Archive for the ‘Oil’ Category

DPRK oil imports from China in 2014 (UPDATED)

Saturday, May 24th, 2014

UPDATE 3 (2014-5-24): This Daily NK article further highlights why we should be skeptical of official reports of the DPRK’s oil imports from China:

Daily NK has confirmed that China is currently supplying oil to North Korea through a pipeline running between the two. Though there have been cases where Beijing has suspended such shipments in response to North Korean intransigence, particularly over nuclear issues, but this has not happened recently.
On April 10th, Daily NK visited an oil storage and pipeline facility in Dandong. There, our team interviewed Chinese Ministry of Public Security officials guarding the facility, which is owned by a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation, or CNPC.

When asked about oil assistance to North Korea, one of the officers acknowledged, “We are continuously supplying oil (to North Korea),” but “cannot say how much we send each month or how much remains as of now.”

Oil deliveries to be transferred to North Korea are received at this facility from a larger nearby facility, Basan, and then are shipped to a partner storage facility at Baekma in Pihyun Couunty, North Pyongan Province. The pipeline is 11km long.

According to sources, these deliveries are not recorded in Chinese customs data, or in foreign trade statistics. The oil from the pipeline is rather characterized as de facto aid, either in the form of low interest loans or free of charge.

This is why, on April 24th, Korean agency KOTRA released a figure of ‘zero’ for oil exports from China to North Korea for the first quarter of 2014, basing it on Chinese customs data. The data says zero for commercial transfers; however, supplies in the form of aid and assistance may not have stopped at all.

In this regard, a diplomatic source said, “China has the ability to stop the oil supplies whenever they want, but they’ve never done so for a long period of time.” He went on, “Above all, China places as much importance on security as North Korea places on nuclearization, and it doesn’t want to see disorder in the North Korean regime. This explains why China keeps providing this assistance.”

Meanwhile, Chinese trade statistics show that 520,000 tons of oil was exported to North Korea every year from 2009 to 2012. Mostly small North Korean tankers shipped this oil.

UPDATE 2 (2014-5-26): The DPRK officially did not import any oil from China as of April 2014. According to Yonhap:

China sold no crude oil to North Korea in the first four months of this year, data compiled by South Korea’s government trade agency showed Monday, in an unusual four-month absence of oil shipments amid the North’s threats of a nuclear test.

The Beijing unit of the South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) said in a report, citing data from China’s customs authorities, that there were no oil shipments from China to North Korea from January to April this year.

A four-month absence of oil shipments from China to North Korea was also reported in 2009, when the North conducted its second nuclear test.

However, a diplomatic source in Beijing cautioned against reading too much into the official trade figures.

“The Chinese side has provided crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid, which is not recorded on paper,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

North Korea also appears to have been trying to diversify its source of oil imports, through countries such as Russia, the source said.

UPDATE 1 (2014-4-24): DPRK official imports from China in Q1 of 2014: zero.

According to Yonhap:

China did not export any crude oil to North Korea in the first three months of this year, data compiled by South Korea’s government trade agency showed Thursday, in an unprecedented three-month absence of oil shipments amid North Korea’s threats of a nuclear test.

Monthly shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea were absent in February, June and July last year, but it was the first time that China apparently stopped exports of crude oil to North Korea for three consecutive months.

The Beijing unit of the South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) said in a report, citing data it collected from China’s customs authorities, that there were no oil shipments from China to North Korea from January to March this year.

“To my knowledge, it is the first time that China did not export crude oil to North Korea for three consecutive months and that would impact the North Korean economy,” a diplomat at the South Korean Embassy in Beijing said on the condition of anonymity.

Also worth highlighting from the report:

China’s total trade with North Korea fell 2.83 percent to US$1.27 billion in the January-March period, compared with the same period a year ago, according to the KOTRA report.

Additional information:

1. DPRK – China trade statistics following the Jang Song-thaek purge.

2. DPRK – China trade at all time high in 2013.

3. DPRK diversifying energy sources.

4. DPRK does not import any oil from China in January 2014.

Read the full Yonhap story here:
China didn’t export crude oil to N. Korea in Q1
Yonhap
2014-4-24

ORIGINAL POST (2014-3-10): DPRK oil imports from China in January 2014: Zero!

According to Yonhap:

North Korea did not import any crude oil from China in January, marking the first absence of monthly deliveries from China in five months, a Seoul government report showed Monday.

