up with other peoples’ discoveries. In many cases, I have posted sources, though not for all. This is a thorough compilation of lots of material, but I will leave it up to the reader to make up their own minds as to what they see. I cannot catch everything and I welcome contributions.

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Google Earth North Korea (version 6)

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

The most authoritative map of North Korea on Google Earth
North Korea Uncovered: Version 6
Download it here

kissquare.JPGThis map covers North Korea’s agriculture, aviation, cultural locations, manufacturing facilities, railroad, energy infrastructure, politics, sports venues, military establishments, religious facilities, leisure destinations, and national parks. It is continually expanding and undergoing revisions. This is the sixth version.

Additions to the newest version of North Korea Uncovered include: Alleged Syrian nuclear site (before and after bombing), Majon beach resort, electricity grid expansion, Runga Island in Pyongyang, Mt. Ryongak, Yongbyon historical fort walls, Suyang Fort walls and waterfall in Haeju, Kaechon-Lake Taesong water project, Paekma-Cholsan waterway, Yachts (3), and Hyesan Youth Copper Mine.

Disclaimer: I cannot vouch for the authenticity of many locations since I have not seen or been to them, but great efforts have been made to check for authenticity. These efforts include pouring over books, maps, conducting interviews, and keeping up with other peoples’ discoveries. In many cases, I have posted sources, though not for all. This is a thorough compilation of lots of material, but I will leave it up to the reader to make up their own minds as to what they see. I cannot catch everything and I welcome contributions.

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DPRK Chamber of Commerce

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

The DPRK Chamber of Commerce was inaugurated on August 25, 2004 with the purpose of developing economic and trade relations with different countries over the world.

The Pyongyang Chamber of Commerce (PCC), the predecessor of the DPRK Chamber of Commerce, had been established on March 1, 2000 and granted an associate membership of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) at its 33rd World Congress held in Budapest, Hungary in May, 2000.

The PCC had conducted such service activities as trade, finance, arbitration and consultation helpful to the domestic and foreign trade and economic organizations in close relations with the ICC, national chambers of commerce and world trade and economic centres.

It was registered in the directory of addresses published by the ICC, the International Trade Centre and other international economic organizations.

With a view to expanding exchange and cooperation with foreign countries in all fields of the economy, the PCC was developed into the Chamber of Commerce of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

At present, it is extensively carrying on its commercial business in closer ties with the ICC and national chambers of commerce around the world.

The DPRK Chamber of Commerce makes efforts to promote bilateral and multinational exchange and investment with Korean joint venture and individual enterprises in foreign countries as its full members and with foreign individual enterprises and entrepreneurs residing in Korea, overseas compatriots and foreign enterprises who hope to have business transactions with Korean partners as its associate members.

It has an organizational structure consisting of secretariat, trade information committee, trade arbitration committee and exhibition committee as well as non-permanent credentials committee for full members or associate members.

The trade information committee engages in such business as collection and distribution of information data on world economy and trade, international commodity and financial markets.

The trade arbitration committee handles correct examination and settlement of disputes relating to economy and trade.

The exhibition committee organizes the opening of national trade fairs at home and abroad and provides every convenience for the participation of its members in the fairs.

The DPRK Chamber of Commerce will make a positive contribution to the promotion of foreign trade, invitation of investment and economic exchange with other countries.

——

The DPRK Chamber is headed by Ri Hak Gwon.  I have been unnable to determine any other posts he might have held in the past.

——

The Chamber has two addresses on line:

DPRK Chamber of Commerce
c/o Ministry of Foreign Trade
Central District
Pyongyang
D.P.R. of Korea
E-Mail: micom@co.chesin.com
(This address seems to indicate it is an office within the Ministry of Foreign Trade)

DPRK Chamber of Commerce
Jungsong-dong, Central District,
Pyongyang, DPR Korea
P.O.Box 89
Tel: 850-2-3815926
Fax: 850-2-3815827
E-mail: micom@co.chesin.com

——–

Externally, the DPRK Chamber liases with numerous external business organizations to promote DPRK exports and foreign direct investment (FDI):

European Business Association

The EBA cooperates with the DPRK Chamber of Commerce and supports it as well as the Korea International Exhibition Corporation under the Ministry of Foreign Trade to help European companies participate [in the Pyongyang International Trade Fair].  European companies participating at the European booth [in the most recent fair] said they were very satisfied. European businesses that would like to participate at the European booth during the next trade fairs (11th PYONGYANG SPRING INTERNATIONAL TRADE FAIR, May 12 – 15, 2008 and the and the 4th PYONGYANG AUTUMN INTERNATIONAL TRADE FAIR, September 22 – 25, 2008) are welcome to contact EBA from now on. Details on these fairs will also be given shortly on the EBA-website under “Services”

Friedrich Nauman Foundation

“It is a great honour and a token of both appreciation and trust” , said Mr. Kim Myeong-ho, Deputy Director of the Department of International Relations of the Korean Workers’ Party welcoming two representatives of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation at the Headquarters of the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) in Pyongyang. Since their meeting at the beginning of February this year the international political situation has changed dramatically: the February 13 Agreement on the Denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula was signed between the six parties DPR Korea, USA, China, Republic of Korea, Japan and Russia. Meanwhile, the parties have taken necessary steps to ease the tensions on the Korean Peninsula and to move towards denuclearization. Both the U.S. and the DPR Korea have started negotiations on the normalisation of bilateral relations within the framework of the Six-Party Talks. Finally, both Koreas agreed to hold a second summit on 2-4 October.

