Archive for the ‘Foreign direct investment’ Category

Financial complex and upscale hotel construction presses ahead in Wonsan

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

To develop the ‘Wonsan-Mount Kumgang International Tourist Zone’, plans have been put in place to build a General Financial Complex and five-star hotel in Wonsan.

Naenara (My Country), a North Korean propaganda website that targets an international audience, indicated that the goal of ‘Wonsan’s Chungdong General Land Development’ Investment Proposal released September 1, 2016 was to “develop Wonsan into a commercial and cultural exchange center, as well as a center for trade and financial transactions.”

According to the proposal, the target of investment is the Chungdong district and parts of the Sangdong district of Wonsan (Kangwon province) with a total area of 300,000 square kilometers. The total amount to be invested was set at USD 196,560,000.

In addition, the proposal sets out plans to first construct ten separate buildings, including 10 units of rental housing, a three-star hotel, an international finance complex, a department store, an indoor gym, and a restaurant for world cuisine.

The proposal adds: “in the surrounding area (of the center), world-class facilities including an ultra-luxurious five-star hotel called the Wonsan Hotel, a General Financial Complex, a General Office Complex, an International Exhibit, and a library are to be constructed.”

It also makes clear that existing housing, commercial facilities, offices and factories in the area will be demolished.

With respect to international investors, the proposals envisage that development will utilize the BOT (Built-Operate-Transfer) method. BOT is a method of funding infrastructure projects in which a contractor is given the right to operate a set of facilities for a prescribed period in order to recover both the initial investment and a profit, before control of the facilities reverts to the contracting party.

The website states that “the Committee to Promote the Development of the Wonsan-Mount Kumgang International Tourism Zone was chosen for the spill-over effects for both the Wonsan area and the zone as a whole.”

Moreover, the separate ‘General Finance Center Proposal’ was also released via Naenara on the same day– the building is set to be 15 stories high, with additional two basement floors.

The complex has a total area of 1,500 square meters, the actual building area of 800 square meters, and total floor of 12,000 square meters. The building will play host to banks, office space and restaurants.

The proposal emphasized that “the development of the Wonsan-Mount Kumgang Tourist Zone into a world-class tourist site reflects the firm will of our party and government . . . . The future tourist zone will radiate the light as the ‘East’s Pearl’ transformed into a renowned tourist destination both in East Asia and more broadly the entire world.”

Here is the text from the Naenara article (PDF).



North Korea’s natural resources and the “Five-year Plan”

Monday, August 29th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

North Korea’s natural resource and minerals issue runs as a clear thread throughout its economic past and present. On the one hand, they provide immense wealth (not least through export revenues), but on the other hand, the leadership has often been wary of letting their role grow too large. Moreover, it appears that the North Korean leadership, both at various times in history and in recent years, has seen individuals scrambling to amass personal wealth through mineral exports as a danger to state incomes and economic control. Recall that one of the accusations against Jang Song-taek was that he sold off the country’s natural resources to “foreign countries” for cheap.

In a brief from the beginning of the month, IFES analyzes Rodong Sinmun coverage of the role of natural resources in implementing the five-year plan for economic development, the details of which are yet to be revealed:

Kim Jong Un has appealed for all energy to be put into developing underground resources in order to implement the ‘Five Year State Economic Development Strategy’ (unveiled at the 7th Party Congress of the Workers Party of Korea held in May).

In reporting that appeared in Rodong Sinmun on July 13, 2016 it was asserted that “The task of developing and using underground mineral resources effectively to raise self-sufficiency and independence lies in front of party members and workers who are vigorously participating in a 200 day speed battle to make a breakthrough in the implementation of the Five Year State Economic Development Strategy in the country, which is known worldwide for its minerals.”

Self-sufficiency and natural resource dependence have often been highlighted in North Korean economic publications as mutually exclusive. Presumably, Rodong Sinmun advocates that natural resources be used for economic production through fuel and the like, rather than merely for export incomes.

It went on to urge that “with the close collaboration between the state resources development sector and scientific research groups, all resources must be concentrated on prospective and current surveys (surveys that measure mineral reserves) to ensure that the Five Year State Economic Development Strategy succeeds.”

It added, “energy must be put in to find more as yet undeveloped potential sites for development . . . reserves must be secured to ensure that mine production continually rises.”

It also emphasized that “all illegal extraction of underground mineral resources by [production] units, factories and collective organizations for the benefit of their own unit alone must be gotten rid of . . . [and] the role of institutions supervising and controlling underground resources and environmental protection must be strengthened.”

In other words, incomes from mineral extraction should go to the central government, and individuals trying to exploit the expanding opportunities for private business activity to generate personal profits through mineral exports should be kept under control.

