Archive for the ‘Economic reform’ Category

Recent CRS reports on the DPRK

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

The Congressional Research Service “recently” published two reports which relate to the DPRK:

The U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA): Provisions and Implementation
September 16, 2014: 2014-9-16-KORUS-Kaesong
June 2, 2011: Imports-from-North-Korea-2011

(Although this report focuses mostly on US-ROK issues, there is detailed discussion of the complex negotiations around the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC).)

Iran-North Korea-Syria Ballistic Missile and Nuclear Cooperation 
April 16, 2014: 2014-4-16-Iran-Syria-Missile

You can download most former CRS reports dealing with the DPRK here.

 

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Competition rises among factories and department stores in North Korea: Delivery services now available

Friday, September 5th, 2014

Institute for Far Easter Studies (IFES)
2014-9-4

It appears that some factories and department stores in North Korea have begun to implement a delivery service in response to customer demand. This new customer-oriented service seems to have arisen out of the Kim Jong Un regime’s goal of increasing autonomy and competition among businesses.

According to the newest issue of “Choguk” [Joguk] (“Motherland”, September 2014), a media outlet associated with the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, North Korea’s representative state-run department store Pyongyang Department Store No. 1 has been making efforts to diversify the services offered to its customers. The article specifically revealed a personal delivery service, saying, “Salespersons have responded to the public’s requests and have begun to deliver ordered products to sell directly to customers at their doorsteps.”

Salespersons from Pyongyang Department Store No. 1 have also been travelling to power plants, mining sites, textile mills, farms and other worksites to sell products directly to workers and farmers. Other businesses, such as the Potong River Shoe Factory, have also been diversifying customer services. For example, employees now visit customers’ homes to measure shoe size and satisfy other requests they may have when placing an order for shoes.

The Daedong River Passenger Transport Company in Pyongyang is currently offering a taxi dispatching service to customers who call in and request a pickup. Similar to the workings of South Korea’s taxi service, North Koreans may simply dial “186” to be connected to the closest dispatch office, which then sends out a taxi to pick up the customer.

On the other hand, North Korea has recognized the problem of the low-quality products and poor construction work and has emphasized that efforts must be made to remedy these areas. In the most recent issue of the quarterly academic journal, Kyongje Yongu [Economic Research] (2014, Issue 3), one article points out problems in the poor quality of North Korean-made products and construction, saying, “Neglect in quality growth is an outdated attitude.”

Specifically, the article mentions the problem of promising completion of construction according to deadlines: “Technical regulations and construction methods are disregarded when projects are rushed to be finished by their completion date, which is often decided in advance to coincide with a holiday or anniversary.

Currently, North Korea has undertaken large-scale construction operations to finish the Kim Chaek University of Technology’s faculty apartments, the Pyongyang Orphanage and Nursery, the North Pyongan Chongchon River Power Plant and other projects spanning various fields. The goal is to complete these projects concurrently with the anniversary of the foundation of the Worker’s Party of Korea (October 10).

At construction sites around North Korea, it appears that all available resources are being mobilized to engage in a so-called “speed battle” with these construction deadlines. The side effect of this huge emphasis on speed has resulted in many instances of poor construction, like the collapse of the 23-floor apartment building in Pyongyang’s Ansan-1-dong back in May.

The article also points out, “Despite attempting to work toward self-sustainability, there are events where lower quality, alternative products are being used below the material requirements that are leading to lowered quality work.” Furthermore, the article emphasizes, “Production and circulation of faulty products or products which cause harm to the health or lifestyle of the people must be stopped.”

It has also been reported that corruption is taking place at factories and construction sites, with party officials or intermediary managers amassing riches by siphoning off materials and pocketing the money. This leads to further problems in product quality and defectiveness.

Due to the issues of poor construction and product quality, the article points out, “There are many areas in our material economic life that fall behind the global trend,” but “if the quality of products and buildings are improved, the need to consider products from other countries will wane.”

In order to solve these problems, the article suggests implementing product standardization and specialization and encourages research in industrial design.

