Archive for the ‘Economic reform’ Category

Is North Korea’s food situation really getting worse? The markets don’t think so.

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

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

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

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

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

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

graph1

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

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

graph2

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

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

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

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

graph3

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

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

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

So what does all this mean?

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

 

*A note on graph 3:

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

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

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KWP cadres and the donju

Friday, July 8th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Some interesting snippets of practical political economy in North Korea, from DailyNK:

It seems like cadres are quite accustomed to watching each other’s backs like this. I’m curious now if there are any other arrangements that follow this pattern.
Absolutely. Cadres don’t engage in this kind of relationship exclusively with one another. The current trend is for cadres to engage in all-ssam with the donju (North Korea’s rising entrepreneurial class). But North Koreans don’t refer to close relations between ordinary people as all-ssam relationships. That being said, I’d like to explore the all-ssam culture that links cadres and the donju a bit more deeply.
In South Korea we’d call these kind of relations between government officials and business leaders as either unhealthy or flat-out collusion. I’m curious how the all-ssam relationships in North Korea break the standard political mold to create new power sharing arrangements. 
One example of how this relationship gets put into action concerns the state factories. The donju rent this space out from the cadres to make their products. But leasing the space requires more than money. To get the space, it’s also necessary to have a relationship with the managing cadres. The donju in South Pyongan Province have gotten quite cozy with the cadres there. The monthly building rental fee issued to the cadres becomes a form of profit for them.
Although this may seem like an illicit affair, the Party secretary affiliated with the factory knows about this. In fact, the secretary encourages ‘extra earnings’ through official orders. ‘Extra earnings’ refers to any profits made by the state factories that do not come from the use of raw materials and labor for the productions of goods for sale.
Moreover, the donju do not merely contribute some of the profits. They also issue a per diem including living expenses to the manager. This is a voluntary donation, and the manager usually responds by scratching the donju’s back in the form of providing extra factory facilities or making things more convenient for them. For example, in return for a per diem, a factory manager might issue an order to let the donju use a state vehicle to transport products to the market.
Seeing this, the Party secretary began to fear that his authority was becoming eclipsed by that of the managing cadres. He became worried that his title was strictly nominal and that he wielded little actual power. That’s why he began to grab up donju and bring them into all-ssam relationships with him. Those that didn’t enter into the relationship were cast out of his good graces. The more prosperous the donju, the bigger the problem for the cadres.
Full article here:
The complex ties interlinking cadres and the donju
Daily NK
2016-07-08
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Domestic food price dip in North Korea

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

North Korea’s domestic market prices have been behaving somewhat counterintuitively as of late. Harvest declined last year (or at least so the FAO claimed), and given the latest round of sanctions, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to expect some hoarding and anxiety on the markets, out of anticipation that China may come to control cross-border trade and smuggling more tightly.

Not so, Daily NK reports:

Despite the lean season, referred to domestically as the “barley hump,” during which grains typically get pricier in North Korea, prices are instead on a downward trend, Daily NK has learned.

Daily NK’s sources within the country believe relaxed restrictions on marketplace activity under the Kim Jong Un regime has helped create a balance in the supply and demand of food by way of imports, narrowing the range of price swings even when the local supply dips during the “barley hump.”

“People were quite worried about the economic sanctions from China but are now relieved to see that rice prices have not changed much,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK, She reported that in her region, rice, which had been selling at 5,000 KPW (a kilogram) until just a few days ago, had dropped to 4,500 KPW; corn, which fetched 1,200 KPW, slid to 1,000 KPW; and pork prices fell about 1,000 KPW to 11,100 KPW.

“More vendors now import rice, corn, etc. from China, so there’s more than enough to go around even after making up for the shortfall in local supply during the barely hump,” she added, explaining that the dip in rice prices is in large part due to the upcoming harvest of early potatoes and barley, as vendors look to offload their supplies.

Overall, it appears, judging from the stability of market prices, that both formal and informal market mechanisms in North Korea function well enough to make up for shortfalls in production.

Full article:
Dip in prices help residents surmount ‘barley hump’ 
Kang Mi Jin
Daily NK
2016-06-12

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2016 Pyongyang Spring Trade Fair

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

UPDATE 5 (2016-6-1): The photographer Aram Pan (DPRK360) shot an incredible video of the trade fair. You can really learn a lot about the DPRK from watching it. There were lots of little surprises for me.

