Archive for the ‘Coal’ Category

DPRK-China trade in 2014

Monday, January 26th, 2015

According to Yonhap, DPRK-China trade drops slightly in 2014:

North Korea’s annual trade with its economic lifeline, China, fell 2.4 percent from a year ago in 2014, marking the first decline since 2009, data compiled by South Korea’s government trade agency showed Monday.

North Korea’s trade with China totaled US$6.39 billion last year, compared with $6.54 billion in 2013, according to the data provided by the Beijing unit of South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA).

The annual trade figures between North Korea and China provided a fresh sign that strained political ties between the two nations have affected their economic relations.

At least on paper, there were also no shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea for all of last year.

A South Korean diplomatic source with knowledge of the matter, however, cautioned against reading too much into the official trade figures because China has provided crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid and such shipments were not recorded on paper.

Here is coverage in the Daily NK.

I have been unable to locate the KOTRA report, but the Choson Ilbo adds this:

China’s exports to the North were down 3.1 percent on-year and its imports from the North 1.5 percent, the diplomatic source in Beijing said quoting Chinese trade statistics.

Yonhap followed up with this from a Chinese foreign ministry press briefing:

Asked about the official absence of crude oil delivery to North Korea, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, referred the question to “competent authorities.”

“You mentioned a specific issue concerning trade between China and North Korea. I would like to refer you to competent authorities,” Hua told reporters during a regular press briefing.

“But, I want to highlight that the economic cooperation and trade between China and North Korea are normal,” Hua said.

Yonhap also provided the following information on oil shipments from China to the DPRK:

In previous years, China’s official shipments of crude oil to North Korea had been absent for several months, particularly after the North’s nuclear tests. However, it was extremely unusual that, at least on paper, China sold no crude oil to North Korea for all of last year.

In 2014, China’s exports of petroleum products to North Korea jumped 48.22 percent from a year earlier to US$1.54 million, according to the data based on Chinese trade statistics and compiled by the Beijing unit of South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency.

“Although final statistics show that China’s exports of crude oil to North Korea were counted as ‘zero’ in 2014, experts suggest that the possibility of China’s suspension of crude oil exports to North Korea remains low,” the agency said in a statement.

South Korean diplomatic sources in Beijing have also cautioned against reading too much into the official Chinese trade figures because China has provided crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid and such shipments were not recorded on paper.

There has been no clear indication that the 2014 trade figures reflect China’s willingness to use crude oil as leverage to press North Korea to change course in its nuclear ambition.

Yonhap (via Korea Times) also reports that anthracite exports to China are down in 2014:

North Korea’s exports of anthracite to China tumbled nearly 18 percent in 2014 from the previous year, the first annual drop in eight years, data showed Friday.

North Korea exported US$1.13 billion worth of anthracite to China last year, down 17.6 percent from a year earlier, according to data from the Korea International Trade Association.

It was the first on-year decline in North Korea’s anthracite exports to China since 2006.

The volume of anthracite exports also decreased 6.4 percent on-year to 15.43 million tons last year, according to the KITA.

Despite the drop, anthracite accounted for 39.8 percent of North Korea’s total exports to China in 2014.

According to the data, North Korea’s exports of iron ore to China plunged 25.7 percent on-year to $218.6 million last year, the smallest amount since 2010.

For lots more data on the DPRK’s international trade, see also these eight great posts:
1. North Korea-China Trade Update: Coal Retreats, Textiles Surge
2. How Has the Commodity Bust Affected North Korea’s Trade Balance? (Part 1)
3. How Has the Commodity Bust Affected North Korea’s Trade Balance? (Part 2)
4. Nicholas Eberstadt’s “Dependencia, North Korea Style” (I would have gone with “Our Style Dependencia”)
5. NK News on coal shipments in 2014.
6. Radio Free Asia on coal shipments.
7. N. Korea’s smartphone imports from China hit record
8. China’s exports of jet fuel to N. Korea rebounds in 2014

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s 2014 trade with China marks 1st drop in 5 years
Yonhap
2015-1-26

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DPRK building new coal-powered plant in Pyongyang

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Kangdong-plant-2014-3-20

Pictured above is the new plant. Learn more about it on this new article at 38 North.