Mr. Kim Myeong-ho expressed his appreciation of the training activities of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in the DPR Korea. Referring to the New Year’s editorial of the Rodong Shinmun, the KWP’s newspaper, he mentioned the priority of modernizing the economy in the sectors of agriculture, light industry, IT and banking. According to him, of particular interest are methods of farm management, renewable energy and food security but also city management.

The representatives of the KWP accepted FNF’s offer of having a study tour to Germany for party officials in 2008 presuming further progress in the Six-Party Talks. The members of the delegation would have “fresh ideas” after being back in the DPR Korea, FNF was told.

Walter Klitz, Resident Representative of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Korea, also had meetings with representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the DPRK’s Chamber of Commerce. In cooperation with the European Union, FNF will hold the 3rd EU-DPRK Economic Workshop in October, its fourth seminar this year.

Here is the agenda for a training seminr held last April. Here is their summary of the event.

New Clients:

South-North Korean Economic Cooperation Forum

A major South Korean business organization said Thursday (Sept. 27) it plans to form a civilian body for economic cooperation with North Korea on the occasion of the 2007 South-North Korean Summit next week.

The envisioned body, tentatively named the South-North Korean Economic Cooperation Forum, is to be set up in October and have 50 members, including 35 entrepreneurs, the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) said.

It would be the first non-governmental channel for inter-Korean economic cooperation. Currently, the South’s Ministry of Unification and the North’s National Economic Cooperation Federation are the sole channels for inter-Korean economic cooperation.

“The establishment of the body is designed to further promote inter-Korean economic cooperation on a civilian level,” said Kim Sang-yeol, vice chairman of the KCCI.

The planned group will conduct economic cooperation projects with the North and help improve North Korea’s investment environment, the KCCI said.

To that end, the chamber will try to sign a deal with its counterpart, the DPRK Chamber of Commerce, and send an investment inspection team to the North after the end of the summit. DPRK is the acronym for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Established in March 2000, the chamber of commerce, which includes members of 100 major companies, has carried out external economic exchanges and attracted foreign investment in the North, according to the KCCI.     

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun is scheduled to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-il from Oct. 2-4 in Pyongyang. Seoul has hinted that the promotion of economic cooperation will be high on the agenda of the 2007 South-North Korean summit, as it was in the first summit in 2000.

Alejandro Cao de Benos

In his own words: “[The KFA is] looking into development of new areas to expand into, especially those related to economy that are critical also for the development and life improvement of the DPRK. Since KFA has played an important role in building friendship, now we also can play our part in building business.

For accomplishing this goal, I announce the creation of the IKBC (International Korea Business Center).  As a sister organization of the KFA, the IKBC will strictly take care of business issues, facilitate business information to private investors and companies around the world.

In close collaboration with the DPRK Chamber of Commerce, IKBC will become the reference link between the DPRK and foreign businessmen. The spirit is to build a DPRK Chamber of Commerce outside the DPRK that will approach the countless possibilities in trading that will benefit all sides involved.

Alejandro’s involvement raises questions about the relationship between the DPRK’s cultural diplomatic efforts (since he is a client of the Committe for Cultural Relations with Foreign countries) and its business outreach efforts auspiciously under the Ministry of Foreign Trade.  I suspect that various DPRK agencies have been blurring the boundries between the two activities for fiscal reasons.  As access to hard currency comes to play a greater role in the DPRK system, I predict that we will see more of this kind of mission creep on the DPRK side.

They also undertake external activities:

A delegation of the DPRK Chamber of Commerce (KCC) took part in the 5th China International Equipment Manufacturing Exposition on Aug. 29, 2006 and the 2nd China Jilin Northeast Asia Investment & Trade Exposition on Sep. 2, 2006.

During its participation in the expositions, the delegation held an interview on investment and discussed matters of investment in the development of a vanadium mine, stone dressing, the production of agrochemicals and calcium carbonate, seafood breeding and processing and so on.

The KCC secretary-general made an introductory speech entitled “On the trade and investment policy of the DPR Korea”.

At the interview, a series of technical matters on joint ventures and processing trade as well as investment guaranty were discussed and agreed between traders.

A trade and investment seminar for European businessmen was held in Pyongyang under the sponsorship of the KCC on October 30, 2006.

There was the general explanation on the DPRK trade and investment policy and the investment environment.

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Protocol on DPRK-Russia Cooperation Signed

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

KCNA
3/27/2007

A protocol of the fourth meeting of the Inter-governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy and Science and Technology between the DPRK and Russia was signed in Moscow on Mar. 23. It was signed by Rim Kyong Man, minister of Foreign Trade who is chairman of the DPRK side to the committee, and Konstantin Pulikovski, director of the Supervision Bureau of Ecology, Engineering and Atomic Energy who is chairman of the Russian side to the committee.