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Rodong Sinmun calls for strengthening the cabinet in economic matters

Friday, September 5th, 2014

UPDATE 1 (2014-9-11): IFES reports: North Korea emphasizes innovation using “economic management in our style” approach:

North Korea has announced that the nation’s economic management problem will be solved through their “own style,” once again stressing the superiority of the Socialist self-reliant economic model and reiterating the need to construct a strong and prosperous nation.

A September 3, 2014 editorial in the Rodong Sinmun argues the importance of economic management and leadership, saying that it must be improved to meet the demands of the North Korean economy, which has reached a new turning point in its development.

“Economic Management System in Our Style” is North Korea’s new approach to economic principles originally stemming from Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. The editorial emphasizes that it is a project that will bring real results and continuous development.

Furthermore, the editorial argues that economic management and leadership must be carried out according to objective economic law and scientific reason in order to ensure the greatest possible economic practicality.

The article also emphasizes the role of scientific technology, saying that “Research and development must be actively promoted in all areas and all aspects of the people’s economy. New scientific technology must be integrated into production in order to renovate the economy and meet the demands of the new generation.”

The editorial also calls for conservation of national human and material resources as much as possible, as fundamental problems in building a strong economic nation and improving the life of the people, including the lack of adequate power and food, have yet to be solved.

The roles of economic advising agencies and their workers were emphasized as being especially important. The editorial stresses that these economic advisers must become aware of the deep responsibility they hold, and must work to achieve real results in improving the country’s economic management.

Finally, the role of the Cabinet was also emphasized as the commander of the economy. Specifically, the editorial calls for the strengthening of the Cabinet-centered system, in which the Cabinet should oversee all economic institutions and sectors and create policies accordingly. In addition, the Cabinet’s role to guide companies with scientific business and corporate strategies is emphasized so that they may actively engage in creative business activities.

North Korea has been rolling out economic improvement measures since early 2012, starting with the agriculture sector. Since then, an “independent profit system” has also been introduced in various factories and businesses where managers are allowed more autonomy in managing operations, but are ultimately responsible for the business’s productivity.

Beginning this year, the “business know-how” concept was applied to various farms and factories, and increased profits reportedly have begun to see their way back into the hands of the workers. The workers, whose job performance has increased due to the rise in profits, are seen as the driving force of North Korea’s economic development.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-9-5): Thanks to Choson Exchange for spotting this one. According to Rodong Sinmun (2014-9-4):

Giving Full Play to Advantages and Might of Self-surpporting Economy

It is necessary to settle the issue of economic management by Korean style in order to fully demonstrate the advantages and might of the Juche-oriented socialist self-supporting economy and win the final victory in the drive for building a thriving nation.

The establishment of Korean-style economic management method is, in essence, the work to apply, carry forward and develop the principle and methods of economic management indicated by President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il as required by the present times.

It is necessary to hold fast to the socialist principle in improving the economic management.

It is essential to ensure the maximum economic profitability by guiding and managing economy according to the objective laws of economy and scientific reason.

In order to improve the economic management it is important to raise the responsibility and role of the economy guidance institutions and officials.

It is possible to successfully achieve economic development only by working out a scientific economy development strategy, enlisting the natural resources and all potentials of the country to the maximum, ensuring a steady growth of production and keeping the overall balance of economy.

The Cabinet is the economy command of the country.

It is necessary to strengthen the Cabinet responsibility system, system centering on the Cabinet, concentrate all the economic fields and overall economic work on the Cabinet and take measures under the supervision of the Cabinet.

The editorial calls for improving the economic management as required by the developing reality and intended by the party and thus giving fuller play to the advantages of Korean-style socialism and bring about a fresh turn in the building of a thriving nation.

Here is a PDF of the web page should the URL go bad.

It is worth noting briefly that this is what we have seen recently in recent consolidation of the JVIC, SEDC, and Ministry of Foreign Trade into the Ministry of External Economic Affairs.

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North Korea increases production of consumer goods according to consumer demands and preferences

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2014-8-25

Due to the strengthening of capitalism and competition in North Korean society, it appears that the status of consumers has risen considerably.

In the North Korean economy — which has clung to a supply-oriented, planned economic model — it is extremely rare to see production change in response to consumer demands and preferences.