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Russian investment into DPRK railway

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Most of Russia’s current investment in the DPRK has been limited to Rason: Rason Port, Rason-Russia Railway. But there has been movement in bilateral relations this year.

In March of 2014, the North Koreans and the Russians announced bilateral trade would be conducted in Rubles and they discussed additional economic opportunitiesInter-Korean transportation, gas pipeline, and the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

On October 20, 2014, ITAR TASS reported the following:

Russian construction compnay NPO Mostovik has developed a plan of designing and upgrading railways and ore enriching plants, as well as developing and processing natural resources in North Korea, CEO Vladimir Shishov told PRIME on Monday.

“These are two interconnected and quite complex processes. But the NPO has lots of experience in designing, and we will promote our experience and technologies in this region,” Shishov said.

About 7,000 kilometers of North Korean railways require modernization, and 3,500 kilometers of them must be modernized urgently.

North Korea “has a large industrial and economic potential, the realization of which requires solving infrastructural problems.” Without the development of railways and roads and electrification, “it is impossible to solve the whole range of tasks, connected with the development of North Korea’s economy,” he said.

KCNA followed up on October 23:

Talks Held between DPRK Minister of External Economic Relations and Minister of Development of Far East of Russia

Pyongyang, October 23 (KCNA) — Talks between Minister of External Economic Relations Ri Ryong Nam who doubles as chairman of the DPRK side to the Inter-Governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology between the DPRK and Russia and Minister of Development of Far East of Russia Alexandr Galushka who doubles as chairman of the Russian side to the committee were held here on Thursday.

Present there from the DPRK side were Ju Jae Dok, vice-minister of Railways, and officials concerned and from the opposite side were the party of the minister of Development of Far East, Alexandr Timonin, Russian ambassador to the DPRK, and a staff member of his embassy.

Discussed at the talks were the issues of boosting the economic and trade cooperation between the two countries.

And on October 26:

Delegation of Ministry of Railways Back Home

Pyongyang, October 26 (KCNA) — The delegation of the Ministry of Railways led by Minister Jon Kil Su returned home Sunday after taking part in an international seminar held in Sochi, Russia.

However, while North Korea’s foreign minister and railway minister were in Russia, the North Koreans and Russians held a ground-breaking ceremony to announce the rebuilding of the Jaedong-Kangdong-Nampho railway line. According to KCNA:

A ground-breaking ceremony of rebuilding the section of Jaedong-Kangdong-Nampho railway stations took place at East Pyongyang Railway Station Tuesday.

Present there were Minister of External Economic Relations Ri Ryong Nam who doubles as chairman of the DPRK side to the Inter-Governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology between the DPRK and Russia, officials concerned and working people in the city.

Also on hand were Minister of Development of Far East of Russia Alexandr Galushka who doubles as chairman of the Russian side to the Inter-Governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology between the DPRK and Russia, and his party, Alexandr Timonin, Russian ambassador to the DPRK, staff members of his embassy and foreign diplomatic envoys here.

Oleg Shishov, director general of the Russian Bridzh Group, and Won Phil Jong, senior vice-minister of Railways of the DPRK, made speeches at the ceremony.

They said that they were pleased that the ceremony of weighty significance in economic development between the two countries was being held in Pyongyang this year marking the 66th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the DPRK and Russia.

The project for remodeling railways, the first stage of realizing the large-scale cooperation project which is in line with the common development and interests of the peoples of the two countries, marked an important occasion in developing economic cooperation between the two countries, they noted.

Alexandr Galushka and Ri Ryong Nam made congratulatory speeches.

They said that Marshal Kim Jong Un is paying deep attention to boosting the bilateral friendly relations.

The relations of economic cooperation between the two countries are growing stronger with each passing day, they said, hoping for bigger successes in the work to develop the bilateral cooperative relations in the future, too.