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DPRK selling goods to Chinese trade fair

Monday, September 4th, 2006

From the Daily NK:
NK, A Pitiable Medicine Peddler at aTrade Exhibition
9/4/2006
Kim Young Jin

The Second China Jilin Northeast Asia Investment and Trade Expo commenced on September 2nd in Changchun, Jilin province where North Korea dispatched 100 people from economic and trade groups to set up 36 booths promoting and consulting trade and goods.

North Korea elected Kim Dong Myeong director of Chosun International Exhibition Co. to coordinate the North Korean booths at the trade event, and director in second department of Ministry of Foreign Trade Jeon Hyeong Jeong, vice secretary of Chosun Chamber of Commerce Yoon Young Suk, Chosun Manyeon Health Co. Lee Yong as department representatives. About 100 people were allocated to various booths in addition to 30 Chinese university students who acted as translating helpers.

‘Wooden spatulas’ and ‘Dried ferns?’

The exhibition was divided into categories such as food, cars, electronic goods, petrochemicals, metal goods, construction materials and medical machinery of which North Korea exceeded technicalities and opened 32 booths related to ‘food.’

In the division of construction materials, the Chosun Chongjin Metal Corporation Company had not organized their booth even after people began to enter the exhibition hall much to the embarrassment of sponsors. Clients passed by confused as in the next booth, ‘Inpung Trade Company’ from the Trade Department in Jagang province had set up a display of wooden spatulas, chopsticks and dried ferns totally unrelated to construction.

North Korean booths categorized as ‘foods,’ health and medical products were the focus of retail sale. Each booth stationed 1~2 consultants wearing a dress shirt and pants, 1~2 sales assistants wearing the traditional Korean costume and a Chinese translator sponsored by the event.

Rather than directly advising clients on product queries, the male consultants seem to sit clustered at the back of the booth supervising the female sales assistants and translating helper. As the translating helpers were all Chinese university students and partly inexperienced in English or Korean, it was obvious that they were having difficulty trying to explain product information to foreign clients.

Abundant medical products, chili paste and sesame oil unverified

Excluding Chosun Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies of D.P.R.K. (MOP), Chosun Minye Corporation and Chosun Suyangsa Trade Company which sold North Korean paintings, porcelain and handicrafts, the majority of booths sold ‘food’ or ‘medical’ products.

A spokesperson for ‘Tosung Korea Medicine Export Department of Pyongyang Trading Public Corporation’ drew the attention of clients by stating “The ‘Tosung 1 injection’ developed by our company is the leading panacea of this generation. This injection is known to have outstanding effect on various illnesses such as cancer, leukemia, diabetes and tuberculosis.”

In reply to a reporter’s question “If 1,000 injections are ordered, how many days it will take for delivery?” the assistant answered “It is difficult for me to give you a definite answer. However, if equipment is offered for a large-scale order, delivery should be made possible within 3 months.”

Of the North Korean sales assistant met by the reporter, the majority of workers knew only of the cost of products on display and when questioned of large-scale orders, delivery, North Korea’s proof of inspection, ‘clinical effectiveness’ and ‘medical approval’ assistants could not give any definite answers.

However a common scene amongst North Korean booths were appeals to clients “Although economic conditions nor equipment do not yet support mass production, not only has a new medical product has been successfully created but we ensure that the world’s best ingredients, effectiveness and skills are used.”

North Korean assistants asserted by showing ‘An innovative wonder drug’ developed by ‘Chosun Dongbang Drugs Center’ as an impotent drug ‘neo-viagra-Y.R,’ the bird flu antidote ‘Kumdang-2 injection’ by ‘Chosun Pugang Pharmaceutics Company’ and longevity foods ‘Angungwoohwangan’ developed by Korea Myongsung Health Food Pharmaceutical Factory.

According to a speech by a sponsor, various Northeast Asian countries such as South Korea, China, Japan, Mongolia, North Korea and 46 other countries participated in The Second China-Jilin Northeast Asia Investment and Trade Expo. Of 500 corporations in the world, 71 corporations participated in the event and promoted products in 2,200 booths.

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North Korea’s Kim Allows Tentative Stirrings of Profit Motive

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

Bloomberg
Bradley K. Martin
12/28/2005

A sign of North Korea’s fledgling moves toward a market economy can be found at the Pyongyang monument commemorating the 1945 founding of the Workers’ Party. Beneath a 50-meter-tall rendition of the party’s logo — a hammer, sickle and writing brush — sits a street photographer.

A handmade sign displays her price list and sample photos, mostly of groups of North Korean visitors, with the monument as background.

The photographer is one of countless sidewalk entrepreneurs – – most of them selling food and drink — who have set up shop in North Korea since 2002. Before that, they would have been hauled off to re-education camps for profiteering. In the late 1990s, North Korea’s Civil Law Dictionary described merchants as a class to be eradicated because they “buy goods from producers at a low price and sell them to consumers at a high price by way of fraud, deceit and spoils.”