The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, published an editorial on August 3, 2014, calling for the “Brisk Opening of the August Third Consumer Goods Production Movement.” This editorial encourages the public by assuring that the consumer products will be made according to the needs and demands of the people.

“A socialist society cannot think about the production of consumer goods that are above the reaches of the people,” the editorial emphasizes, and that “the peoples’ demands and interests are [the Party’s] absolute top priority, and it is the noble duty of the Party to create these desired consumer goods for the people to enjoy.”

Through the use of various media, North Korea has propagandized the “consumer-focused” policy, claiming to have spurred competition and the increase in quality of products and services throughout the nation.

Joguk (Motherland), a media outlet of the pro-North Korean General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, published an article in their August 2014 issue entitled, “The Standard of Competition Is Determined by the People.” The article emphasizes production tailored to consumer demands, saying that “Product evaluation is something which can be done only by those who demand and directly use the product; it can only be done by the general public.”

The article further states that “Products popular among the general public and used by the masses are evaluated accordingly for their high quality.” It also mentions the cosmetic brands “Eunhasu” and “Pomhyanggi” as examples.

In a July 30, 2014 article, the Choson Sinbo introduced the Potong River Shoe Factory, which is responsible for the production of popular products such as the so-called “kill heel” high-heeled shoes, wedge-heeled shoes, and pointed stilettos. By working together with a department store and periodically reviewing customers’ feedback, the Potong River Shoe Factory can produce shoes to cater to shoppers’ preferences.

This method of setting the focus on consumer evaluation can also be found in North Korea’s education system.

On August 7, 2014, the Rodong Sinmun introduced the “bottom-up evaluation” system at Kim Jong Suk Middle School. This process, touted as one of the successes of educational reform, allows students to evaluate their teachers once per semester. By creating competition among educators, this system is expected to have effects all across the nation.

These types of changes are said to have close relations to the Kim Jong Un regime’s policy focusing on light industry, which also accounts for the improvement of standards of living for the people.

It appears that unlike the heavy chemical industry previously emphasized by the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il regimes, light industry must consider not only production amounts, but the quality of the products as well. This inevitably leads to the emphasis being put on consumer product reviews.

Through consumer reviews, competition arises and productivity is increased, leading to the production of consumer goods with higher added value. Despite being called a “Socialist Competition,” in reality this system may not be so different from capitalism.

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4th Rason International Trade Fair (UPDATED)

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

UPDATE 4 (2014-8-22): KCNA reports the following:

DPRK Products Win Popularity at Int’l Trade Exhibition

Pyongyang, August 22 (KCNA) — Products from the DPRK won popularity at the 4th Rason International Trade Exhibition.

Those products, presented by 20 companies, include fur goods, fine art works, handicrafts, different kinds of drinks made with natural vegetables and garments.

The Rajin Drink Factory displayed Paekhwa Liquor, brewed with 100 species of flowers, which is very good for health as it contains rich amino acids and vitamins.

The Rason Samdaesong J.V. Company exhibited various trucks.

Pak Yong Gun, president of the company, told KCNA:

My company manufactures various types of trucks. It also produces containers and others by itself.
We will boost production to the maximum by introducing streamlined process.

Among the popular products were also tens of kinds of health foods, made of edible herbs, wild fruits and honey.

UPDATE 3 (2014-8-21): KCNA reports on investment forum at the trade fair:

Investment Forum Held in Rason of DPRK

Pyongyang, August 21 (KCNA) — A forum on investment in the Rason economic and trade zone of the DPRK took place on the spot on Aug. 19.

It draws companies from Russia, China, Italy, Thailand and other countries taking part in the 4th Rason International Trade Exhibition.

The participants in the forum viewed a video on the natural and geographical conditions of the zone and its development situation and long-term plan.

They were also briefed on the legal guarantee for the zone development, business establishment and management regulations for foreign investors, the situation of foreign companies which have already invested in the zone, the vitalization of tourism, etc.

Then, speeches were made by businessmen of different companies who are willing to invest in the zone.