A reception was given that day.

According to supplementary information in Yonhap:

A Russian broadcaster earlier reported that Pyongyang and Moscow signed a US$25 billion deal to modernize a combined 3,500-kilometer stretch of railways in North Korea. If confirmed, it would cover 60-70 percent of the North’s railways.

Russia Beyond the Headlines reports the following information:

The implementation of the Russian-North Korean project Pobeda (Victory) will make it possible for North Korea to start exporting metallurgical coal in 2015, one of the participants in the project, LLC NPO Mostovik CEO Oleg Shishov believes.

“We’re already discussing this with the North Korean government, that everything will go to [third countries], and they agree. The volume is tens of millions of tonnes at the initial stage, and then we’ll see. Let’s take the first step,” Shishov told reporters.

He said the North Korea stands out by its almost complete absence of sulfur. “This is a very important indicator for metallurgical production, particularly for production of high quality steels,” Shishov said.

“Mining is already underway there, only with such methods that little is being mined. the methods are very inefficient, unproductive. Modern mining equipment will be delivered there and this will increase production manifold. The reserves there are huge,” Shishov said.

He did not specify who would be investing in the development of North Korean coal fields or the countries that would be importing the coal.

Russia and North Korea are now beginning to implement the Pobeda project, which calls for the development of mineral resources and comprehensive reconstruction of North Korea’s railway network. A number of Russian companies are participating in the project, including Mostovik. The other participants have not been named.

Here is a Google Earth image of the proposed train route:

Jaenam-Nampho-Railway-GE

The total length of this route is approximately 175km.

The obvious interpretation of the image is that the railway renovations will be used to facilitate coal exports. Jaenam Station exclusively serves the Sinchang Youth Coal Mine under the Sunchon Area Youth Coal Mine Complex Enterprise. Additoinally, the area surrounding Jaenam Station is doimated by coal mines. The Kangdong Station is not in the town of Kangdong, but just to the east where it services the Kangdong Area Coal Mine Complex Enterprise. Coal in these areas will supposedly be carried more efficiently to the port of Nampho where a coal terminal already exists.

Nampho-coal-port

If indeed this is the primary purpose of the project, then the obvious loser will be China (on multiple fronts). Currently Chinese state-owned mining companies are the only serious investors in North Korea’s extraction industries. Because of their unique relationship with and proximity to the DPRK, they are able to purchase coal and other resources at a bargain price (monopsony). North Korea can only strengthen its bargaining position with these companies by finding other buyers of its produce. Russia’s investment could help them accomplish this goal.

However there are two domestically-related uses that renovation of this railway route could facilitate.

The first is domestic steel production. Russian sources highlight the importance of sulfur-free coal for the production of steel, and this railway line passes directly by the Chollima Steel Mill, one of the largest smelters in the country. Increased steel production has long been a goal of North Korea’s economic policymakers going back to the “heavy-industry” days of the 1950s. With a renovated railway track that connects the correct kind of coal with Chollima Steel Mill, the DPRK may be able to produce more steel for both domestic use or for export.

A second potential domestic use could be the increase in energy supply to Pyongyang. As I highlighted in 38 North, the DPRK is constructing a new coal power plant in Kangdong. This new power plant, as well as the Pyongyang and East Pyongyang Thermal Power Plants lie along the Jaenam-Nampho line. Increased coal supplies to these mills could have significant impact on power supply in Pyongyang.

Are there any other potential uses? Maybe, but these are more difficult to see right now and may only become evident at a later date. After examining the composition of facilities along the track between Pyongyang and Jaenam, I cannot identify any other specific industries that may benefit, other than potential military factories that lie along the route. These, of course, are worth of examination, but I am not the most qualified to carry that out.

On November 6, 38 North Published this article on DPRK-Russia relations.

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DPRK increases exports of rare earths to China

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

According to the Korea Times:

North Korea has increased its rare earth exports to China amid worries within the international community that its mineral exports could weaken the effect of sanctions imposed on the reclusive state.