It was not immediately clear whether the January absence of crude shipments to North Korea from China was linked to Beijing’s growing frustration with Pyongyang over its nuclear program, but it followed the execution of the once-powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last December.

Last year, monthly shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea were absent in the months of February, June and July. However, annual shipments of crude oil to North Korea from China rose 11.2 percent on-year to 578,000 tons in 2013.

Read the full story here:
No crude import from China to N. Korea in Jan.: report
Yonhap
2014-3-10

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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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North Korean oil tanker in Lybia (UPDATED)

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

UPDATE 4 (2014-3-17): US Navy Seals have boarded the Morning Glory.According to the BBC:

The raid by Navy Seals took place in international waters south of Cyprus, said spokesman Rear Adm John Kirby.

The Morning Glory’s evasion of a naval blockade at the eastern port of Sidra prompted Libya’s parliament to sack Prime Minister Ali Zeidan last week.

The oil terminal has been under the control of militia wanting autonomy for eastern Libya since July 2013.

Meanwhile, there has been a deadly attack on the barracks in the main eastern city of Benghazi.

This was their first attempt to export oil from rebel-held areas. It is not clear where the tanker was headed.

Adm Kirby said the operation had been authorised by President Barack Obama and that no-one had been hurt.

“The Morning Glory is carrying a cargo of oil owned by the Libyan government National Oil Company. The ship and its cargo were illicitly obtained,” he said, adding that it would now be returned to a Libyan port.

The vessel was flagged in North Korea but officials in Pyongyang said it had been deregistered because of the incident.

It was said to have been operated by an Egyptian company.

More in the Washington Post here.

See Marcus Noland’s comments here.

UPDATE 3 (2014-3-13): Morning Glory is on the run! According to The Diplomat:

…The Libyan government didn’t take kindly to this and threatened to attack the tanker, threatening airstrikes against it. Eventually, the tanker was intercepted and taken to Misrata where it was held by Libyan warships.

Remarkably, the North Korean tanker managed to escape its capture by the Libyan fleet in the middle of the night. It made its escape when the weather forced the smaller Libyan warships and patrol boats to sail close to the coast, leaving a gap in the convoy guarding the tanker. The Morning Glory made a run for the open seas and is now confirmed to be back in international waters according to Mohammad Hitab a spokesman for Libya’s al-Waha Oil Company, the state-run company running the Es Sider port.

It remains unknown the extent to which North Korea is communicating with Libya’s federalist rebels. In the case of the oil sale, the rebels were looking for buyers willing to purchase risky oil at rates far below the asking market price. Given North Korea’s energy situation, it appeared to be one of the few buyers interested in the deal. A report from the Libya Herald earlier this week noted that members of the federalist rebels were spotted on board the Morning Glory prior to its attempted departure from Es Sider port.

The tanker’s escape resulted in a no confidence vote on Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s leadership in Libya. Zeidan lost the vote and had his travel barred. Libyan Defense Minister Abdallah al-Thinni was sworn in on Tuesday evening, according to Reuters.

The United States Department of State issued a statement where it said it was “deeply concerned by reports that a vessel sailing under the name Morning Glory is loading a cargo of illicitly obtained oil at the Libyan port of As-Sidra.” The statement does not mention North Korea but notes that the Morning Glory‘s ”action is counter to law and amounts to theft from the Libyan people.” The Italian Navy had reportedly assisted the Libyans in intercepting the Morning Glory but has since withdrawn from attempting to prevent the ship from leaving the Mediterranean.

UPDATE 2 (2014-3-12): Here is the full statement from KCNA on the tanker:

Spokesman for Maritime Administration of DPRK on “Oil Tanker Incident” in Libya

Pyongyang, March 12 (KCNA) — A spokesman for the Maritime Administration of the DPRK Wednesday gave the following answer to the question raised by KCNA in connection with the recent DPRK-flagged “oil tanker incident” which occurred in Libya:

On March 8 the government of Libya informed the DPRK of the fact that the DPRK-flagged oil tanker Morning Glory made an oil contract with an individual armed group in Libya and illegally entered a port under the control of the group in the eastern part of Libya, and urged the DPRK to take a necessary measure for settling it through a formal channel.

As far as the oil tanker is concerned, it is a ship run by the Golden East Logistics Company in Alexandria, Egypt and is allowed to temporarily use the DPRK flag for six months in accordance with the contract made by the company with the DPRK at the end of February.