UPDATE 2 (2014-8-20): KCNA reports that the fair is going well (surprise!):

4th Rason International Trade Exhibition Draws Attention of Businessmen

Pyongyang, August 20 (KCNA) — The 4th Rason International Trade Exhibition is going on in Rason City, the economic and trade zone in the northeastern part of the DPRK.

In this regard, KCNA had an interview with Kim Hyon Chol, deputy director of the Department of Economic Cooperation of the Rason City People’s Committee.

Kim said:

More than 100 local and foreign companies are taking part in the exhibition. The annual exhibition is intent on achieving the economic development common to the DPRK and other countries.

Through the exhibition, businessmen have been acquainted themselves with the development of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ). And they are having discussions on the possibilities of efficient trade while making import and export contracts.

The Rason City has been developed into an international region for relay transport, trade and investment, financial transactions and tourism.

The president of the Rason Noviymir Co. under the Russia-Far-east Investment Co. Ltd, told KCNA:

It is the third time for my company to take part in the exhibition.

I have felt that progress has been made in every exhibition. And it has been well organized.

I hope that the exhibition will boost the cooperation between countries and regions. Especially, I want Russia and the DPRK to further develop the friendly cooperation in the fields of economy and trade.

My company is making investments in producing foodstuffs like sea foods and planning to expand their production and volume of export. I want many more Russians to participate in the exhibition.

Willam Zhao, director of the UNAFORTE Ltd of Italy, said:

It is the first time for my company to attend the exhibition and it feels good.

The DPRK people’s living standard and rate of consumption are high as evidenced by the fact that new goods are popular among them.

I was going to make an investment in the zone from a long ago and have invested in commercial buildings in the city. I hope that the economic trade zone would rapidly develop.

Michael Basset also tweeted a photo of HBOil participating in the fair.

UPDATE 1 (2014-8-18): The trade fair has opened. According to KCNA:

4th Rason International Trade Exhibition Opens

Rason, August 18 (KCNA) — The 4th Rason International Trade Exhibition opened with a due ceremony in Rason City Monday.

The participants in the opening ceremony placed a floral basket before the portraits of smiling President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il displayed in the Rason Exhibition Hall and paid tribute to them.

Attending the ceremony were Jo Jong Ho, chairman of the Rason City People’s Committee who is also chairman of the organizing committee of the exhibition, officials concerned, people in the city, and delegates of different countries, those who displayed products in the exhibition and foreign businessmen active in the Rason economic and trade zone.

An opening address was made at the ceremony to be followed by congratulatory speeches.

Speakers noted that the DPRK is dynamically pushing ahead with economic construction and has already laid an institutional and legal groundwork for developing and revitalizing the zone.

They said that the zone is providing economic bodies and companies of various countries and the region with a favorable environment for conducting transit trade, processing trade and tourism in line with their will and wishes. They noted that the exhibition would offer a good opportunity for promoting the friendship and solidarity among countries and further developing wide-ranging and multi-faceted economy and trade.

At the end of the ceremony, the participants looked round electric and electronic goods, light industrial products, foodstuff, daily necessities, medicines, vehicles, etc. displayed by at least 100 companies from the DPRK, China, Russia, Italy, Thailand and other countries.

KCTV footage of the opening can be seen here:

ORIGINAL POST (2014-6-8): Choson Exchange has posted the marketing flyer for the 4th annual Rason International Trade Fair. I repost a larger scan below

4th-rason-trade-fair-1

  4th-rason-trade-fair-2

The 2014 flyer text is nearly identical to the 2013 flyer. All of the names/contacts/accounts/prices are identical. The only difference that I noticed was that two of the domestic phone numbers for the Rason Exhibition Corp. have changed.   Two more remained unchanged.

Here are the event details:
4th Rason International Trade Fair
Exhibition Period: August 18-21, 2014
Venue: Rason Exhibion House
Opening Hours: 9:00-17:00
Application Deadline: July 20th, 2014

Here are posts on previous Rason International Trade Fairs: 2011, 2012, 2013.

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2014 Inter-Korean development plans

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

The Ministry of Unification released its plans for the 2014 Inter-Korean Development Program on August 18th. 96 new enterprises are among the proposals stipulated in the report’s 30 articles.