The cash-strapped communist country exported goods to the value of $550,000 and $1.33 million in May and June, respectively, according to the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).

Last January, the North exported elements worth nearly $25,000 to China for the first time and continued them this year. The country has an estimated 20 million tons of rare earth elements.

The North’s resources exploitation have stirred speculation that the impoverished state may further diversify mineral exports to China, where it has previously mostly exported anthracitic and iron ore.

The KITA report identified the changing trend in North Korea’s earnings from mineral exports.

In the first half of this year, earnings from anthracitic and iron ore exports decreased 23 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

These earning deficits were compensated for by exports of rare earth elements. There has been a sharp increase in global demand over the last recent decade because several high-tech devices, including smartphones, and other high technology devices use them in core components. Rare earth elements are a group of 17 elements on the periodic table referred to by the US Department of Energy as “technology metals” because of their use and application.

The communist country relies heavily on mineral exports as a major source of hard currency after international sanctions were imposed on the Pyongyang regime for its continuing missile launches and testing of nuclear weapons.

Natural resources account for 73 percent of North Korea’s bilateral trade with China in 2012. The North exports 11 million tons of anthracitic to China annually.

Yonhap coverage:

North Korea exported rare-earth elements worth $1.87 million to China from May to June, resuming outbound shipments of the crucial industrial minerals to its key ally and economic benefactor in 15 months, data showed Sunday.

North Korea shipped rare-earth minerals worth $550,000 and $1.32 million to China in May and June, respectively, which amounted to a total of 62,662 kilograms, according to the Korea International Trade Association based in Seoul.

The communist regime first exported rare-earth metals worth $24,700 to China in January 2013 and had stopped selling them until recently.

Separately, Pyongyang has sold carbonate-containing rare-earth compounds to China since 2011, but the size of outbound shipments is small, with the total amount is estimated at about $170,000 over a period of three and a half years.

The impoverished nation is known to have large reserves of rare-earth minerals, which are crucial ingredients used in many tech products as well as the military and medical sectors.

The latest move comes as the North has stepped up developing rare-earth deposits to support its moribund economy.

Last year, the North’s state-owned Korea Natural Resources Trading Corporation signed a 25-year deal with British Islands-based private equity firm SRE Minerals Limited to mine deposits in Jongju, northwest of the capital, Pyongyang.

Experts said the recent surge in North Korea’s rare-earth shipments may be part of its attempts to diversify sources of mineral exports, which account about half of its total exports.

The North’s export of anthracite coal fell 23 percent in the first half of this year to $571.2 million from a year ago, while ironstone declined 5 percent to $120 million in the cited period, according to trade data.

“The rare-earth minerals sold to China were valued at $30 per kilogram, and they were considered to be processed iron concentrates or oxidized substances,” said Choi Kyung-soo, chief of the Seoul-based North Korea Resource Institute. “It could be seen as an attempt to diversify items of mineral resource exports, but it remains to be seen whether the North will start exporting large volumes of rare-earth minerals.”

Read the full stories here:
Rare earth elements boost NK income
Korea Times
Kang Hyun-kyung
2014-7-27

N. Korea exports US$1.8 mln worth of rare earth to China in May-June
Yonhap
2014-7-27

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An Updated Summary of Energy Supply and Demand in the Democratic People’s Republic Of Korea (DPRK)

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

The Nautilus Institute has published a report on energy supply in the DPRK by David F. von Hippel and Peter Hayes. You can read it here.

Here is a small section of the paper:

Overall energy use per capita in the DPRK as of 1990 was relatively high, primarily due to inefficient use of fuels and reliance on coal. Coal is more difficult to use with high efficiency than oil products or gas. Based on our estimates, primary commercial energy[19] use in the DPRK in 1990 was approximately 70 GJ per capita, approximately three times the per capita commercial energy use in China in 1990, and somewhat over 50 percent of the 1990 per capita energy consumption in Japan (where 1990 GDP per-capita was some ten to twenty times higher than the DPRK). This sub-section provides a brief sketch of the DPRK energy sector, and some of its problems. Much more detailed reviews/estimates of energy demand and supply in the DPRK in 1990, 1996, and particularly in 2000, 2005, and 2008 through 2010, are provided in later chapters of this report.

