Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

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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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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North Korea at night (2014-1-30)

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

NASA has released another iconic photo of the Korean peninsula taken at night:

NASA-2014-1-30

Image date: 2014-1-30

Here is the source. Here is video.

Here is a NASA photo from 2012-9-24.

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DPRK coal exports to China up 15.1% in 2013

Friday, January 24th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s exports of anthracite coal to China grew 15.5 percent in 2013 from a year earlier, data showed Friday.

North Korea shipped a total of US$1.37 billion worth of anthracite to China last year, compared with $1.19 billion sold to the neighbor a year earlier, according to the data from the Korea International Trade Association.

North Korea exported only $162.6 million worth of the coal to China In 2007, but the figure has grown every year since then, according to the data.

The total anthracite exported to China last year was measured at 16.5 million tons, up 39.7 percent from what was exported in 2012, the data also showed, indicating that the North sold the coal to China at cheaper prices last year.

In December alone last year, the North shipped $118.06 million worth of anthracite, almost the same amount as November’s $121.45 million.

This means North Korea continued anthracite exports to China after executing leader Kim Jong-un’s once-powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek in early December for allegedly attempting to overthrow the regime and committing anti-state crimes, including selling North Korean natural resources abroad at excessively low prices.

North Korea’s anthracite exports are one of its major income sources and China is virtually the only destination for the shipments.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s coal exports to China up 15.1 pct in 2013
Yonhap
2014-1-24

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Economic gap between the two Koreas

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

According to Yonhap:

Trade and economic levels between South and North Korea remained quite wide last year, data showed Monday, pointing to prolonged lackluster business and economic conditions in the reclusive North.

According to the data by Statistics Korea, South Korea’s total trade volume stood at US$1.07 trillion as of 2012, which is 157 times larger than the North’s $6.8 billion. In particular, the South’s exports came to $547.9 billion, 188.9 times larger than those of the North.

The nominal gross national income (GNI) levels between the two Koreas also remained wide.

The GNI for the South was estimated at 1,279.5 trillion won ($1.21 trillion) last year, 38.2 times larger than the North, the data showed. On a per-capita basis, South Korea’s GNI was 18.7 times larger than that of the North.

South Korea also outperformed the North in infrastructure and other social overhead capital spending.

The South’s road network totaled 105,703 kilometers, which compared with the 26,114 km for the North, the data showed. The South had the power generating capacity of 81.8 million kilowatts a year, which is 11.3 times larger than the North.

The only category that the North outperformed the South was in coal production. It produced a total of 25.8 million tons of coal last year, about 10 times the amount of coal produced by the South, according to the data.

The two Koreas had a combined population of 74.4 million, with the South holding a population of about 50 million, the data showed.

The statistics agency has been providing such information on the North every year since 1995 as a way to provide a glimpse into the economic and industrial conditions of the reclusive country.

Read the full story here:
Trade, economic gaps between 2 Koreas remain wide: data
Yonhap
2013-12-23

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Recent developments in Rason

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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Why is the DPRK pursuing CDM carbon credits?

Saturday, November 9th, 2013

Benjamin Habib writes in the East Asia Forum:

North Korea is a curious case among Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is not an active member of any specific negotiating bloc and has been a sporadic attendee at UNFCCC Conference of Parties gatherings, where its delegates are generally silent participants. Why then does North Korea engage with the international climate change regime?

We do see a rhetorical commitment in reporting documentation, along with various capacity-building programs, which do have greenhouse gas mitigation as a spin-off effect. However, it is the capacity-building dimension that appears to be the primary motivation for North Korea’s UNFCCC engagement. We know that the DPRK has agricultural productivity problems independent of climate vulnerability in terms of soil infertility, land degradation and labour-intensive production in addition to its small arable land base.

North Korea’s reporting documents to the Rio Conventions (a regime made up of the UNFCCC, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification) strongly emphasise capacity-building to address these weaknesses. The documents refer to hillside land reclamation, seed propagation and selective breeding programs to produce crops with greater climate tolerance, as well as programs to improve the efficiency of pre- and post-harvest cultivation practices and soil fertility-building projects.

It is also evident that North Korea is using the UNFCCC as a vehicle to upgrade its energy sector. North Korea’s energy sector problems are well known, plagued by problems like liquid fuel shortages, bottlenecks in coal supply chains for electricity generation, and poor electricity generation and transmission infrastructure, all of which is a significant drag on the national economy.

The UNFCCC offers capacity-building opportunities for North Korea’s energy sector through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which is one of the key mechanisms for cooperative greenhouse gas abatement embedded within the Kyoto Protocol. The CDM was designed with the dual purpose of assisting developed states to comply with their emission reduction commitments, and assisting developing countries with sustainable development.

North Korea has six verified CDM projects which consist of developing hydropower installations in partnership with Topič Energo, a Czech company. There are further projects under consideration in the CDM verification process. Indeed, the CDM contains a number of compelling possibilities for North Korea, including opportunities for foreign direct investment and technology transfer to upgrade the North Korean energy sector.

Some suggest that North Korea is milking the CDM as a source of foreign currency revenue through the sale of carbon credits. CDM projects create certified emission reduction credits that developing country parties can sell in international carbon markets. Yet a quick appraisal of the numbers indicates why revenue potential is unlikely to be North Korea’s primary motive for CDM participation: North Korea’s CDM projects have generated just under 200,000 carbon credits, which are worth just over US$1 million at the July 2013 EU carbon market spot price of between US$5–6 per ton. This is clearly not a large revenue source, though there is potential for revenues to increase as North Korea’s CDM portfolio expands.

Previous posts on the DPRK’s foray into the UN carbon market can be found here.

Read the full article here:
North Korea’s surprising status in the international climate change regime
East Asia Forum
Benjamin Habib
2013-11-9

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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.

Read the full story here:
China holding up shipment of Iranian petroleum to North Korea
Asahi Shimbun
Koichiro Ishida
2013-10-20

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