The chief components of the plan include:

1. the establishment of a channel for consistent Inter-Korean dialogue
2. a solution for the Separated Families issue
3. provision of humanitarian aid geared towards North Korean citizens
4. adherence to international regulations through a cooperative exchange system
5. the restoration of national solidarity through sociocultural exchanges
6. expanding other ongoing inter-Korean economic collaboration projects
7. normalization of Kaesong Industrial Park operations and
8. tailoring refugee resettlement funds to individual defector needs.

In a statement about the plan, a Ministry of Unification official said, “There is much significance in the fact that this proposal was a government-wide effort; a total of 24 administrative bodies came together to formulate these ideas and strategies.”

The comprehensive program also included detailed plans for the repair and renovation of the Kaesong-Pyongyang Expressway and the Kaesong-Sinuiju Railway. The premise of the official Inter-Korean Development Program has always been to improve overall conditions in the North while fostering better relations between North and South, but this most recent plan is the first to delineate detailed plans for large-scale investments in infrastructure.

Expansion of other inter-Korean economic collaborations were also outlined, such as:
1. Kaesong-Sinuiju railroad and Kaesong-Pyongyang railroad repairs
2. Imjin River flood prevention business
3. Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO] support of the North Korean fishing industry
4. proposals such as vitalization of inter-Korean shipping are included. In addition, depending on the situation, 5. they plan to gradually introduce reopening trade and commerce, resumption of basic economic cooperation and, launching of new businesses.

A continued dedication to improving human rights in North Korea was also announced, starting with continued pressure on lawmakers to overcome the impasse and pass the North Korean Human Rights Act. The proposed law first appeared in 2005 but has since stagnated in the National Assembly due to failure by ruling and opposition parties to reach a consensus. Additional plans to increase support to private organizations advocating human rights in North Korea as well as striving to implement the recent recommendations by the UN based on the Commission of Inquiry [COI] findings on human rights in North Korea.

The South Korean government expressed its intentions to improve the quality of life for North Korean residents by increasing humanitarian aid and support. Most notably, the South vowed to separate political and humanitarian issues, ensuring that vulnerable social groups receive the support they need, regardless of tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Read the full story here:
Report: 2014 Inter-Korean Development Plans
Daily NK
Koo Jun Hoe
2014-8-19

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DPRK replaces 5,000 won note

Monday, August 18th, 2014

UPDATE 3 (2014-9-2): Simon Cockerell has posted a photo of the new note to his instagram account. You Can see it here.

UPDATE 2 (2014-8-18): According to the Daily NK:

Daily NK has learned that the recent 5000 KPW note exchange has prompted an overall apathetic response from residents in North Korea. As Daily NK first reported here on July 31st the North Korean authorities informed residents that the largest denomination monetary unit would be replaced with a new bill.

US Dollars and Chinese Yuan being the currencies of choice in the markets, the recent collection and exchange of the highest denomination bill “doesn’t really affect people’s lives.”

A source in the capital reported to Daily NK on August 14, “A new [5000 KPW] note has been issued, but the exchange of old to new notes hasn’t made much headway.” This is hardly a nuisance to most residents, who are used to adapting, she went on to explain. “People are fairly indifferent about the new 5000 bill, and anyone who expresses concern about it is considered to be a fool by others.”

Production of the new 5000 KPW notes began last year; at the end of July 2014, the Chosun Central Bank announced that residents would have until 2017 to exchange the old bills. “At first, residents didn’t know what the exchange rate would be when they converted to the new bills, so a bit of chaos ensued; once they found out it was a 1:1 exchange rate, things have been pretty quiet of late,” she explained. “The number of residents holding 5000 KPW notes is pretty low so there isn’t an atmosphere of concern surrounding the matter.” The source did add that it cannot be verified at this time if those in rural or farming areas are equally as impervious to the matter.

The source cited two chief factors underpinning this resident indifference: trust in the authorities continues to decline, as does the value of North Korean currency.