Right after being informed of the fact by the Libyan side, the DPRK strongly blamed the company side for the violation of the contract and demanded it let the ship leave the port at once without loading oil.

In addition to it, the DPRK formally notified the Libyan government and the International Maritime Organization that it cancelled and deleted the ship’s DPRK registry and invalidated all the certificates as the ship violated the DPRK’s law on the registry of ships and the contract that prohibited it from transporting contraband cargo and entering the warring, dispute-torn or natural disaster-affected areas.

Therefore, the ship has nothing to do with the DPRK at present and it has no responsibility whatsoever as regards the ship.

What matters is that some foreign media are making much fuss, deliberately linking the case with the DPRK, claiming that “the north Korean ship tried to purchase oil from Libya in an illegal manner” and “the government force of Libya opened fire on the north Korean flagged oil tanker.”

Some forces are misleading the public opinion, persistently linking the issue with the DPRK. This is obviously aimed at achieving a sinister political purpose to tarnish its image.

They should clearly know that with neither false propaganda nor mud-slinging can they damage the image of the dignified DPRK.

The AP reports on proof the DPRK provided to the western media to back up its claims:

North Korea offers its flag to foreign-owned ships in the same way as a number of other countries do.

Jon provided a document he said was the official deletion of the Morning Glory from the Maritime Administration’s registry. He also showed email correspondence he said was from IHS Maritime in London, a company that manages shipping information, that purportedly acknowledged the deletion of a vessel from the North Korean registry.

UPDATE 1 (2014-3-12): The DPRK has denied it owns the ship. According to the Wall Street Journal:

North Korea denied on Thursday it was illegally exporting oil from rebel-controlled eastern Libya, claiming that an Egyptian company was operating a North Korean flagged oil tanker in the center of an armed standoff since Saturday.

North Korea said it had revoked the registry of the tanker, named “Morning Glory,” and demanded that Alexandria-based Golden East Logistics Company leave al-Sidra port without loading oil.

The tanker, carrying at least 234,000 barrels of crude oil, sailed from a rebel-controlled port into international waters on Tuesday.

A contract signed by North Korea with the Egyptian company prohibits the tanker from transporting contraband cargo and entering war or disaster zones, North Korea said through a report in its state media.

“The ship has nothing to do with the DPRK at present and it (North Korea) has no responsibility whatsoever as regards the ship,” the report said, using the abbreviation of country’s official name Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The Golden East Logistics Company couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

The presence of a North Korean-flagged vessel in the Mediterranean is very unusual, although the country has been involved in trading arms in the region. Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at Seoul-based think tank Sejong Institute, said the rebels may have offered oil to North Korea at a fraction of market prices.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-3-6): According to IBT:

A North Korean oil tanker has tried to dock at Libya’s Es-Sider port which has been seized by armed protesters, Reuters reports.

It has not yet been confirmed whether the tanker wanted to take oil from the protesters, who have threatened to sell it independently unless they get political autonomy from Tripoli and a greater share of oil revenues, according to Libyan officials.

“The tanker came to Es-Sider but did not load oil,” said an official at the state-owned Waha Oil Co, which operates the port and connecting oilfields.

An official at National Oil Corp (NOC), which owns Waha, said he did not know whether the protesters, led by former militia leader Ibrahim Jathran, had tried to attract buyers with the tanker but said: “We know they have been trying to sell oil.”

It is extremely unusual for a North Korean-flagged oil tanker to operate in the Mediterranean region, shipping sources said.

Jathran’s group seized three oil ports which accounted for 600,000 barrels per day of export, before the protests started in 2013.

The Libyan government has tried to end the protests but little progress has been made so far.

Libya’s defence minister held talks with protesters blocking the 340,000-bpd El Sharara oilfield in the south, but NOC has not confirmed whether it will reopen in the near future.

The strikers are also demanding national identity cards and a local council; the ministers have promised to meet the requests.

Jathran’s group declined to comment.

The Libyan navy fired on a Maltese-flagged tanker which allegedly tried to load oil from the protesters in the port in January.

Libya’s oil output has fallen to little over 200,000 bpd from 1.4 million bpd in July when protests started across the country.

“The financial situation of the government is difficult,” Culture Minister Habib al-Amin, who acts as a government spokesman, said in February.

“Some ministries have been unable to pay for expenditures due to a lack of budget and liquidity.”