Since then, the party newspaper, Rodong Shinmun, has quoted Kim Jong Il, who’s held supreme power since the 1994 death of his father, Kim Il Sung, as favoring profits under socialist economic management.

North Korea, one of the world’s last Stalinist regimes, has gradually begun permitting commerce. On a four-day visit to Pyongyang, the capital, in October — arranged and scripted by the government — a group of 17 Western journalists got a glimpse of the changes. Clean, new restaurants were packed with paying customers while the streets — almost empty in 1979 and only lightly traveled in ’89 and ’92 — bustled with bicycles, motorbikes and Japanese sedans.

Casino Pyongyang

In the state-owned Yanggakdo Hotel on an island in the Taedong River, a mostly Chinese clientele played slot machines, cards or roulette at the Casino Pyongyang. Since 1998, Macau billionaire Stanley Ho, through his Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau SARL, has invested $30 million in the casino, whose staff is also Chinese.

Now some investors from farther afield are joining pioneering Chinese and South Koreans in plunging into a country once so isolated it was known as the Hermit Kingdom. In September, Anglo- Sino Capital Partners, a London-based fund manager, said it had formed the Chosun Development & Investment Fund, which plans to raise $50 million for investments in North Korea.

“It’s the last virgin economy,” says Colin McAskill, 65, a director of Anglo-Sino and chairman of Koryo Asia Ltd., which is investment adviser to the new fund.

Natural Resources

Besides recent changes in the economic system, a 99 percent literacy rate and a minimum wage for workers in foreign-invested ventures of only $35 a month, McAskill says, he was drawn by North Korea’s rich natural resources — including iron ore, copper, lead, zinc, molybdenum, gold, nickel, manganese, tungsten, anthracite and lignite.

The fund will concentrate on North Korean companies that have been active internationally in the past, with track records as foreign currency earners, says McAskill.

He negotiated on behalf of North Korea with foreign bank creditors in 1987, when the country was unable to repay some $900 million in balance-of-payment loans that had enabled the regime in the 1970s to purchase Western industrial technology — Swiss watch-making machinery, for example — as well as such non-capital goods as 1,000 Volvo sedans from Sweden.

Oil Potential

The country’s petroleum potential lured Dublin-based Aminex Plc and its Korea-focused subsidiary, Korex Ltd., which in August announced the signing of a nine-year production-sharing agreement to explore and develop 66,000 square kilometers (25,000 square miles) of North Korean territory. The agreement covers areas in the Yellow Sea’s West Korea Bay and in the Sea of Japan as well as onshore.

While North Korea lacks proven petroleum reserves, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, the West Korea Bay in particular may contain hydrocarbon reserves, as it’s considered to be a geological extension of China’s oil-rich Bohai Bay.

More foreign investment may come, says Tony Michell, a Seoul- based consultant on North Korea. Michell, a 58-year-old Briton, says he has recently shepherded 20 senior managers of international companies, representing seven nationalities, to Pyongyang.

“They’re big players,” says Michell, declining to identify his clients by name or company. “They’re looking at everything, from services to manufacturing. They want to get the measure of the North Koreans and be ready if the six-party talks succeed.”

Six-Party Talks

The so-called six-party talks — between North Korea and China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the U.S. — are aimed at ending the country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. In September, the six countries agreed on a statement of principles to govern further talks. It called for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, a peace treaty and economic cooperation in energy, trade and investment.

Seoul-based Hyundai Research Institute, an affiliate of the Hyundai Group, projected in September that a successful outcome to the talks would be worth as much as $55 billion to the economy in the North — and more than twice that in the South.

Optimism about the economy has boosted the prices of defaulted North Korean debt originally owed to hundreds of creditors, mostly European banks, which in the 1970s began meeting as a London-based ad hoc group to discuss restructuring options. In the 1990s, that so-called London Club turned a portion of the debt into Euroclearable certificates, securities that were denominated in Swiss francs and German marks.

The certificates are trading at about 20-21 percent of face value, up from 12 percent in 2003, according to London-based Exotix Ltd., a unit of Icap Plc, one of a few financial firms that make an over-the-counter market in them.

Excessive Optimism

The debt’s price has risen in the past on excessive optimism about the country’s future. In early 1998, the debt was trading at nearly 60 percent of face value amid rumors that North Korea would collapse imminently and be absorbed by wealthy South Korea, which would then make good on the entire outstanding debt.

That had not happened by the time of the crash later that year in global emerging-market securities, when the North Korean debt price sank to about 25 percent of face value.

Exotix estimates that North Korea owes the equivalent of some $1.6 billion in principal and interest to banks out of a total $14 billion in principal and interest owed globally to mainly communist and formerly communist countries.

Although a cease-fire was declared in 1953 in the war between North Korea and China on one side and the United Nations — under whose flag the Americans, South Koreans and others had fought — on the other side, no peace treaty has ever been signed.