The 5000 KPW bill is the largest denomination of bill in North Korean currency, but when compared with foreign currencies like Chinese Yuan or US Dollars, its value is dismal, considered by most to be “wastepaper.” By current exchange rates, 1 USD is equal to 8000 KPW; in other words, the largest note in North Korea [5000 KPW] is less than 1 USD or equal to approximately 5 RMB.

Moreover, at current market prices, 5,000 KPW [6000 KPW per kilo] is insufficient for people to purchase a kilo of rice or a dozen eggs [5000 KPW yields six eggs at present]. “Even when people buy a block of tofu [700 KPW], they use dollars,” the source explained. “Because merchants only do business in US Dollars of Chinese Yuan, people save all their money in these currencies.”

Citing the 2009 currency reforms, she explained the shift in public sentiment on the KPW, “People won’t suffer any losses even if there are 10 more currency reforms. Even those in poorer, rural areas regard North Korean currency as something for ‘use by the state’ and keep their assets in rice and other goods. ”

This shift in attitude of North Korean currency as “means of exchange” to “means of savings” occurred during and after the Arduous March in the 1990s [the North Korean famine if 1994-1998]. After ceasing distribution of regular food rations, starvation quickly became rife. In order to minimize dependency on a broken state system, people sought to build assets by saving as much KPW as possible.

Tragically, those savings were reduced to worthless scraps of paper during the currency reforms in 2009.The goal of the currency redenomination of November 30, 2009 was officially to bring inflation under control and eliminate monetary overhang, but the result of the 100:1 redenomination was catastrophic. This led to a complete transformation in resident commercial activity. The North Korean residents lost complete faith in state-issued banknotes and adopted foreign currencies, namely Chinese Yuan and US Dollars, as the preferred legal tender for business transactions.

“Because KPW is ‘not even worth counting’, there are more and more people who don’t care about the new 5,000 won bill,” she went on. “Instead of curiosity or trepidation as to the motivations behind the exchange, people just feel reassured by holding onto foreign currency.”

Once the privilege of traders and Party officials working abroad, accessibility to these foreign currencies has trickled down to market vendors and young students. Daily NK has recently learned that markets in all major cities in the North even provide small change back to customers in US Dollars and Chinese Renminbi.

Read the full story here:
Residents Indifferent to 5000 KPW Swap
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2014-8-18

UPDATE 1 (2014-8-12): Chris Green has more at NK News here.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-8-11): According to the Choson Ilbo:

North Korea’s new 5,000 banknotes no longer feature a picture of nation founder and demigod Kim Il-sung. But the new note shows Kim’s childhood home in Mangyongdae.

The new bills feature the house prominently on the front and on the back a museum in Pyongyang that displays gifts Kim and his son Jong-il received from foreign leaders*.

During a botched currency reform in 2009, Kim Il-sung was also dropped from the 2,000 and 1,000 won bills.

The 5,000 won note is North Korea’s largest denomination and nominally worth around US$50, though its actual market value is nearer $1. Workers in the North Korean state economy are paid some W3,000 a month on average, making it vital for most to seek other forms of income.

A North Korean source said when the new notes were officially announced on July 25, they sparked fears of yet another misguided currency reform, triggering a certain amount of chaos as food prices surged temporarily and some people began stockpiling food.

* Presumably the Choson Ilbo is referring to the International Friendship Exhibition at Myohyangsan. This is not in Pyongyang (Though it used to be!).

Read the full story here:
N.Korea Drops Kim Il-sung from New Banknotes
Choson Ilbo
2014-8-11

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8.3 movement evolves in DPRK

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

The meaning of August 3rd has changed since the creation of the 8.3 Movement in the 1980s, taking on connotations of areas of previously unavailable liberty, at least in the workplace.

“The term ‘8.3’ used to just mean products that were not manufactured in factories,” a source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on August 4th. “Say it now, though, and a lot of people will interpret it as a sign of market influence.”

The 8.3 Movement was a state-led attempt to increase provision of consumer goods by having factories and enterprises source their own inputs, and production facilities produce commodities beyond the remit of central planners. The movement was named after the date Kim Jong Il ordered it, August 3rd, and goods manufactured under its rubric came to be known as “8.3 consumer goods.”

