Archive for the ‘Finance’ Category

2015 Kaesong wage fight (UPDATED)

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

In 2011, Kaesong workers officially received their 5th consecutive annual pay increase. In 2012, they “received” their 6th consecutive pay increase. In 2013 there was no pay increase because Pyongyang closed the complex down in a dispute with the South Koreans. In 2014, work resumed at the complex and Kaesong workers “received” a 5% pay increase, but Pyongyang wanted a 10% to make up for the 2013 year (in which they closed the complex). Now it looks like Pyongyang is raising tensions (unjustifiably in my opinion) to recover a “pay increase” they feel they are owed.

For those new to this topic, I should point out that we are not talking about wages paid to North Korean workers. We are talking about US dollar balances (cash) that are given directly by South Korean firms to the North Korean government. The North Korean government keeps all of the hard currency and pays its workers in local currency. That said, The North and South Koreans still officially refer to “wages” (even though they are nothing of the sort), so I will as well.

I am chronicling this developing story in periodic updates below.

____________________

 

UPDATE 9 (2015-4-1): S. Korea not budging on Kaesong wage row (Yonhap):

South Korea said Wednesday it will ask the country’s firms at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in writing not to succumb to North Korea’s pressure to raise wages for its workers.

The unification ministry said it will soon send a formal letter to 124 South Korean firms operating in the zone just north of the inter-Korean border.

The move comes as the companies, mostly small and medium-sized, will begin to pay March’s wages to around 53,000 North Korean employees on April 10.

In February, the North decided unilaterally to revise a set of labor rules that included the elevation of the minimum wage for its workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex from US$70.35 to $74 starting in March.

The South has rejected the North’s decision, saying the wage issue should be decided through bilateral discussions.

It has urged the South’s firms in Kaesong not to follow the North’s measure.

“We plan to send an official letter to them in order to again make clear the government’s stance on the matter,” Unification Ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol said.

He added there has been no progress yet in efforts to hold talks with North Korea to discuss the issue.

Here is coverage in the Hankyoreh.

UPDATE 8 (2015-3-18): South Korean business owners have crossed into the Kaesong complex to complain about Pyongyang’s unilateral wage increase. According to the Financial Times:

On Wednesday more than a dozen businessmen representing about 120 companies visited Kaesong, about 10km north of the border, to voice their concerns about the move, amid growing concerns about the future of the joint economic project

“The unilateral change of labour rules is a problem,” said Chung Ki-sup, head of the council of the South Korean businesses operating in Kaesong, ahead of the 14-member delegation’s arrival in the North. “But this can be easily resolved when dialogue resumes.”

Mr Chung said the North’s stance might in part be a reaction to Seoul’s refusal to ban North Korean defectors and rightwing civic groups from sending anti-North leaflets across the border.

Experts say the wage disputes are unlikely to lead to another closure of the industrial complex, but the problems have renewed scepticism over the merits of the project.

“The disputes are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon,” said Park Hyung-joong, researcher at Korea Institute for National Unification. “Pyongyang wants to use Kaesong as a political bargaining chip when inter-Korean relations are not good. So the complex will remain exposed to political problems, but closing it carries too big political risks for both sides.”

Here is coverage in the Daily Mail and Yonhap.

UPDATE 7 (2015-3-17): The DPRK has tried circumventing the South Korean government to reach out to the Kaesong firms themselves. According to Arirang News:

In an unprecedented move, North Korea asked the heads of South Korean companies operating at the inter-Korean industrial complex in Kaesong to gather for a meeting that was scheduled for earlier in the day.

No specifics about the meeting were announced and the South Korean government asked the company heads. not to respond to Pyongyang’s call.

Instead, the South Korean government held a meeting in Seoul this afternoon with most of the leaders of companies from the complex.

Seoul discussed possible countermeasures and urged the leaders not to abide by Pyongyang’s one-sided demands.

Watchers believe the meeting was Pyongyang’s way of pressuring the South Korean companies to go along with its unilateral decision to raise wages for its workers from a little over 70 U.S. dollars to 74 dollars a month and revise labor regulations.