The U.S. maintains sanctions under the Trading with the Enemy Act that restrict trade and financial transactions with North Korea — and apply to Americans and permanent residents of the U.S. and to branches, subsidiaries and controlled affiliates of U.S. organizations throughout the world.

China, Russia

North Korea’s flirtations with capitalism are belated compared with those of China and the former Soviet Union, which began opening their economies in the 1970s.

North Korea did pass a law legalizing foreign investment in 1984. The law, which permitted equity joint ventures between state enterprises and foreigners, attracted only $150 million in investment during the following decade, largely because investors were put off by the country’s poor roads, railroads, power systems and phone networks and by official interference in joint ventures’ recruitment, dismissal and compensation of workers, according to a 2000 thesis by Pilho Park, a postgraduate student at the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison.

Vietnam Example

In contrast, Vietnam lured $7.5 billion in investment in the first five years after it opened its economy to foreign capital in 1988, Park wrote.

Following the collapse of European communism in the early 1990s, North Korea opened the Rajin-Sonbong Free Economic and Trade Zone on the northeastern border with China and Russia. A brief flurry of investor interest ensued and then fizzled out when a crisis over the country’s nuclear weapons program took North Korea to the brink of war with the U.S. and South Korea in 1994.

In the mid ’90s, catastrophic floods, combined with the collapse of the global communist system of aid and preferential trade, caused a severe energy shortage that crippled the economy. As much as 70 percent of manufacturing capacity went idle, according to the South Korean central bank.

Also in the mid ’90s, famine killed as many as 2.5 million North Koreans, by the estimate of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Food Insecurity

Since then, food aid from abroad, an absence of large-scale natural catastrophes and a 2005 harvest that was the biggest in 10 years have kept North Korea from the massive starvation that’s taken place elsewhere, including Niger, says Richard Ragan, North Korea director for the United Nations World Food Program.

Still, “the country faces chronic food insecurity,” Ragan says. “One of the things that happened with the food shortages is that marginal lands became less controlled. You see people trying to farm on some of the most inhospitable plots of land you could imagine.”

In October, steep, unterraced hillsides were plowed outside Pyongyang. The crops can then wash down, rocks and all, during rainstorms, harming water supplies and damaging farmland – fertility.

A second nuclear weapons crisis boiled up in 2002 when the U.S. accused the North of conducting a secret uranium enrichment program — to replace a plutonium program that it had frozen as part of a settlement of the earlier crisis.

Economic Rules

That same year, the regime proceeded with what then Prime Minister Hong Song Nam described as dramatic new economic measures, which helped bring arbitrarily set prices and foreign exchange rates closer to those prevailing on the black market.

The North Korean won consequently dropped to 150 won to the dollar in December 2002 from 2.15 to the dollar a year earlier. The official rate is currently about 170 won, while on the black market, one dollar can bring about 2,000 won.

The government also introduced pay incentives aimed at boosting worker productivity. The system is in operation at enterprises such as the Pyongyang Embroidery Institute, where some 400 women stitch elaborate pictures for framing and sale.

Employees who don’t perform up to expectations aren’t fired; they’re denied raises, says spokeswoman Woo Kum Suk. Unable to live on their minuscule basic salary, equivalent at black market rates to something over a dollar a month, non-performers eventually quit and go elsewhere, Woo says. Good workers can see their salaries raised as much as fivefold.

Consumers

“In my opinion, it’s good to have this system,” she says. “Although the government supplies things to us, sometimes there’s something more we want to buy.”

North Korea has some way to go before many investors rush in. According to a UN report, net investment inflow for 2003 — the most recent year for which statistics are available — was a negative figure: minus $5 million.

Currently the country is constructing a new special economic zone at Kaesong, just north of the South Korean border, where several small companies from the South already employ North Koreans to make clothing, footwear and household goods. Authorities declined to let Western reporters visit it, permitting only a glimpse from a highway bridge a mile away.

Those who are investing are taking a long-term view. Singaporean entrepreneur Richard Savage was looking at least five years into the future in 2001, when he formed a joint venture tree plantation with the Ministry of Foreign Trade. The company, Evergreen Kormax Paulownia Ltd., is 30 percent-owned by the government, which has assigned Savage 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres) on a 50-year lease with an option to extend for 20 more.

Timber Business

Savage, 58, says he, family members, friends and a few other investors have put $3 million into the project so far. Savage says he hopes that by the time the paulownia trees mature — they grow as fast as 7 centimeters (2.85 inches) a day on his farm, and some may be ready for harvesting five years after planting — he’ll be able to sell the wood in a unified Korean market.

When the Northern economy takes off, the first beneficiary will be the building industry, he says. “That’s why I’m in timber,” he says, adding that his fallback plan is to sell the wood to China, Japan and South Korea.

It’s not the first venture in North Korea for Savage, who wears a cowboy hat and whose e-mail moniker is WildRichSavage. In 1994, he introduced North Korean officials to Loxley Pcl, a Thai telecommunications company. In 1995, an affiliate formed for the purpose, Loxley Pacific Co., signed a joint venture agreement with North Korea’s post and telecommunications ministry to create modern telecommunications in the Rajin-Sonbong special economic zone. The venture earns about $1 million a year, Loxley Pacific Chief Financial Officer C.C. Kuei, 56, says.