Also check out his Facebook photos of the Trade Fair here.

UPDATE 4 (2016-5-26): KCTV covered the trade fair.

UPDATE 3 (2016-5-23): KCTV Covered the trade fair.

UPDATE 2 (2016-3-17): According to the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

North Korea to Host International Trade Fairs despite UN Sanctions

Despite the newly imposed sanctions by the UN Security Council (UNSC), North Korea does not appear to be deterred from hosting large-scale international events, as Pyongyang plans to host its annual Pyongyang International Trade Fair (PITF) twice this year, in May and September.

North Korea’s official web portal ‘Naenara’ reported that the spring PITF will be held at the Three-Revolution Exhibition House in the Sosong District in Pyongyang from May 16th to the 19th and the autumn PTIF will be held at the same venue from September 5th to the 8th.

‘Naenara’ claimed that the country “has been hosting hundreds of trade shows both in the country and abroad for over 50 years since April 17, 1958 and such events will enable the DPRK to accelerate its friendship and cooperation with other states and boost its international trade.”

According to the website, these trade fairs will exhibit items such as machine tools, mining equipment and their manufacturing technology for minerals—items in a sector now heavily targeted by the new sanctions imposed by the UNSC.

According to the report, the trade fairs will also include displays of construction machinery and building materials, energy and environment protection materials, communication and information technology, agricultural equipment and technology, foodstuffs and production technology, print and packing machinery, medical equipment and pharmaceuticals, light-industry products, consumer goods, and even vehicles.

Advertising is of course permitted at the trade fairs, with installation and removal displays and promotional materials requiring pre-approval by the host Korean International Exhibition Corporation. Transportation of the items for exhibition is to be dealt with by the Pyongyang Agent Department of the Italian company OTIM (Organizzazione Transporti Internazionali Marittimi). OTIM, a freight forwarding company established in the late 1940s, has been authorized and in charge of transporting goods between North Korea and Europe.

‘Naenara’ announced that the fairs will accept emailed or faxed applications until 40 days prior to the opening and has requested companies to send along their list of participants.

Apart from domestic enterprises, companies from around 16 countries or more — including Australia, China, Cuba, Cambodia, Germany, Italy, Indonesia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, and Vietnam — have reportedly participated in these trade fairs in the past.

Given North Korea’s isolation from the international system and closed-nature of its economy, the international trade fairs have been important events for its economy. However, while North Korea seems determined to host its annual spring and autumn events despite the international sanctions and pressure, just how many companies from other countries will participate is an open question.

UPDATE 1 (2016-3-1): The 2016-Q1 issue of Foreign Trade is out, and it contains some additional information on the 2016 Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair.

Foreign-Trade-2016-Q1-Pyongyang-Trade-Fair

ORIGINAL POST (2016-2-11): Everyone may be talking about nukes, rockets, sanctions, and the closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, but the North Koreans have begun planning the 2016 Pyongyang Spring Trade Fair. Below you can see images of the first flyers to emerge:

Ex-Easy-Trade-Fair-2016-a

Ex-Easy-Trade-Fair-2016-b

Promotion of the trade fair appears to be in the hands of a Chinese internet firm named Ex-Easy.

Thanks to a reader (Andy) for translating some of the flyer:

“Pyongyang International Business Products Exhibition” is organised by an affiliated company under DPRK’s Ministry of Trade. This international exhibition is DPRK’s largest and most trade-conducive of its kind. It is organised yearly since 1998, and is held twice yearly – in spring and autumn – from 2005. The exhibition will be held in Pyongyang’s Three Revolution Exhibition hall, with a capacity of 6500 square meters. The DPRK has been gradually liberalising its economy in recent years and increasing its trade with neighbouring countries. At the same time, it has raised its domestic living standards, and they are attracted to Chinese products and (manufacturing) techniques.

Products exhibited:
1. Daily necessities, office supplies, household appliances, manufacturing / packing equipment, sewing equipment, clothes, stitched (embroidered?) products, …
2. Food, flavourings, food additive facilities/techniques, high temperature processed products and equipment, fruits, vegetable processing equipment, techniques, nucleic acid manufacturing facilities/techniques/products, bean processing and techniques, fish/seafood processing/techniques, health product processing/techniques
3. Sealing machinery, vacuum packaging, engraving machinery, food packaging machinery
4. Injection moulding machinery, moulds.
5. Misc hardware and DIY materials: bathroom/kitchen, construction/DIY, locks, safety equipment/accessories, small scale electronics, construction decorations, interior decoration – doors/windows/ceiling/walls/paint/chemicals/ceramics/masonry materials, building tech, environmentally frendly materials, furniture, inspection and certification
6. All sorts of large machinery – mining and related equipment, farming equipment, electronics, light industries, food processing and related equipment, chemical products, medical equipment, medicine manufacturing facilities.