UPDATE 6 (2015-3-12): The DPRK rejects South Korea’s call for talks on Kaesong wages. According to Yonhap:

North Korea claimed Thursday its decision to raise wages for its workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex is a legitimate measure under its sovereignty, dimming hopes of an early resolution to disputes between the two Koreas over the issue.

The North’s Central Special Development Guidance Bureau, which is in charge of operating the complex, made clear that it is not a matter to be decided through consultations with the South’s government.

Last month, Pyongyang notified Seoul of its unilateral decision to elevate the minimum wage from US$70.35 to $74 starting in March. It also said it would collect 15 percent of their basic wage plus overtime payments as “social security.” Currently, the South’s firms pay 15 percent of the basic wage alone.

The South strongly protested against the decision, suggesting that the two sides hold dialogue on March 13 to discuss the problem.

Officials here emphasized that the two Koreas have agreed to decide every issue related with the operation of the joint venture through mutual consultations.

The decision on the wage hike is a “normal and legitimate” exercise of the North’s legislative rights, the bureau’s spokesman told Pyongyang’s propaganda website, Uriminzokkiri.

It’s not a subject for bargaining with the South, he added.

It makes no sense, he added, for the North to hold talks with the South at a time when it is staging a war rehearsal with joint military drills with the United States on the peninsula.

He argued that wages for the North’s workers in Kaesong are still low for their heightened skills and productivity and in comparison with the wage level in special economic zones in other nations.

UPDATE 5 (2015-3-11): Throwing fuel on the fire of this mess, the North and South Koreans are required to resolve real estate rental rates this year. There will be no practical way to resolve this issue independently of the ongoing wage dispute. According to Yonhap:

When the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North’s border town of the same name started operations in 2004, Seoul agreed with Pyongyang to pay the rent for the North Korean land used by South Korean companies from 2015 after negotiations on the amount.

In November, the North’s Central Special Development Guidance Bureau in charge of the industrial complex notified its South Korean counterpart of its intention to start talks on the rent issue, according to the officials.

But the negotiations are widely expected to face a bumpy road, given a wide opinion gap shown in the countries’ previous exchanges on the issue.

In 2009, the North attempted to collect up to US$10 of rent per 3.3 square meters of land, but it faced strong opposition from South Korea, so the plan was dropped immediately.

Following the North’s notification in November, Seoul has decided not accept such a level of rent as put forth by the North in 2009, which could further mount the inter-Korean tension over the factory complex down the road, according to the officials.

The joint Kaesong factory park is already at the center of an inter-Korean feud after the North announced last month its unilateral decision to raise the minimum wage of North Korean workers in the park from US$70.35 to $74 starting with their March wages.

Seoul, however, rejected the wage increase decision and said it will punish any South Korean firms complying with the North Korean demand.

April 10 is feared to become a watershed in the inter-Korean tension over the Kaesong park as South Korean firms will start paying March wages that day.

South Korean officials have previously said that the North could take extreme measures, such as the withdrawal of its workers from the complex in a bid to increase pressure on the issue.

UPDATE 4 (2015-3-9): South Korea not happy with the DPRK’s moves on Kaesong. According to Yonhap:

South Korea’s unification ministry issued a strongly-worded statement Monday against North Korea’s attitude on their joint venture in Kaesong, calling again for immediate dialogue to resolve pending problems.

It’s “deeply regrettable” that the North is not responding to Seoul’s offer of talks to discuss Pyongyang’s unilateral decision to raise wages for its workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, said the ministry.

“It’s questionable whether (the North) has the will for the development of the complex as the two sides agreed,” its spokesman Lim Byeong-choel said, reading out the statement at a press briefing.

The North is violating an inter-Korean agreement and rules to decide all issues related to the operation of the Kaesong zone, including working conditions, added Lim.

Last month, the communist nation announced a 5.18-percent hike in the minimum wage for its workers in the zone to US$74 a month starting in March.

“The government can never accept such a unilateral measure by North Korea,” the official said. “The government will take every necessary step for the development of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the protection of (the South’s) firms there.”

He urged Pyongyang to hold talks with the South on Friday as proposed.