Consumers could not purchase 8.3 consumer goods in subsidised state shops; rather, they were sold directly at market prices. As the movement grew in scale and state-run enterprises pushed to increase productivity, so 8.3 Workers and even 8.3 Work Units were formed.

As factory production slumped in the 1990s, a situation that persisted into the 2000s, workers took to dodging their work duties and mass mobilization orders so as to engage in cottage industries: making their own goods to sell. A portion of their income went back to the state, a de facto tax, and this became known as 8.3 Money.

“As recently as a few years ago, the 8.3 Work Unit in a cement factory in South Pyongan Province would produce roof tiles and slates and sell them to construction firms at market prices,” the source said. “But now, doing private business to make 8.3 Money is getting to be more popular than working in the designated 8.3 Work Unit.”

According to the source, payments of 8.3 Money can be as little as 20,000 KPW per calendar month all the way up to 200,000 KPW, the equivalent of paying for 40kg of rice in a public market.

“8.3 Money sucks up about 5-10% of the earnings of a person working that way,” the source explained. “This means they could be earning up to 2,000,000 KPW per month.” People in this upper earnings bracket do things like trade bicycles or motorcycles, or sell hand-crafted furniture, she said.

Even organs of citizen control and regulation are influenced by 8.3 Money. The Korean Democratic Women’s Union [KDWU] is one such example. An organization dealing with family matters, the organization technically demands that all women over 30 be members; however, participation can be waived in exchange for a share of 8.3 Money.

“There are three tiers of 8.3 money contributors, dependent on their financial capabilities,” the source explained. “The ones that have complete freedom and are exempt from all duties pay the most. Then there are some who only participate in monthly studies and others who are only exempt from mobilization.”

This complete freedom comes at a price ranging from 240,000-480,000 KPW per quarter, but is seen as a worthwhile outlay. In effect, 8.3 Money marks out a certain type of class stratification.

“Workers who pay a lot of 8.3 money receive protection from [the Party] despite skipping mandatory self-criticism meetings. Those who don’t pay much have to attend all study sessions and mandatory meetings,” the source said.

“Factories are in competition to get the greatest amount of funds possible from workers, but workers want to move to factories where they have to pay the least 8.3 Money,” he added.

A North Korean friend once told me an 8.3 joke. If someone was “low-quality” they were personally referred to as “August 3rd” person. I wonder if 8.3 goods are still perceived as low-quality.

Read the full story here:
Culture of August 3rd Changing with the Times
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2014-8-5

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Chinese Koreans and cross border trade

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

The Hwagyo, North Korea’s community of overseas Chinese, are seeing their value rise in response to demand for assistance transporting cross-border freight for local traders hamstrung by their proscribed freedom of movement, according to a source inside North Korea. The local traders refer to the process as “renting a passport”.

The source in North Pyongan Province reported to Daily NK on July 28th, “Pyongyang Hwagyo are catering to the tastes of middle-class consumers in the city’s markets by taking orders from individuals or by bringing in goods on the behalf of traders.

“The measles outbreak prevented Pyongyang hwagyo in Pyongyang from taking the cross-border train, but recently that ban was lifted so they can come and go from Dandong again.” The measles travel ban was put in place during June in Yongcheon and Sinuiju, but was withdrawn on July 15th.

Hwagyo are treated as citizens in North Korea, carrying the same identification cards as all other residents; however, they are also able to hold Chinese passports, which allows for greater mobility and autonomy than other North Koreans. That is the reason for the high demand; North Korean traders and wholesalers employ them to ensure that their supplies arrive from China.

“Although there are a lot of hwagyo from Sinuiju and elsewhere in Dandong, Pyongyang hwagyo are the ones who get hired the most because the train ends in Pyongyang; This makes it easier to get the goods into circulation, and the procedures there are not as stringent,” the source reported. “This has caused their value to rise.”

“The hwagyo either use their own money to get products to sell in Pyongyang markets directly, or they use money from traders and take 5% of the total upon delivery,” she said. “They take commission for transferring goods from the cross-border trains to merchants in Pyongyang markets.”