Read the full story here:
Libya: North Korea Oil Tanker Tries to Dock at Seized Es-Sider Oil Port
International Business Times
Ludovica Iaccino
2014-3-6

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DPRK-china trade at record US$6.45b in 2013

Friday, January 31st, 2014

According to Yonhap:

Trade volume between North Korea and its major trading partner China reached a record US$6.45 billion last year, up 10.4 percent from a year earlier, data showed Saturday.

North Korean exports to China jumped 17.2 percent on-year, while imports from China increased 5.4 percent, according to the data from the Korea International Trade Association.

Pyongyang’s trade deficit recorded $721 million, a 25 percent decrease compared with the previous year, the data showed.

North Korea’s major export items were minerals, with $1.37 billion worth of anthracite and $294.1 million of iron ore shipped to China last year.

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

The isolated socialist state heavily relied on China for crude oil, buying $598.1 million from its sole financial and diplomatic backer.

Inbound shipments of China-made cell phones fell to $44 million last year, shrinking by 26.6 percent from a year ago.

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

Since these numbers are aggregated, we cannot observe if the purge of Jang song-thaek and his patronage network had any effect on DPRK/China trade at the end of the year.

The DPRK also increased oil imports from China in 2013. According to Yonhap (2014-2-10):

Shipments of crude oil to North Korea from China increased 11.2 percent on-year in 2013, a South Korean government report showed Monday, the latest sign that Beijing still gives Pyongyang access to the vital commodity despite its defiant pursuit of nuclear weapons.

North Korea imported a total of 578,000 tons of crude oil from China last year, compared with 520,000 tons in 2012, according to the report based on China’s customs data.

Monthly shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea were absent in February, June and July last year, but Beijing exported “a large amount of crude oil” to Pyongyang in the second-half of last year, the report said.

In 2013, trade between North Korea and China rose 8.9 percent on-year to reach US$6.54 billion, with the North’s exports to China jumping 18 percent to $2.91 billion, the report showed.

“Our overall analysis is that international sanctions against North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have not reduced or shrunk the North’s trade with China,” a South Korean diplomat said on the condition of anonymity.

Here is coverage in the Daily NK.

Additional information:
1. Imports of grain were up. Food aid imports from UN were down.

2. Coal exports to China up.

3. DPRK visitors to China up.

Read the full stories here:
Trade between N. Korea, China hits record $6.45 bln in 2013
Yonhap
2014-1-31

N. Korea’s crude oil imports from China rise 11.2 pct in 2013
Yonhap
2014-2-10

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Rason getting Czech brewery

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

A new article in Forbes updates us on some of the changes in Rason:

Tomas Novotny has been in North Korea two days, and he looks frazzled. It was a long journey from Prague, and standing on the street in downtown Rajin, his government minder by his side, he can already see that doing business in the DPRK’s remote northeast will present an unusual set of challenges.

Novotny is here because of that railway line. A brewing technologist with the Czech firm Zvu Potez, he has come to set up a brewery. All the equipment and materials were transported by train–from Prague to Moscow, through Siberia and onto the branch line of the Trans-Korean main line.

“We’re still building the brewery. Come and see it,” says Novotny. The two containers that brought the Zvu Potez equipment from Prague lie 50 meters from the brewery. It’s a great location by the sea in Rajin’s main park. The business is a joint venture between the Czech firm and the Rason regional government, says Novotny, and will target tourists and foreigners. There are about 300 Western tourists–including Russians–a year and about 20,000 Chinese visitors to the country’s northeast.

“When they’ve finished building,” he says, shouting over the drilling, “I’m going to teach three or four locals how to brew. I hope they can speak English. If they can’t it will be interesting.”

He expects to be in Rason for six months establishing the business, but already he misses home and his young son. “I won’t get to speak to them until I go home at Christmas,” he says.

North Korea’s telecommunications challenges are a headache for business, too. Foreigners are able to get 3G on their phones, but it is expensive. International calls are possible but equally pricey.

“When telecommunications become a little more open that will indicate the seriousness of purpose,” says Andray Abrahamian, who directs Choson Exchange, a Singaporean nonprofit that focuses on business and legal training for young North Koreans in the DPRK.

Abrahamian has been watching North Korea for a decade and visited Rason several times. He says things are finally moving, a result of legal changes made in 2010 that helped make Rason more autonomous. Further legal changes two years ago were intended to harmonize Rason’s economic laws with those of China, he says.

“The degree to which [Pyongyang] will allow autonomy to the regional decision makers or local planners has yet to be seen. That’s a key issue for Rason–how autonomous are these places really?” asks Abrahamian, 36.