Mining for Gold

North Korea’s 1992 Foreign Investment Law guaranteed that foreign investors’ shares of profits could be repatriated, a promise that’s now being tested by Kumsan Joint Venture Co., a gold mining concern that’s half owned by a Singapore-led group of Asian investors and half owned by Hungsong Economic Group, a large trading, mining and manufacturing group in Pyongyang that’s controlled by North Korea’s military.

Roger Barrett, a Beijing-based British consultant, has helped arrange financing and technology for Kumsan. Barrett, 50, introduced Kumsan to the foreign investors, whom he declined to identify.

The company used its investment to buy secondhand mining equipment from Australia in 2004 for the venture’s mine 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) above sea level near the city of Hamhung. In the first year the new equipment was used, Barrett says, the mine produced about 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of gold, half of which the foreign investors took out of the country. He says doing business with North Koreans has proved to be absolutely normal. “It’s working very well,” he says.

Foreign-Run Bank

The business environment in North Korea is surprisingly welcoming, says Nigel Cowie, 43, a former HSBC Holdings Plc banker who was hired a decade ago by Peregrine Investment Holdings Ltd. to start North Korea’s only foreign-run bank.

When Peregrine collapsed in 1998, Cowie and the North Korean joint venture partner kept the local unit operating. He and three other investors bought Peregrine’s 70 percent stake in it from the firm’s liquidators in 2000. Cowie, who’s general manager of what’s now called Daedong Credit Bank, says the bank has about $10 million in assets and has only foreigners as customers, mostly Chinese, Japanese and Western individuals and institutions. Only North Korean-owned banks can do business with state enterprises and North Korean individuals.

Better Living Conditions

Living conditions for expatriates have improved significantly in the past three or four years, Cowie says over a meal of Korean barbecue in the capital’s Koryo Hotel. “For me, personally, it’s things like creature comforts, more shops, Internet, e-mail,” he says. While the Internet is available to foreigners, it is forbidden to most North Koreans.

Cowie says his biggest challenge at the bank comes from outside North Korea. In September, the U.S. Treasury Department barred U.S. financial institutions from dealing with a Macau bank, Banco Delta Asia, that it said had been “a willing pawn” in corrupt North Korean activities and represented a risk for money laundering and other financial crimes.

The bank and North Korea both denied the charges, but the Macau government took over the bank and announced it would provide no services to North Korea in the future. Cowie says the action tied up a big chunk of Daedong Credit Bank’s customers’ assets because Banco Delta Asia had been a main correspondent bank for North Korean banks.

The Treasury Department in October broadened its dragnet by ordering a freeze of the assets, wherever in the world the U.S. could assert its jurisdiction, of eight North Korean companies it suspected of involvement in proliferating weapons of mass destruction.

`WMD Trafficking’

The department explained its action in an Oct. 21 statement on its Web site: “The designations announced today are part of the ongoing interagency effort by the United States Government to combat WMD trafficking by blocking the property of entities and individuals that engage in proliferation activities and their support networks.”

North Korea sought to connect the Treasury actions to Washington’s position in the six-party talks. The country’s Korean Central News Agency, using the acronym for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said on Dec. 2 that “lifting the financial sanctions against the DPRK is essential for creating an atmosphere for implementing the joint statement and a prerequisite to the progress of the six-party talks.”

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. envoy to the talks, had said in a Nov. 11 press conference that the asset freeze wasn’t directly related to the talks.

Money Laundering Banned

Cowie says he doubts the U.S. action was intended to harm Daedong, which had already issued a manual prohibiting money laundering. He says he fears such U.S. actions could damp investor enthusiasm for North Korea. “It can cause the people doing legitimate business to just give up,” he says.

Cowie isn’t packing up to leave, though. Neither is Felix Abt, a Swiss native who heads a new European Business Association in Pyongyang. “I am very busy with visiting foreign business delegations,” Abt, 50, says. “Take it as a sign that the economy is developing and that more foreign business activities are under way.”

Outsiders’ investment on capitalism’s farthest frontier is gradually bringing benefits to North Koreans, too, says Savage, the tree farmer. “I can’t convert the whole country, but for the people who work for me, I’m giving them a better standard of living,” he says. “Slowly, people will prefer not to work for the government.”

If Savage and his fellow pioneers have their way, it’s only a matter of time before capitalism takes root in North Korea.

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Banking steps towards the real world

Monday, December 12th, 2005

FDI Magazine
Stephen Timewell
12/12/2005

On my journey to Pyongyang a Beijing receptionist remarked that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is very much like China was 25 years ago. And as the motorcade of China’s president Hu Jintao passed thousands of flower-waving North Koreans on his visit to the world’s most secretive and politically isolated country at the end of October, he may well have agreed.