Admittedly, the paper also demanded natural tourist attractions be protected: “the staff of supervisory institutions must engrave deeply in their hearts the earnest wish of the Great Leader by not developing Mount Kumgang and Mount Myohyang, regardless of how large the underground mineral deposits are there, and hand down their beautiful scenery and nature to posterity.”

At the aforementioned 7th Party Congress, Kim Jong Un unveiled the ‘Five Year State Economic Development Strategy’, and also set out to revolve energy problems and strengthen the self-sufficiency and independence of the people’s economy.

Full publication here:
Mobilizing “All Energy in Securing Underground Resources” to Implement Development Strategy
Institute for Far Eastern Studies


Hay, Kalb and Associates suspending operations

Monday, August 1st, 2016

According to Reuters:

North Korea’s first and only law firm set up by a foreigner, Hay, Kalb & Associates, will suspend operations, the firm’s principal said in a statement on Monday, as the country grows increasingly isolated.

The firm is a joint venture between the North Korean state and British-French citizen Michael Hay, who has represented foreign clients in the capital, Pyongyang, for 12 years.

Hay said he had made the decision based on “business and geopolitical principles”.

“This decision has been taken only after lengthy and thorough deliberation and an examination of the continuing deterioration of inter-regional relations pertaining to the Korean peninsula,” Hay said in a statement.

“It is not unreasonable to assume that no meaningful change or indicator of change in relations shall occur, if at all, until well after the United States Presidential Inauguration, on January 20, 2017,” Hay said in the statement.

North Korea has come under growing diplomatic pressure since its January nuclear test and a long-range rocket launch in February, which led to a new U.N. Security Council resolution in March that tightened sanctions against Pyongyang.

The majority of Hay’s clients are foreign investors, many of whom have been negatively affected by the sanctions, Hay told Reuters.

“Sanctions are hurting legitimate foreign investors. There still is no credible, consistent evidence I see of DPRK companies hurting,” Hay said. DPRK stands for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official title.

Very few foreigners live or work in North Korea. Those who do are usually members of the diplomatic or NGO community, although a small group of foreign investors have maintained a quiet and steady presence inside the country.

The suspension takes effect from midnight on Monday, Hay said, with an official suspension scheduled for Aug. 14, the firm’s 12-year anniversary.

Hay, who bills his firm as the only foreign-invested firm in North Korea, said he will still maintain an office in Pyongyang.

North Korea has more than 8,000 law graduates, according to an official 2008 census, half of whom are based in Pyongyang. Most are employed by the state.

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s only foreign-founded law firm suspends operations
James Pearson


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

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016


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

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

NK News has additional analysis here.


Sinuiju International Economic Zone

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

No sooner do I publish an article on the Sinuiju International Economic Zone (read it here at 38 North) than the DPRK releases more information on it.

In the December issue of Foreign Trade (2015 No.4), the DPRK includes information on the zone, including this map:


UPDATE: Dr. Haggard uploaded a nicer version of the image which you can see here.

The map indicates that the downtown area of Sinuiju and the western coast down to the new Amnok River Bridge will constitute the first phase of development. Space has been allocated for trade, industry, sewage, warehousing, and other designated areas. The map also indicates a new road is to be built linking the Wihwado Economic Zone (to the north east of the Sinuiju SEZ) with the new Yalu River Bridge (which has yet to be opened for business) and Ryongchon County.

Here is a satellite image of the specific areas being designated for the first phase of the zone with proposed roads added for visual effect:


This is what the article had to say about the zone:

Sinuiju International Economic Zone

Located in a border area, the zone has a bright prospect for the development of water and marine transport. Its development area is 40km2.

The Zone is a flat area composed of deposits of organic fine sand in the mouth of the Amnok. The average height of ground inside the bank is 45m, geomorphology is 0-.7% and the average height above the sea level is up to 100m.

Its annual average duration of sunshine 2,427 hours, annual percentage of sunshine is 58% and annual average precipitation is 1001.5 mm.

The first and second annual main winds are northeast and and north winds respectively. It has the northeast and north winds in winter and southwest wind in summer in the main.

The Sinuiju International Economic Zone will provide opportunity for bonded processing, bonded transportation, trade and financial business, tourism, hi-tech industry, and various other business activities.

To this end, it is planned to develop the zone into a comprehensive economic zone with a large-sized latest IT industry area, competitive production area, exports processing area, cargo area, trade and financial area, public service area, tourist area and a bonded port, and into an international city with an airport and trade port.

Encompassing the whole of Sinuiju and two ri surrounding it, the zone is already furnished with infrastructure. However, it is necessary to upgrade the existing infrastructure and expand its capacity and build in its suburbs on a preferential basis.