The industrial sector is the largest consumer of all commercial fuels—particularly coal—in the DPRK. The transport sector consumes a substantial fraction of the oil products used in the country. Most transport energy use is for freight transport; the use of personal transport in the DPRK is very limited. The residential sector is a large user of coal and (in rural areas, though more recently, reportedly, in urban and peri-urban areas as well) biomass fuels. The military sector (by our estimates) consumes an important share of the refined oil products used in the country. The public/commercial and services sectors in the DPRK consume much smaller shares of fuels supplies in the DPRK than they do in industrialized countries, due primarily to the minimal development of the commercial sector in North Korea. Wood and crop wastes are used as fuels in the agricultural sector, and probably in some industrial subsectors as well.

Key energy-sector problems in the DPRK include:

*Inefficient and/or decaying infrastructure: Much of the energy-using infrastructure in the DPRK is reportedly (and visibly, to visitors to the country) antiquated and/or poorly maintained. Buildings apparently lack significant, and often any, insulation, and the heating circuits in residential and other buildings for the most part apparently cannot be controlled by residents. Industrial facilities are likewise either aging or based on outdated technology, and often (particularly in recent years) are operated at less-than-optimal capacities (from an energy-efficiency point of view).

*Suppressed and latent demand for energy services: Lack of fuels in many sectors of the DPRK economy has apparently caused demand for energy services to go unmet. Electricity outages are one obvious source of unmet demand, but there are also reports, for example, that portions of the DPRK fishing fleet have been idled for lack of diesel fuel. Residential heating is reportedly restricted in the winter (and some observers report that some public-sector and residential buildings have not received heat at all in recent years) to conserve fuel, resulting in uncomfortably cool inside temperatures.

The problem posed by suppressed and latent demand for energy services is that when and if supply constraints are removed there is likely to be a surge in energy (probably particularly electricity) use, as residents, industries, and other consumers of fuels increase their use of energy services toward desired levels. (This is a further argument, as elaborated later in this report, for making every effort to improve the efficiency of energy use in all sectors of the DPRK economy as restraints on energy supplies are reduced.)

*Lack of energy product markets: Compounding the risk of a surge in the use of energy services is the virtual lack of energy product markets in the DPRK. Without fuel pricing reforms, there will be few incentives for households and other energy users to adopt energy efficiency measures or otherwise control their fuels consumption. Recent years have seen limited attempts by the DPRK government to reform markets for energy products. Some private markets exist for local products like firewood, and some commercial fuels have in recent years reportedly been traded “unofficially” (on the black market), but for the most part, energy commodity markets in the DPRK essentially do not exist[20]. Energy consumers are also unlikely, without a massive and well-coordinated program of education about energy use and energy efficiency, to have the technical know-how to choose and make good use of energy efficiency technologies, even when and if such technologies are made available.

The DPRK’s energy sector needs are vast, and at the same time, as indicated by the only partial listing of problems many of these needs are sufficiently interconnected as to be particularly daunting to address. The DPRK’s energy sector needs include rebuilding/replacement of many of its power generation and almost all of its substation equipment, repair, replacement, and/or improvement of coal mine production equipment and safety systems, updating of oil refineries, improvement or replacement of most if its energy-using equipment, including coal-fired boilers, electric motors and drives, transport systems, and many other items, modernization of energy use throughout the country, rebuilding of the DPRK forest stocks, and a host of other needs. As one example of the interrelations of energy problems in the DPRK, renovating the DPRK’s coal mining sector is made more difficult because coal mines lack electricity due to electricity sector problems, and electricity generators in some cases have insufficient coal to supply power demand because of coal mine problems and problems with transporting coal to power plants.

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On the business of exporting coal…

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Taean-Port

 Pictured above (Google Earth): The coal-covered Taean Port on the Taedong River

Who knew that Rodong Sinmun was involved in the coal export business?