Visiting Pyongyang is like going back decades in a time machine, to a land with no advertising, no Nokia, Microsoft or McDonald’s billboards and almost no cars. Impressive grand avenues and massive public monuments dominate the landscape but there is no new construction or shops.

The streets are scrubbed clean by hand and are full of hundreds of orderly people wearing their ‘Great Leader’ badges and walking everywhere. Curiously, bicycles are discouraged because of bad accidents and the government encourages power walking for good health, or so I am told. In a country said to spend 30% of its GDP on defence, there is no visual military presence (or overt police presence) in the capital at all.

The ‘traffic ladies’ standing at major intersections are a welcome replacement for traffic lights but there are precious few cars to direct.

Questions greatly outnumber answers in this capital where visitors are duly dazzled by the spectacular grand mass gymnastics and artistic performance (called Arirang) by almost 70,000 children in the massive 150,000-seat May Day Stadium. But visitors are also aware of serious food shortages and cannot ignore the capital’s tallest building, a magnificent 105-floor pyramid tower with a crane on top, left unfinished many years ago, I was informed, due to financial problems.

Winds of change

Whether the DPRK is seen as the last Stalinist communist state or as a Confucian nationalist monarchy or even, as it describes itself, as a “powerful socialist nation”, visitors can feel the winds of change, particularly on the economic front. For more than 50 years the iconic stature of the late ‘Great Leader’ Kim Il Sung and that of his successor son Kim Jong Il have dominated the political landscape; the question going forward is how the country’s dire economic circumstances can be improved and whether the regime has the capability to create the new structures needed.

Pyongyang was playing host not only to Mr Hu but also to an increasing number of foreign delegations and journalists, all keen to understand the trends taking place in probably the last country to have massive pictures of Marx and Lenin hanging outside its Ministry of Trade. For many, however, the current focus is progress in the Six-Party Talks on the nuclear weapons programmes of the DPRK.

In the fourth round of talks in September between the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the US a landmark agreement appeared to have been reached. “All six parties emphasised that to realise the inspectable non-nuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula is the target of the Six-Party Talks,” a joint statement said. “The DPRK promised to drop all nuclear weapons and current nuclear programmes and to get back to the non-proliferation treaty as soon as possible and to accept inspections from the International Atomic Energy Agency.”

At the time of going to press in November a fifth round of talks was expected to move a final agreement closer but detailed negotiations over implementation of the above agreement were not expected to be easy or to be concluded quickly. The DPRK, unsurprisingly, wants some payback, be it light-water reactors from the US or other economic incentives.

The core issue is that the DPRK’s publicly acknowledged plutonium programme, believed to provide enough radioactive material for about six bombs, is probably also the country’s key card in trying to rebuild the economy. Kim Jong Il needs to gain maximum advantage from giving up his nuclear threat, but even then, what does his economy have to offer?

Information hollow

For a financial journalist the DPRK represents a serious challenge. Understanding the economy and the banking sector of a country is never easy, but when no data is published by the government or the central bank it becomes significantly more difficult. I knew information was scarce but believed that the two very agreeable government minders, assigned to monitor my every move in my four-day visit, would be able to help me extract a simple list of banks operating in the country. No such luck. Although my visit was welcomed, the central bank (which acts as both the issuing bank and as a fully operational commercial bank in the traditional socialist model) failed to provide the list (or anything else), despite numerous requests.

Although the consensus after several interviews was that around 20 banks of various types exist, I can only vouch for the handful listed here. Clearly the Foreign Trade Bank (FTB) represents a pivotal bank in the financial system and Ko Chol Man, director of the FTB, was keen to explain the peculiarities of the DPRK banking system. “The domestic and foreign exchange settlement systems are completely separate. The central bank deals with the domestic market and money issuance and it also has a commercial banking role; the FTB has complete control over foreign exchange matters and trade and also holds the country’s foreign exchange reserves.”

Unlike other banking systems, the FTB in the DPRK acts as a clearing house for the foreign exchange activities of the banks in the country. It does not report to the central bank but, like all banks, reports to the State Fiscal and Financial Committee (SFFC), the overall banking regulator.

Mr Ko was pleased to note that the FTB had around 500 correspondent banks worldwide and, along with its 600 staff (including 11 branches) in North Korea, had six representative offices outside the country (including offices in Austria, Russia and China) and planned to establish a UK representative office in London. However, when asked for details of FTB’s banking activities he replied bluntly that no banking institution had published its figures in terms of activities or balance sheet. “We cannot give figures about the size of our assets because it is a regulation of the state. If the situation becomes better we can make them public but up to now it is impossible.”

Economic estimates

Despite the absence of official economic and banking data, various estimates help make the picture a little less murky. A recent Standard Chartered Bank report places North Korea’s nominal GDP at the end of 2004 at $22bn or $957 in GDP per capita terms for the country’s 23 million population; by comparison, South Korea’s nominal GDP is put at $680bn or $14,167 per capita for its 48 million population. While the unification of the two Koreas is seen as an important political objective, especially in Pyongyang, the startling economic gap between the two states could mean that the North becomes a huge burden on the South, and Seoul well recognises the economic problems that emerged from the reunification of Germany in the 1990s.