The items of the construction of infrastructure include port, airport, railways, roads, power station, heating, and gas-supply system, telecommunications (international, domestic, mobile and computer network), and water supply, sewage-treating and garbage disposing systems.

As the zone has rich and good workforce whose education level is higher than secondary education, and many competitive heavy- and light-industry factories and enterprises around it, the investment by foreign business will be cost-effective and conducive to its development.

Previous posts on the Sinuiju International Economic Zone can be found here. Previous posts on the Sinuiju Special Administrative Region can be found here.

The North Koreans have also set up the Sinuiju-River Amnok Tourist Zone which you can read about here.

The JoongAng Ilbo has additional information here.


Orascom (OTMT) loses control of KoryoLink

Friday, November 20th, 2015

UPDATE 1 (2015-12-11): Orascom CEO claims to still control KoryoLink, but cannot obtain hard currency or get it out of the country.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-11-20): Martyn Williams broke the story here.

The first problem is that Orascom could not repatriate its profits:

Orascom’s efforts to get its profits out of North Korea have been unsuccessful, partially because of international sanctions imposed on the country but mainly by the government’s refusal to let the money go.

To transfer money out of North Korea, Orascom needs permission from the government and it hasn’t been granted, despite it being a partner in the joint venture.

The government hasn’t acted because it can’t afford to.

The profits are held in North Korean won, but the currency isn’t traded internationally and the government’s official rate is set artificially high, at 100 won to the U.S. dollar. At that rate, Orascon’s holding at the end of last year was worth $585 million.

But at the black market exchange rate, which is effectively the real value of the currency in North Korea, the cash is worth only $7.2 million. And therein lies the problem. The government can’t afford to pay the money at the official rate, and it can’t be seen to officially recognize the black market rate. So the two sides have spent months locked in talks about what to do.

Secondly, the DPRK government launched a second cell phone network to compete with KoryoLink, and efforts to merge the companies have been successful:

The issue came to light in an auditor’s report in June, and a month later Orascom dropped a bombshell: It said the North Korean government — supposedly its close partner — had set up a second carrier to compete with Koryolink.

With its options limited, Orascom entered merger talks to combine Koryolink with the new carrier. The North Korean government has agreed to the move in principle, but so far nothing has happened.

What’s more, the North Korean government has apparently proposed that it be the majority partner in any new venture that’s formed.

That led to a dramatic statement from Orascom when it reported its financial results Monday — “in the group management’s view, control over Koryolink’s activities was lost.”

Sawiris appears to hold out hope, but he might be out of moves.

“We are very proud of the success of our operation ‘Koryolink’,” he said in a statement. “We have around 3 million people today carrying our phones in the DPRK. We are still hopeful that we will be able to resolve all pending issues to continue this successful journey.”

Anna Fifield also followed up in the Washington Post and reported on the name of the new KoryoLink competitor:

This comes after Orascom discovered that North Korea was starting a competitor to Koryolink called Byol, and then began discussions about merging it with Koryolink, thus presumably extracting even more money from Orascom.

Byol (별) translates to English as “Star”.

Here is the OTMT financial report which explains the company’s position (PDF).

Here are screen shots of the relevant sections in the report:





A small correction needs to be added to the OTMT report, the Central Bank does not set the official exchange rate. That is set by the Foreign Trade Bank.

As Marcus Noland and I have pointed out, North Korea needs a big FDI win to inspire more large-scale foreign investment and modernize its investment regulatory framework, but debacles like this, Xiyang, and the KIC (referring here to the fact that it was too entangled in political risk to be a reliable investment without official subsidies and guarantees) reinforce the view that the DPRK is still too risky to become an attractive investment hub–and this excludes additional problems owing to the country’s weapons programs and human rights abuses.



Tumen Triangle tribulations: The unfulfilled promise of Chinese, Russian and North Korean cooperation

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

Andray Abrahamian has published a report with the US-Korea Institute on developments in the Tumen Triangle.

Here is the report description:

The Tumen Triangle region-where North Korea, China and Russia meet-is, in many ways, the story of regional integration being held back by the political concerns of Pyongyang, Beijing and Moscow. There are long-term forces at work here, such as Moscow’s concerns over Chinese dominance in the sparsely populated Russian Far East. This legacy of mistrust frames cross-border interactions and despite recent warm relations, major cross-border cooperation remains limited.

In this USKI Special Report, Andray Abrahamian, Director of Research at Choson Exchange examines historical legacies, contemporary relations and shifting strategic priorities between the three countries. The report then focuses trade and investment in the Tumen Triangle region, particularly how the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture and Primorsky Krai interact with and affect Rason Special City, the center of the Rason Special Economic Zone.

You can download the report here (PDF).