“Merchants used to collaborate with train operators coming in from Dandong to bring goods into Sinuiju. However, more are seeking out the hwagyo instead, because it’s cheaper,” the source said.

There is a stipulated limit of 300kg of cargo per person on the train between Dandong and Pyongyang. Excess luggage is possible, but only up to 50kg, and this is charged at 1.50 RMB per kg, according to the source. The ticket for the 5hr 30min ride is 300 RMB, and this must also be factored into the overall freight transit cost.

The train departs at 10:00 daily. Once it arrives in Pyongyang at around 15:30, passengers and freight are subjected to customs procedures, followed by immigration inspections. “Not a single person can leave the train until everyone goes through immigration and officers check their passports and travel visas,” the source recalled.

“Because the staff in Sinuiji Customs House are tough about inspections and are sure to take at least one thing, it’s safer and cheaper to transport goods via the cross-border train,” the source said, concluding, “How funny it is that this place prevents North Korean citizens from moving around freely and ends up making hwagyo richer.”

Read the full story here:
Hwagyo Step in to Dominate Border Trade
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2014-07-29

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Rice prices starting to increase…

Friday, July 25th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

Market rice prices in North Korea held steady throughout the “farming hardship period” in April and May; however, prices have recently started to rise. In towns near the border, including those in the provinces of Yangkang and North Hamkyung, rice has reached 6,000 KPW per kilo, inside sources report.

“From the end of last week, the cost of rice began to rise, reaching 6,000 KPW,” a source in North Hamkyung Province reported to Daily NK on the 25th. “All five of the markets in Hyesan, including Yunbong, Masan and Hyesan, have seen the same sudden leap.”

“People are used to small fluctuations in rice prices, but they don’t often see a quick 1,000 KPW increase,” she went on.

A source in Yangkang Province confirmed the increase. “Just a few days ago, rice was 5,000 KPW, so imagine my surprise when I went to buy it yesterday,” she said. “It seems that even the sellers don’t know why it happened.”

“They don’t need to be sure why prices have risen; simply, if one raises the price of her rice, the rest will follow suit,” she added.

The source went on to say that she examined conditions across the city on Daily NK’s behalf, checking markets in areas that could have been in a different condition. “Because miners are receiving their rations, I thought maybe prices around mines would be stabler,” she reported, “but in Masan, one of those areas, it was also 6,000 KPW.”

Last month, rice cost 4,300 KPW in Pyongyang, 4,500 KPW in Sinuiji and 5,050 KPW in Hyesan. Moreover, prices actually went down last week, to 4,250 KPW, 4,380 KPW and 4,800 KPW respectively. But now they have increased by 1,000 KPW within a week.

Daily NK sources speculate that the reason for the sharp increase is due to reduced distribution of rice and below-average yield of early new potatoes. Of course, April and May are called the “farming hardship period” for a reason; in other words, supply-side limitations could simply be filtering down to the retail market.

According to the source, local people are concerned that prices could rise to 7,000 KPW, the high point reached during the mourning period for Kim Jong Il at the start of 2012. However, others are less worried, saying, “Since fall is right in front of us, prices won’t rise any more.”

Although rice prices usually vary in accordance with fluctuations in currency exchange rates, recent ups and downs have not followed this pattern. Despite the fact that the North Korean Won is currently 30 KPW stronger per Chinese Yuan higher than it was last month, rice prices have sharply increased.

“In fifteen days, people will harvest barley and have corn that was planted earlier. So rice prices won’t go up any more,” the source in Yangkang Province said. However, the source in North Hamkyung Province voiced the concern that “flooding from the monsoon may influence yields of barley, corn and other grains.”

Analyzing the situation, Kwon Tae Jin of GS&J Institute said, “Rice is never abundant in Hyesan; it must have been affected by drought in eastern parts of China. Travel restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of diseases may have contributed to the increase as well.”

“Once the corn is harvested in August, prices will stabilize for a while. But a poor yield overall could cause them to start rising later,” he predicted.

Read the full story here:
Markets See Quick Spike in Rice Prices
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin
2014-7-25

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