According to the Daily NK:

Gwangbokseongdae Co. [광복성대?], a hard currency-earning arm of the operator of the Party daily Rodong Sinmun, recently resumed coal exports through the West Sea port of Nampo, Daily NK has learned. Exports had been halted upon the orders of the Chosun Workers’ Party in October 2013.

The Kim regime is believed to have resumed exports to open up additional flows of hard currency for accounts earmarked for regime maintenance. Coal is one of North Korea’s biggest export industries, with almost all the coal produced in the country sent to China (though a percentage of it is coked and returned for use in North Korean power stations).

A source from South Pyongan Province reported the story to Daily NK on the 3rd, explaining that “Gwangboksongdae Co. has started exporting coal again; it was originally stopped by the Party last October.”

The source then went on to add, “So as to match the timing of [incoming] vessels and increase export volumes, the company is leasing its trucks to people.”

“It costs US$350 per day to lease the trucks. They travel from storage yards [owned by people who lease land from farms and use it for the storage and sale of coal] in mining areas of South Pyongan Province to Daean Port in Nampo. Vessels start coming in March, so leased trucks are again transporting coal for export.”

Companies exporting coal to China must have an export trade license from the North Korean authorities. Then they can use planned exports to China as security against the cost of leasing the trucks. From the point of view of the company, subcontracting in this manner, a practice that began in the mid-2000s, makes more sense than employing drivers directly.

There are many conditions attached to truck rental from Gwangboksongdae Co., however. According to the source, not only must lessees prove that they have $3000 with which to purchase coal; they must also have ten years of trucking experience and, of course, good connections in the Central Party.

But it is worth it. “The original price of a ton of coal is roughly $12,” he said. “This can then be sold at the storage yards in Nampo and Taean Port for $32, giving the driver a clear profit of $20 on each ton. If he carries an average load of 30t, he will earn $540. If we factor in the lease fee of $350 and cost of fuel, there is around $100 left per load.”

“Normally, drivers make around three trips per week,” he went on. “But truck repair costs are born by the lessee. If a vehicle is damaged, the lessee ends up with a significant burden as they can be held liable for compensation.”

According to trade statistics compiled by the Korean International Trade Association (KITA) in January 2014, North Korea exported 16.5 million tons of anthracite to China in 2013. This total, which marked a year-on-year increase of 39.7%, brought in approximately US$ 1.373bn, a 15.5% increase over 2012.

Read the full story here:
Trucks for Rent as Coal Exports Soar
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2014-4-3

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North Korea to utilize science and technology to overcome its energy crisis

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2014-4-3

In order to solve the nation’s chronic energy shortage, North Korea has been focusing on the development and utilization of science and technology as much as possible. Recent technological advancements are being reported one after another, and further development of alternative energy sources has resulted in technology that will reduce the nation’s oil and fossil fuel consumption.

The Choson Sinbo, a news outlet published by the pro-North Korean General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, reported on March 22 that the research staff of North Korea’s National Academy of Sciences contributed to a reduction in coal consumption by successfully developing and implementing the use of compressed biomass fuel in several factories in Pyongyang. The article also reported the invention of a new navigation program at Pyongyang Machinery College that searches for and displays the shortest possible routes between destinations. Transportation facilities in Pyongyang are said to have seen a 5 to 10 percent savings in fuel consumption since the introduction of the program.

Earlier this month, the Choson Sinbo also reported that the urban management division at the Central Heating Research Institute developed a new, more efficient solar heating system that has already been installed in homes along Pyongyang’s Kwangbok Street. The new system utilizes the leftover water heated during the day to provide warmth for homes at night, and, unlike the previously used system, can do so without consuming electricity.

Such efforts to mobilize domestic natural resources can be interpreted as an earnest attempt at solving the nation’s chronic energy shortage. In his new year’s address, Kim Jong Un emphasized the need to more effectively utilize domestic natural resources such as wind, geothermal, solar, and especially hydro power to remedy the nation’s electricity shortage.