North Korean and Chinese scholars clashing over North Korean business laws

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Yonhap reports about a seemingly interesting forum that has taken place in Beijing, sourcing Global Times reporting. The article is an interesting illustration of the divergent ways in which Chinese and North Korean scholars/analysts seem to view North Korea’s economic situation and business environment (my emphasis):

Scholars from North Korea and China recently held a forum where they remain at odds over whether the isolated North could attract foreign investors and protect them, according to state-run Chinese media.

North Korean scholars insisted that their country offer a raft of legal and financial incentives for foreign investors, but Chinese scholars raised doubts over the North’s efforts, as it is under U.N. sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs.

The three-day forum, held in the Chinese border city of Yanji, ended on Sunday, state-run Global Times newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Paik Il-sung, a legal professor at North Korea’s Kim Il-sung University, said that the North’s laws protect the property rights of foreign investors. Even if the rights of foreign investors undermine North Korea’s national interests, an “unavoidable confiscation” of their property would be carried out in accordance to laws, Paik said.

Choe Su-gwang, an economics professor at the North Korean university, said that North Korea allows foreign investors to arbitrate conflicts with the state throughout an arbitration panel.

Besides geopolitical risks, poor infrastructure was cited by Chinese scholars as one of main reasons for deterring foreign investment in North Korea.

Lin Jinshu, a professor from China’s Yanbian University, said China intends to build infrastructure in the North’s Rason special economic zone, but a lack of relevant accords prevents Chinese investors from doing so.

Rason was designated by North Korea as a free trade zone in 1991, but efforts by the North to bring life to the zone have failed amid geopolitical concerns.

A monthly usage fee for the Internet in the Rason economic zone is 7,000 yuan (about US$1,089), but the Internet there is slow as a “turtle’s pace,” Lin told the forum.

Zhang Huizhi, a professor at China’s Jilin University, also raised the question how North Korea could protect property rights of foreign investors in the event of a war.

Aside from the comment about an arbitration panel, it is notable that the emphasis by the North Korean side of the discussion, at least as reported in this piece, lies very heavily on legal text. It’s enough if written laws are good, seems to be the attitude, which is of course not the way most potential investors see things.

Read the full article:

Yonhap News

N. Korean, Chinese scholars at odds over investment in N. Korea






North Korea promotes French investment in cement company

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea recently promoted its cooperation with foreign companies, highlighting a North Korean cement company that has received investment from a French corporation. This is viewed as a strategy by North Korea to attract foreign investment by publicizing examples of foreign capital in the country.

On September 1, 2015, North Korea uploaded an article on its foreign website ‘Naenara’ promoting the Pyongyang Sangwon Cement Joint Venture, which the French cement company Lafarge has invested in. President of the company Yun Chae Hyok was quoted as saying, “Through each other’s efforts the company is raising the quality of cement by expediting the modernization of the production process as well as increasing production to contribute actively to the country’s primary construction targets.”

Regarding the Sangwon Cement Joint Venture, the Naenara article stated, “The quality of limestone is good, the reserves are plentiful, and from a transportation perspective, the location is good […] The production process is automated, and the company is using supplementary materials, including limestone, in production, so the outlook is very good.” The article also introduced the company Lafarge. “The French building materials company Lafarge, which has more than 200 cement factories, is a corporation that specializes in the production of cement and plaster as well as aggregate and concrete,” it explained.

Naenara also reported that in 2014 the joint venture company built ‘Affiliate Furnace No. 1,’ and according to a decision made by the board of directors in June 2015, next year it will complete construction of ‘Affiliate Furnace No. 2.’ It is believed that North Korea’s intent in promoting the Sangwon Cement Joint Venture is to attract investment from other foreign companies by publicizing examples of foreign capital in the country.

The Pyongyang Sangwon Cement Joint Venture was created when Lafarge invested in North Korea’s Sangwon Cement Complex. In 2007 the Egyptian company Orascom, which is currently invested in North Korea’s Koryolink, acquired 50% of the shares in Sangwon Cement and prepared to invest in the company, but in December of that year it passed its shares and the related mining rights to Lafarge. At the time Lafarge commented, “Given the rapidly growing demand for cement in North Korea, the potential for Sangwon Cement Factory is large.” The company went on to update factory equipment and expand investment in machinery and facilities.


Phoenix Commercial Ventures terminates its association with Hana

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

According to the PCV web page:

As a result of irreconcilable differences between the board of Phoenix and the local management, Phoenix Commercial Ventures Ltd has terminated its association with Hana Electronics JVC with immediate effect.

Hana Electronics JVC was a 50/50 joint venture between Phoenix Commercial Ventures Ltd and the trading department of The Ministry of Culture.

Phoenix has no further connection with Hana or any interests (direct or indirect) in its operations.