Last exhibitions featured exhibitors from DPRK, China, Germany, UK, Australia, Italy, Poland, Cuba…. 400 over companies from 16 countries/regions. A total of 6372 square meter of exhibition space over two floors, taking up all usable space. Cars and engineering machinery took up about 1000 square meters of space outdoors. Exhibited products included cars, tooling machine, chemical, machines, communication equipment, electrical equipment, transportation machinery, plastics machinery, engineering equipment.

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DPRK publishes environmental regulations for SEZs

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

In the most recent issue of Foreign Trade (2016, No. 2), the DPRK publishes “REGULATIONS OF THE DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF KOREA ON ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION IN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PARKS“.

I have painstakingly copied the regulations to a stand alone PDF and uploaded it here.

Enjoy.

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Foreign Trade report on the Nampho SEZs (Jindo, Waudo)

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

Nampho-EDZs-Google-Earth

Pictured above (Google Earth): The approximate locations of the Waudo and Jindo Export Processing Zones

The North Korean quarterly magazine, Foreign Trade, published information on the Jindo and Waudo economic development Zones (straddling the Ryongnam Ship Repair Factory).

According to Foreign Trade (2016 vol 2, p6):

Economic development parks in the DPRK are booming recently.

The city of Nampho is conducting processing trade by relying on the bases in Jindo and Wau Islet, taking advantage of its favourable economic and geographical conditions.

As a gate city on the coast of the West Sea of Korea, the industrial city has an international port.

The city, situated on the lower reaches of the Taedong River, boasts metallurgical, machine building, glass-making industries, and lead and zinc refi ning, silk fabrics and shipbuilding bases.

It has the country’s biggest salt works and a fishing station, a fishing implements manufacturing factory and a refrigerating plant.

The Port of Nampho, the biggest of its kind in the western part of the country, is at the northern shore of the Taedong’s entrance to the sea. The water is deep, the port itself is far inside the estuary of the Taedong River and the dams of the West Sea Barrage stand high, assuring safe navigation by ships.

There are around ten major berths and crane ships, loading bridges and conveyor belts.

Wau Islet off the port is one of the famous tourist spots.

The port is linked with over a hundred foreign countries and regions for commercial trade.

Jindo Processing Trade Zone
The zone aims at producing various kinds of light industry and chemical goods made from duty-free raw materials for export.

Cooperation period: 50 years

Project plan: The coverage of the zone is about 1.8 sq km. By taking advantages of the Port of Nampho nearby and tens of years of development of the machine-building, electronical and light industries in Nampho, it processes various goods and exports them. Enterprises are admitted to it on the principle of conserving the environment and saving energy. It strives to develop new products and industrial fields, realize technical transfer with other countries and thus contribute to revitalizing the domestic industry. It is also making efforts to develop into a processing trade and bonded trade area.

Waudo Processing Trade Zone
The zone aims at developing into an intensive processing trade zone by introducing advanced development and operation mode and by placing stress on export-oriented processing and assembling.

Cooperation period: 50 years
Gross Investment: About USD 100,000,000

Project plan: The zone covers an area of about 1.5 sq km. By utilizing its favourable conditions, it puts main emphasis on bonded processing, processing to order, barter trade and other types of export-oriented processing industry.

It aims to develop into a comprehensive zone with financial, tourist, real estate and foodstuff industry bases in the areas around the port and the scenic area around the West Sea Barrage.

Cooperation mode: Joint venture between corporate bodies of the DPRK and foreign investors or wholly foreign-owned enterprises.

Location: Some parts of Ryongnam-ri, Waudo District by the estuary of the Taedong River southwest of the city.

Infrastructure condition: Only 50km away from Pyongyang and a few kilometres between the port, the biggest international port in the country, and the railway station.

From the port it is 330km to Dalian, 332km to Weihai, Shandong, 930km to Shanghai and 695km to Tianjin, China, and 1 575km to Chinese Taipei. The Youth Hero Road between Pyongyang and Nampho facilitates the few scores of kilometres of travel to the Pyongyang International Airport. These all provide favourable conditions for domestic marine transport and entry and exit of foreign personnel, materials and funds.