He also stressed the need to endure the struggle to save energy with strength and resolve, calling on all sectors of the economy to conserve each and every watt of electricity, gram of coal, and drop of water where possible. Although North Korean efforts to solve the nation’s energy shortage have been ongoing for some time, the regime seems to be putting additional weight on the role of science and technology.

This call for technological development, with particular regard to alternative energy, is directly connected to Kim Jong Un’s preferential policy toward scientists and technicians. The best example of this can be seen in the construction of Unha Scientists’ Street, a housing complex built in September of last year specifically for personnel who have contributed to missile and nuclear tests and additional construction has begun for Satellite Scientists’ Street which will serve as a residential and research complex for the scientists of North Korea’s national satellite program. The construction of these sites shows that the regime understands the importance of science and technology in raising the efficiency of not only the energy sector, but also the North Korean economy. Furthermore, this move stems not only from the preferential policy toward scientists and technicians, but from the larger context of reforming the nation’s educational system.

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Prospects for North Korea’s anthracite exports to China

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2014-3-3

For North Korea, anthracite exports are a major means of foreign currency earnings and the country’s top export item to China. Exports are expected to continue to rise this year.

China’s year-on-year import of anthracite from North Korea increased 39.7 percent (16.49 million tons) from the previous year, accounting for 41.5 percent of the total amount of anthracite import for China (39.66 million tons). North Korea has now surpassed Vietnam as the top exporter of anthracite to China.

Other than natural resources, North Korea has virtually no other major export commodities to offer. The recent standstill in inter-Korean economic cooperation and toughened international sanctions has made it difficult for North Korea to earn foreign currency. Thus, North Korea has pushed for a steady increase in its hard coal exports to China. North Korean anthracite is considered to be of relatively high quality, maintaining a higher unit price (10 USD/ton) than Vietnamese anthracite.

Currently, China’s steel industry is the largest consumer of the North Korean anthracite, with the main consumers being local steel companies in Liaoning, Hebei, and Shandong Provinces, as they are geographically closer to North Korea and have easy access to shipping ports.

The market for North Korean anthracite is expected to expand. Since last year, the Chinese government began to implement wide-ranging air-pollution management measures. As a result, Chinese authorities designated the Hebei Province and the surrounding areas of Beijing and Tianjin municipalities as key areas to improve and control air pollution. With the help of allocated subsidies from the central government, local governments began to distribute hard coal briquettes to homes in farming villages. China’s major anthracite producing areas are in remote mountainous regions. So the demand for North Korean anthracite briquettes is anticipated to increase.

Late last year, the former head of the (North) Korean Workers’ Party Jang Song Thaek was accused, charged and executed for, among other “anti-state activities,” selling the country’s “precious [natural] resources” (presumably to China) at very cheap prices. But his execution does not appear to have made a significant impact on the anthracite trade between the DPRK and China. With China’s growing demand for North Korean anthracite, the export volume is expected to rise.

However, some argue that despite the growing demand North Korea’s coal production capacity is limited and will experience difficulties. Currently, North Korea has already suppressed significantly its domestic demand in order to meet the export volume. North Korea’s mining facilities are said to be old and badly in need of repairs, but large investments from Chinese companies that could be put toward this endeavor are reported to have dried up.

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More measurement of the importance of markets in the DPRK: residential and public sector energy consumption

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

According to Yonhap (via the Korea Herald):

A fuel ration system in North Korea seems to have been dismantled due to a chronic fuel shortage, a report said Monday.

The report by the state-run Korea Energy Economics Institute (KEEI) said a majority of households in North Korea secure their fuel for heating and cooking on the black market or by themselves, hinting that the country’s fuel ration system might have been scrapped.

The report was made on the basis of data compiled from a poll of 350 North Korean defectors who fled the country after 2011.

According to the report, 51.1 percent of the North’s households bought their heating and cooking fuel on the market, with 42 percent gathering their fuel, such as firewood, by themselves.