“Chinese small and medium-size enterprises, from Jilin Province but also Heilongjiang Province, are continuing to come in–Rason is experiencing growth,” says Abrahamian.

Not all the factories are new. The Rajin Garment Factory was built in 1958, long before talk of special economic zones. In the early days it produced school uniforms for North Korean students. After 1991 it took orders from China and today employs 180 staff.

The factory manager stands on the front steps. It’s early evening, and he’s watching a staff volleyball game in the car park. Has business improved since Rason was made a special economic zone?

He shrugs and says: “It’s hard to say. It’s different. For every school uniform we used to get paid 800 won and a 1,200-won government subsidy. Now there is no government subsidy.”

The workers, nearly all women, are given housing and paid 600? to 700 won a month, plus overtime, he says. Inside the factory, on the first floor, close to 100 women are clocking overtime. Wearing blue uniforms and matching head scarves, they are sewing puffer jackets, hurrying to complete a big order. The final step of the process is to sew in the label: “Made in China.”

The tag is written in English, and the woman packing the jackets doesn’t understand the visitors’ raised eyebrows. Apparently this is a common practice.

It’s noisy on the factory floor. The popular all-girl band Moranbong blasts out of speakers, drowning out the whir of sewing machines. It’s impossible to hear the drone of the generator, switched on after yet another power failure, a regular feature of life in the DPRK.

There is a deal in place to bring power from Jilin Province, but the Chinese have been holding it up using the pretext of an environmental impact study.

More Chinese power can’t hurt, says researcher Melvin, “but there are many more substantive problems the North Korean must overcome before serious large-scale investment can move into the country. The DPRK cannot currently credibly commit to any policy–no policy stability, rule of law–and has a poor record of honoring its agreements and impartially enforcing contracts. No independent company will risk serious capital in this environment.”

Another matter is fuel. Joseph Naemi is director of HBOil, an oil trading and refining company based in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. HBOil grabbed a few headlines in June when it was reported the firm had acquired a 20% stake in Sungri oil refinery in Rason. That was premature, says Naemi: HBOil has 20% of a state-dominated joint venture called Korean Oil Exploration Corp. International, and a formal commitment with Sungri has yet to be made. Another option is to invest in a refinery on the west coast of the DPRK.

“The easy option is Sungri oil refinery because it’s based on Russian technology and because of its location in terms of the dynamic state of affairs in Rason Special Economic Zone. We are conducting engineering assessment of the refinery to determine the various phases of upgrading and expanding–it’s a work in progress,” says Naemi.

Describing Rason officials as well educated and smart, he says they understand issues of foreign investment protection, taxation and the need to not only be fiscally transparent but also to offer attractive terms to investors.

“I know a number of Mongolian companies, all privately owned, that are at various stages of either investing in North Korea or finalizing their joint ventures so that they can invest. There is a robust relationship between Mongolia and North Korea,” says Naemi.

For anyone doing business, there will be surprises. Standing on the terrace of the new brewery, Novotny looks out at the recently planted lawn. The seeds have been planted in rows, five centimeters apart, all the way down to the sea. Come summer and the warmer weather, the grass should have taken. It stands to be a great spot for a bar.

“Yeah, if we’re still open,” says Novotny and laughs. He drops his voice and out of earshot of his minder adds: “Look at the grass, see how it grows in such straight lines. Things are different here.”

Read the full story here:
Things are Brewing in North Korea’s Rason Zone
Forbes
Kate Whitehead
2013-11-20

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DPRK-China trade up 4.4% (jan-Sept) despite sanctions

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s trade with China gained 4.4 percent from a year ago in the first nine months of this year, new data showed Tuesday, raising questions about the effectiveness of sanctions put in place to punish the North for conducting its third nuclear test earlier this year.

Trade volume rose to US$4.69 billion between January and September from $4.49 billion for the same period last year, according to the data released by the China Customs Information Center.

The data, seen by Yonhap News Agency, showed that North Korea’s exports to China jumped 9.4 percent to $2.09 billion during the nine-month period, while its imports from China fell 2.3 percent to $2.6 billion.

A South Korean diplomatic source in Beijing suspected that North Korea’s shortage of hard currency might be a factor for the decline in imports.

“North Korea’s lack of foreign currency may be partly attributable to the fall in imports of Chinese goods,” the source said on the condition of anonymity.