A 600,000kW-capacity power station and 10,000kW-capacity tidal power station are intended to be built near Kwangnyang Bay beside the West Sea Barrage. The Taedong fully guarantees water supply.

The site was formerly occupied by a salt farm, so problem of removing structures does not arise. The area is 40m above sea level and flat.

National Economic Development Guidance Bureau, DPRK Ministry of External Economic Relations
Add: Taedonggang District, Pyongyang, DPR Korea
Tel: 0085-02-381-5912
Fax: 0085-02-381-5889
E-mail: sgbed@star-co.net.kp

A screen shot of the original article can be seen here.

NK News has additional analysis here.

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Foreign Trade report on Slovenian delegation

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

According to Foreign Trade (2016 v. 2, p.7):

News from DPRK Chamber of Commerce in 2015

The DPRK Chamber of Commerce invited a delegation of the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce headed by Yan Mishra, director of the external cooperation agency, to discuss the issues related with developing nongovernmental economic exchanges and trade and investment in the Wonsan-Mt Kumgang International Tourist Zone.

During their stay the delegation exchanged opinions about the practical issues arising in realizing economic exchanges and trade between the businesses of the two countries and agreed to develop bilateral relationship and cooperation to activate non-governmental economic exchanges.

And they discussed the issues about a possible visit to Pyongyang in 2016 by a delegation of the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce comprising businesses that wish economic exchanges and trade with the DPRK and its presentation of rolling stock and electric products like tractor, timber transporter and motor generator at the forthcoming Pyongyang International Trade Fair.

Another agenda item of discussion was a possible participation by the trade companies of the DPRK in the international trade fair to be held in Slovenia in 2016 and their visit to factories in the country.

The investment policy and environment in the DPRK and the work of economic development parks like the Wonsan-Mt Kumgang International Tourist Zone were introduced, and possibilities of investment and cooperation by businesses of the two countries in these parks were discussed.

In addition, the DPRK Chamber of Commerce arranged meetings between tens of local organs like the Korean Association for the Research and Development of Greening, Plant Import and Export Company, Kumsu Corporation, Korea Titanium Development and Trading Company, Central Imports Exchange Company and members of the Slovenian delegation so that they can exchange opinions on the matters of mutual concern.

DPRK Chamber of Commerce
Add: Central District, Pyongyang, DPR Korea
Tel: 0085-02-3815926
Fax: 0085-02-3814654

Screenshot of the article here.

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Not surprising: Inter-Korean trade to fall in 2016

Friday, May 13th, 2016

According to the Choson Ilbo:

Trade with North Korea is expected to be practically zero this year now the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex has been shut down.

According to a 2016 White Paper published by the Unification Ministry on Thursday, last year’s cross-border trade volume was a record US$2.7 billion, up 15.9 percent from 2014, thanks to an increase in trade through the industrial park.

But that accounted for 99.6 percent of all cross-border trade since other trade had already been suspended under earlier sanctions in the wake of the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan in 2010.

Now the industrial park has been closed there is no trade left, the ministry said.

Since the North’s latest nuclear test in January, Seoul has also halted humanitarian aid to the North. Last year, Seoul gave Pyongyang humanitarian aid worth W25.4 billion, up 30 percent from 2014 (US$1=W1,167).

Read the full story here:
Trade with N.Korea Falls to Near-Zero
Choson Ilbo
Kim Myong-song
2016-5-13

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Why agricultural reform may appear on the Worker’s Party Congress agenda, and why it might not

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

At this time of writing, the 7th Party Congress of the Korean Worker’s Party is only one day away. In the runup to the congress, as is natural, there has been much speculation about what the congress content will actually be. Most analyses seems to believe that personal and institutional decisions will be at the center, but there have also been speculations that policy proclamations may be made in areas such as agriculture.

This post is not an attempt at forecasting, an often fruitless endeavor.  Rather than predictions, this post offers a few reasons why agricultural reform may be on the agenda for the congress in some shape or form, and a few reasons to believe the opposite.

Why agricultural reform may show up…

The first thing to note is that the North Koreans themselves rarely (or never) use the term “reform” to describe economic policy changes. If such changes are announced, they will probably be called “improvements” or simply “changes”. In any case, the arguably strongest reason to believe that liberalizing policy changes may appear on the congress agenda is that they seem to be working, at least from the perspective of the North Korean government.