Only 6.8 percent of them were provided with fuel for heating and cooking through the country’s fuel ration channel.

The energy consumption of a North Korean household was estimated at 0.291 tons of oil equivalent (TOE) as of 2011. The TOE is a unit of energy which is equivalent to the amount of energy released by burning one ton of crude oil.

The consumption of energy gaining from coal briquettes accounted for 36.8 percent of the total, reaching 0.107 TOE, followed by wood with 0.069 TOE, electricity with 0.038 TOE, oil products with 0.025 TOE and propane gas with 0.023 TOE.

The energy consumption for heating took up 50.9 percent of the total, amounting to 0.148 TOE.

The KEEI said a program for fuel aid to North Korea should be mapped out on the basis of exact data on the energy consumption in the North’s private sector.

You can download the full report here in Korean (PDF). Here is the web page for the Korea Energy Economics Institute.

Read the full story here:
Fuel ration seems to have been dismantled in N. Korea: report
Yonhap
2014-2-3

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China – DPRK trade data (January 2014)

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

Yonhap reports that China – DPRK trade appears unaffected by the purge of Jang Song-thaek. According to the article:

Despite North Korea’s stunning execution of the leader’s uncle in December, its trade with China remained solid in January, up 16 percent from a year earlier, data showed Friday.

Jang Song-thaek, the country’s No. 2 man and leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle, had played an important role in dealing with Beijing before being executed late last year on treason charges. The political upheaval raised concerns over a possible instability that could spill over into other areas of the reclusive country’s moribund economy and society.

Still, trade volume between North Korea and its major trading partner China came to US$546 million in January, compared with $471 million from a year earlier, according to the data compiled by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).

North Korean exports to China jumped 18 percent on-year to $223 million, with imports rising 14.5 percent to $323 million, the data showed.

Anthracite was the No. 1 export item for the impoverished country to its communist neighbor, selling some $101 million worth of the natural resource last month, up 21.3 percent from a year ago.

North Korea’s anthracite exports are a major source of income, and China is virtually the only destination for the shipments.

Inbound shipments of China-made cell phones soared 28 percent on-year to $14.4 million in January, the data showed.

“Trade volume between the two countries is expected to rise further given China’s growing demand for minerals for its project to develop its three northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning,” said Lim Eul-chul, a research professor at Kyungnam University.

“Such political variables as Jang’s execution would not likely affect the trend,” he added.

The heavily sanctioned North Korea has been increasingly reliant on China, though the Asian giant has become frustrated with its wayward neighbor, particularly after Pyongyang’s third nuclear test early last year.

In 2013, trade volume between the two reached a record $6.45 billion last year, up 10.4 percent from the previous year, according to KITA data.

The Wall Street Journal notes:

“Bilateral trade has probably yet to feel the impact of Mr. Jang’s execution,” said Cho Bong-hyun, research fellow at Seoul-based IBK Economic Research Institute.

“Both sides are still acting on trade contracts that have already been signed and usually take effect for six months,” Mr. Cho said.

Mr. Cho said he expects the impact from Mr. Jang’s purge will begin to appear in the data from the second quarter of this year. North Korea may also increasingly turn to trade with South Korea following a thawing of ties and the reopening of a jointly run Kaesong industrial park, he said.

The KITA data show inter-Korean trade volume shrank 42% to an eight-year low of $1.15 billion last year, when the Kaesong complex was closed for several months after North Korea pulled out its workers.

North Korean-Chinese trade volume hit a record high of $6.54 billion last year, according to KITA, as North Korea exported natural resources such as coal and iron ore, while importing fuel and electronics goods.

The Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, Seoul’s state-funded trade agency, said in a report last year that North Korea’s bilateral trade with China accounted for 88% of Pyongyang’s entire external trade in 2012, up from 53% in 2005.

Read the full stories here:
N. Korea, China trade unaffected by stunning execution: data
Yonhap
2014-2-28

Jang Purge Yet to Hurt North Korea-China Trade
Wall Street Journal
Kwanwoo Jun
2014-2-28

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