During the first nine months of this year, North Korea’s imports of Chinese crude oil, however, rose to 415,000 tons, compared with 402,000 tons for the same period last year.

China did not export crude oil to North Korea in June and July this year, but resumed crude exports in August, according to the source.

In August and September, China exported 165,000 tons of crude oil to North Korea, the source said.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea-China trade up 4.4 pct in Jan.-Sept. despite sanctions
Yonhap
2
013-11-5

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China acts to curb DPRK oil imports

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

According to the Asahi Shimbun:

China is holding petroleum that was heading to North Korea from Iran in an apparent attempt by Beijing to maintain its control over Pyongyang, sources said.

According to Chinese sources, the petroleum was part of North Korea’s contract to import about 500,000 tons of condensate, a light oil, from Iran. North Korea, seeking to diversify its energy sources, started discussions on the deal last year.

The agreement was reached with the cooperation of a major Chinese state-run petroleum company.

The condensate is believed to have been shipped from Iran over a number of occasions on tankers registered to a third nation. But Chinese authorities ordered the tankers to stop when they reached the Chinese coast in the Yellow Sea this spring.

The ships were then towed to ports in Dalian, Liaoning province, and Qingdao, Shandong province. Sources said the condensate remains in those ports, which have restricted access to outsiders.

China is believed to have asked North Korea to pay about $2 million (about 196 million yen) for storage expenses.

“Once China realized that North Korea was beginning to depend on Iran for petroleum, China began using various measures to remain engaged so it can maintain its influence over North Korea,” a diplomatic source knowledgeable about relations between China and North Korea said.

Under the North Korea-Iran contract, Pyongyang is to pay Tehran for the condensate, but the condensate itself must be first sent to a Chinese state-run petroleum company.

“Because North Korea does not have the most advanced refineries, it had to ask China to refine the condensate,” a source in the petroleum industry said.

It is unclear what legal basis China is using for holding up the shipments because condensate and other petroleum products needed for daily living are not banned under U.N. economic sanctions imposed against North Korea.

However, one source involved in the transaction said, “As part of the economic sanctions that were imposed against military actions taken by North Korea, inspections were carried out by Chinese authorities, which asked that the petroleum be kept at the port.”

Until now, China is said to have provided about 80 percent of the petroleum used in North Korea. The main means of transport were through a pipeline that runs along the Yalu River between the border of the two nations as well as by ship.

According to Chinese customs statistics, the export volume was about 520,000 tons a year.

“Not only has a ban on petroleum export shipments been imposed by China, but the total import volume through the pipeline has also been reduced to one-third the level of the same period of the previous year,” a source involved in trade between China and North Korea was told by a North Korean government source in September.

China remains North Korea’s biggest backer, even with the contract with Iran.

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China holding up shipment of Iranian petroleum to North Korea
Asahi Shimbun
Koichiro Ishida
2013-10-20

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DPRK’s Minister of Trade releases information on recent foreign economic cooperation at forum in China

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2013-9-12

After North Korea’s launch of a long-range rocket in December 2012 and third nuclear test in February 2013, China endorsed UN sanctions against North Korea. Consequently, North Korea appears to be increasing its economic cooperation with Mongolia and Russia.

On September 6, the 7th annual Northeast Asia joint high-level forum was held in Changchun (Jilin Province), China. Ku Bon Tae of the DPRK Ministry of Trade is reported to have been present and to have delivered a presentation on North Korea’s recent economic cooperation activities.

Ku stated, “Currently, cooperation between North Korea and Mongolia is making positive progress,” and “the international freight transport coordination issue and Mongolian corporate investments, telecommunications and other cooperation issues at the Rason Special Economic Zone are at the final stages of agreement.”

He added, “We hope more Northeast Asian nations will actively take part in the Rason Special Economic Zone.”

In May, a Mongolian oil companies HB Oil JSC acquired 20 percent stake in North Korea’s state-run Sungri oil refinery. In July, the two countries signed an agreement on information and communication cooperation and exchanges. In addition, Mongolian experts in the field of livestock are said to be involved in North Korea’s Sepho tableland (Gangwon Province) reclamation project, which seeks to create a large stockbreeding complex.

As for economic cooperation with Russia, the Khassan–Rajin railway — part of an international container rail transport line connecting Russia and North Korea and linking Northeast Asia to Europe — has its opening ceremony scheduled for this month after having received extensive reconstruction. Russia also has a long-term lease on Rajin Port’s pier No. 3. Russia has been renovating the pier, and renovations are expected to be completed by the end of this year.