Recall that last summer, North Korean press touted the efficiency of the small work-team structures and similar management policy changes in agriculture. Contrary to recent reports about reduced harvests due to the drought, North Korean media claimed that harvests were going up. Earlier, in 2012, journalists were invited to farms to hear farmers themselves speak about the policy changes, a clear indication that the regime was comfortably and formally toying with the rules. At least for some farmers: it is very possible that the reforms were rolled out on a trial-basis, and that they later got stuck in the bureaucratic mills or were deemed too radical. In sum, North Korean media outlets themselves have touted the reforms as successful, and though media reports do not amount to official policy proclamations, they are often good indicators for what’s going on behind the scenes.

…and why it might not.

On the other hand, agriculture has been conspicuously absent from several major publications and proclamations about policy priorities and successes over the past year. For example, agriculture only showed up once in the slogans the regime published earlier this year, while industry received several central shout-outs. Reforms or policy changes in agriculture were not mentioned at all. There are also reasons to doubt that agricultural reforms really did have a strong impact on harvests in 2015 — the increase in harvest output began earlier than state media started mentioning reforms.

Moreover, reports on economic output which the regime published only a few days ago only mentioned agriculture almost in passing. The reports only spoke about how farmers had diligently met their quotas for gathering fertilizer, and did not mention policy changes:

Farming preparations were brisk on the agricultural front, resulting in a 1.7 and 2.8 times growth in the securing of hukposan and microbial fertilizers and an over 1.3 times increase in the acreage of field carpeted with humus soil.

[…]

The production of homemade fertilizers and their transport, tractor overhauling and maintenance and other farming preparations are nearing completion thanks to the devoted drive of agricultural workers across the country.

[…]

Such successes are reported from railway, agricultural and other industrial sectors.

It’s socialist economics as usual, in other words: people work hard according to the planned quotas, and fulfill them because the state told them to do so. Moreover, the Washington Post’s report on Wednesday from a collective farm near Pyongyang did not mention any talk of policy changes in agriculture.

None of this sounds like the propaganda buildup one would expect in the weeks before a grand policy announcement. At least we won’t have to wait too long before we know.

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North Korean state takes over foreign currency stores

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Donju life might not always be what it is cracked up to be. Radio Free Asia reminds us that regardless of how well North Korea’s upper-middle class traders might be doing, the economic framework is still highly arbitrary:

North Korean hard currency shops providing foreign products for sale to the country’s wealthier citizens may soon see a full government takeover of its supply chains, leading to a drop in the quality and hike in the price of hard-to-obtain goods, North Korean sources say.

The stores, which require payment in Chinese yuan or U.S. dollars, have operated in recent years in Pyongyang and other large cities under the management of private businessmen who pay large portions of their profits to the central government.

Government-run trading firms are now poised to take over the purchase and pricing of products sold in the lucrative stores, though, a source in China’s Dandong city, just across the Yalu river from North Korea, told RFA’s Korean Service.

Until now, shop managers have gone to China themselves to bring back products—including clothing, cosmetics, and furniture—or sale in their stores, RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“If this system of supply changes, not only will store managers be prevented from going to China, but no use will be made of their marketing and management skills,” the source said.

Once the new system is implemented, stores will have to submit a list of needed products to their city’s local trading firm, which will then make the purchases from China itself, the source said.

“There are doubts that [the government] will be able to supply needed products on time, though, and the change in quality and price of the items may lead to conflicts between store managers and the trading organizations handling product supply,” he said.

Profit grab seen

Separately, a source in the capital Pyongyang said no official statement announcing the change has yet been made.

“But there is a high possibility the new system will be established after the [ruling Korean Workers’ Party] convention in May,” he said.

If put in place, the move may be aimed partly at further reducing the profits earned by store managers, who already pay most of what they earn to the government of the reclusive, U.N.-sanctioned state, the source in Pyongyang said.

“North Korea’s foreign currency situation is urgent now,” the source said.

“From now on, the managers of foreign-currency shops will receive only a small salary, as they did in the past,” he said.

“Sales will drop, though, and the management will experience difficulties,” he said.

Full article here:
North Korean ‘Foreign Currency’ Stores Face State Takeover
Jonhoo Kim
Radio Free Asia
04-19-2016

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