Meanwhile, Jong Msong Pil, of the Institute of Economy at the Academy of Social Science, explained how the economy had declined dramatically from a GDP per capita of $2500 in the mid-1980s to $480 per capita in 2000.

“The big drop was caused by the disappearance of the socialist market worldwide in the early 1990s; the collapse of our socialist barter trade system led to the failure of many enterprises and a decline in living standards,” he said.

Dr Jong noted that, following the hard times of the mid-1990s, the first target of the national economy has been self-reliance. He added that no economic data had been published since 2000. He believed, however, that 10% economic growth occurred in 2004 and, responding to reports from the World Food Programme (WFP) that a third of the population were malnourished, he said the food situation was improving. “In our country, all people have a job so for this reason no one has died of starvation or hunger. Our country is a socialist planned economy so the government takes care of people’s living.”

Acknowledging shortages in the past, Dr Jong said that in October the government had normalised the public food distribution system, which indicated the government was now supplying sufficient food.

Is the DPRK’s food crisis over? Driving around Pyongyang’s spacious avenues (with two minders) there was no visual evidence of malnutrition – but the capital is likely to be much better served than elsewhere. A supermarket was shown but the goods were only available for foreign currency, hardly food for the masses. Cha Yong Sik, deputy director general at the Ministry of Foreign Trade, said the government had not imported food on a commercial basis in 2005, unlike previous years, but neighbouring countries are still providing significant food aid. Richard Ragan, country director of the WFP, said food production in 2005 was up 10%, with cereals up 6.6%. But while the food situation may have improved, the DPRK is said to be still dependent on food aid.

Trade predictions

So what are the DPRK’s prospects? Much depends on the outcome of the nuclear negotiations but estimates from the Seoul-based Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) say the DPRK’s trade volume in 2005 is expected to pass $3bn for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union with the figure likely to reach $4bn if inter-Korean trade is included. Trade with China, the DPRK’s largest trading partner, grew by more than 40% in the first half of 2005, indicating Pyongyang’s growing dependency on Beijing.

Upbeat on trade prospects, Mr Cha explained that the recently opened Tae-an Friendship Glass Factory, built with a $32m donation from the Chinese government, would export 40% of its 300-ton capacity, mainly to Siberia. Also Pyongyang’s first autumn international trade exhibition in October included companies from six European countries, the focus being on the country’s mineral potential rather than its manufacturing abilities, which are a long way off.

As for banks, the group of up to 15 joint venture banks are helping to finance the country’s 150 or so international companies. But do not expect miracles. The latest, Koryo Global Credit Bank, set up in June, is a joint venture between the UK-based Global Group, headed by Hong Kong businessman Johnny Hon, with 70%, and the state-owned Koryo Bank with 30%. Established with a paid-up capital of e10m, KGC Bank is ambitious in its plans to engage the DPRK in trade and commercial relations with the rest of the world, especially Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

KGCB’s first correspondent banking relationship in Europe is with Germany’s Helababank. The bank, the first product of cooperation in the finance field between the DPRK and the UK, has a staff of five and is also interested in investing in property. It was also able to produce, at the instigation of US authorities, a comprehensive anti-money laundering file.

Another local venture is North East Asia Bank (NEAB), which was set up by ING Group in 1995 but is now wholly owned by the Korean BOHOM Group. Amazingly, Kim Hyon Il, NEAB’s president, produced a balance sheet showing total assets of e79m at the end of 2004 and a paid-up capital of e25m. He also showed me the bank’s newest product, a chip-based cash/debit card, the first in the DPRK. The card demonstrates perhaps that the country is slowly joining the real world – but with only 100 issued and only 13 outlets available, the service has a long way to go.

Political effects
 
At Daedong Credit Bank, chief executive Nigel Cowie explained how international politics can have a dramatic impact on banking even in the isolated DPRK. In September, just before the conclusion of the fourth round of the Six-Party Talks, the US Treasury accused Banco Delta Asia (BDA), a Macao-based bank, of aiding the DPRK in a series of ‘money laundering’ cases. The Wall Street Journal had said the Macao crackdown was Washington’s method of cutting off Pyongyang’s financial sources for its nuclear weapons programme.

Mr Cowie, a former HSBC banker, explained that all DPRK banks had accounts with BDA for the purposes of remitting funds and, as a result, the accounts were suspended pending an inquiry in mid-November. While Stanley Au, chairman of BDA’s parent, denied the US allegations and BDA’s involvement in any illegal business relations with DPRK banks, the damage is done. “It affects our customers because it affects people’s ability to remit money to and from the country. I imagine that this will cause people doing legitimate business to give up,” says Mr Cowie.

The nuclear negotiations remain critical to the country’s future and the Chinese, in particular, want them to succeed. But that is just a start. There is evidence that the DPRK is opening up and changing with reports that there are 300 open markets operating across the country, 30 in Pyongyang. But whether the DPRK follows the China model of 25 years ago and can restructure its ‘powerful socialist nation’ doctrine remains doubtful under the current leadership.

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