North Korea and Russia plan to develop Khassan–Rajin rail line and Rajin Port in order to transport cargo from Asia to Europe: as containers arrive at Rajin Port, they are moved to the Khassan-Rajin railway and then transferred to the Trans-Siberian Railway (TSR), headed for Europe.

Ku further added, “After the projects are completely finished friendly cooperation between Russia and North Korea and international transport pathway will be opened connecting Asia to Europe through the development of economic and trade relations between the two countries.”

In Ku’s speech, the public economic cooperation with regards to China was covered briefly, and exclude the recent progress made. He commented only on the establishment of Joint Management Committees in Rason and Hwanggeumpyeong economic zones and that banks of the two countries are in the process of negotiating the usage of Chinese renminbi as the currency of trade.

Ku emphasized, “As with our past, our Republic hopes to promote independence, peace and friendship between Northeast Asian countries in the future, based on our foreign policy and will make every effort to further develop and expand this friendly cooperative relationship.”

The 9th China–Northeast Asia Expo opening ceremony was also held (in Changchun) on the same day as the forum. Political and business leaders from China, South and North Korea, Russia, Japan, and Mongolia were present at the event.

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DPRK – China trade falls in Q2 2013

Monday, August 12th, 2013

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s trade with China fell 6 percent on-year in the first six months of this year, apparently hit by Beijing’s tougher stance against Pyongyang’s nuclear program, a senior Seoul diplomat said Monday.

The North’s trade with China stood at US$2.95 billion in the January-June period, compared with $3.14 billion a year earlier, said the diplomat at the South Korean Embassy in Beijing.

Exports to China rose 6 percent to $1.36 billion, while imports declined 14 percent to $1.59 billion, the diplomat said on the condition of anonymity, citing official data.

“The drop in overall North Korea-China trade in the first six months of this year appears to be affected by tighter inspections by Chinese customs authorities,” the diplomat said.

North Korea’s imports of Chinese crude oil slipped 15 percent from a year ago to 250,000 tons during the six-month period, according to the data.

In particular, the North’s imports of food from China plunged 65 percent to 120,000 tons for the January-June period, the data showed.

Coal shipments from North Korea to China rose 18 percent to 8.33 million tons for the six-month period, despite falling coal prices, according to the data. Coal accounted for 54.8 percent of the North’s total exports to China during the period.

“With the Chinese economy expected to slow down in the second half of this year, China’s demand for North Korean coal is likely to decline,” the diplomat said.

China has become increasingly frustrated with North Korea, particularly after the North’s third nuclear test in February. Beijing voted in favor of sanctions by the U.N. Security Council to punish Pyongyang for conducting the nuclear test.

In May, the Bank of China closed accounts with North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank, which was accused by the U.S. of helping finance the North’s nuclear weapons program.

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N. Korea’s trade with China drops 6 pct in H1: diplomat
Yonahp
2013-8-12

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DPRK – China trade drops 2.3%

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

According to Yonhap:

Trade between North Korea and China contracted 2.3 percent on-year in the first five months of 2013 mainly due to Pyongyang importing less from its neighbor, a report showed Tuesday.

The report by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) showed two-way trade at US$2.45 billion in the January-May period, with North Korea’s exports to China growing 6.5 percent on-year to $1.12 billion. The North’s imports from China, however, dropped 8.5 percent to $1.33 billion.

The trade association said the North shipped $613.6 million worth of coal, making it the top export commodity for the communist country, followed by such raw materials as iron and lead ores.

In exchange, the North bought $265 million worth of crude oil, a decrease of 5 percent from January-May of 2012. The country imported $52 million in large cargo-hauling vehicles, as well as flour and soybean oil from its neighbor.

KITA did not elaborate on the reason for the decrease in overall trade volume and the drop in crude oil imports from China.

Related to economic developments in the North, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a report that food conditions in the isolationist country remain one of the most precarious in all of Asia.

In its 2012-2013 food security report, which inspected 22 countries in the region, the North came in at the bottom with Afghanistan and Yemen.

The findings, which are used as reference material for food aid provisions by Washington, claimed that while the North was able to produce 7.5 million tons of grain annually up until the early 1990s, this has since plunged to around 4.3 million tons in 2012.

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N. Korea-China trade drops 2.3 pct: report
Yonhap
2013-7-2

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