Launched in 2004 in the North’s border town, the zone is home to about 120 South Korean firms, mostly small and medium-sized, which employ more than 53,000 North Korean workers.

The South’s government has advised the companies not to comply with the North’s decision on the wage level.

UPDATE 3 (2015-3-4): South Korean government holding meeting with stakeholders to determine response to DPRK. According to Yonhap:

The South Korean government said Wednesday it will hold a round-table meeting this week with the heads of local firms operating in the Kaesong Industrial Complex to discuss how to handle North Korea’s unilateral decision to raise the wages of its workers there.

The unification ministry is scheduled to hold the meeting with the council of relevant companies at its headquarters in Seoul at 5 p.m. on Thursday, said ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol. The ministry is in charge of inter-Korean relations.

“We plan to review measures regarding the recent situation,” he said at a press briefing. “Along with related government officials, Chung Ki-sup, head of the council, and about 10 other representatives will attend (the meeting).”

Another ministry official also said the meeting is intended “to share the government’s position on the matter and listen to the opinion of the firms.”

Last week, the North announced it would raise the minimum wage for its workers in the zone by 5.18 percent to US$74 a month starting in March.

South Korea said it cannot accept a decision made without mutual consultation.

The ministry spokesman said the North has not responded yet to the South’s offer of talks on the Kaesong complex on March 13.

“The government will continue to urge North Korea to hold consultations between the authorities of the two sides, which are essential for the development of the Kaesong Industrial Complex,” Lim said.

The North is apparently aware that both sides have already agreed to resolve every problem related to the operation of the joint venture, he added.

UPDATE 2 (2015-2-26): According to Yonhap:

North Korea has notified South Korea of its unilateral decision to raise the minimum wage for its workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex by 5.18 percent, the unification ministry said Thursday.

In a fax message sent Tuesday, the North said it would increase the minimum wage from $70.35 to $74 starting on March 1, a ministry official told reporters.

In addition, the North announced that it would collect 15 percent of their basic wage plus overtime payments as “social security,” he said. Currently, the South’s firms pay 15 percent of the basic wage alone.

The North Korean workers’ average wage amounted to $141.4 per month in 2014, according to the ministry’s data.

Under Pyongyang’s plan, South Korean firms will have to pay $164 on average for a North Korean worker a month, up 5.53 percent from the current $155, said the official.

He stressed that the South’s government can’t accept the North’s move.

“The two sides are supposed to set wages for workers at the complex and other working conditions through mutual consultations,” he said. “The government will advise our firms to pay the current level of wages until the issue is settled through consultations between the related authorities of the two sides.”

Those companies are scheduled to pay March wages for the North’s workers between April 10-20.

Earlier Thursday, the South attempted to deliver a protest letter, but the North refused to receive it, said the official.

“It’s very regrettable that the North shows such an attitude,” he said.

About 120 South Korean garment and other labor-intensive plants employ more than 53,000 North Koreans at the complex, which was created in 2004.

UPDATE 1 (2014-12-09): North Korea amends Kaesong Industrial Complex labor regulations, lifts wage increase limit. According to the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

According to a December 5th report of North Korea’s propaganda media Uriminzokkiri, the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly reached a decision on November 20 to revise the Act on the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC).

It reported that ten provisions in the Kaesong worker regulations were revised including the 5 percent ceiling on annual wage increase to the minimum wage.

North Korea’s General Bureau for Central Guidance on the Development of the Special Zone delivered the notice in writing to the Kaesong Industrial Complex Management Committee on December 8, stipulating that 13 provisions were revised. Out of the 49 total provisions, the 13 provisions that were modified pertain to the function of the KIC Management Committee and the wage system.

According to the decision, North Korea elucidated the labor and wage regulations will be unilaterally directed by the General Bureau, dismissing the authority of the KIC Management Committee. Furthermore, the clause that depicts the minimum wage of USD 50.00 and limit of 5 percent wage increase were deleted. Instead, the revised provisions prescribe that the General Bureau will make the decision every year.

In addition, overtime pay will be increased from the current 50 percent to between 50 to 100 percent. Furthermore, workers who have worked for more than a year will be eligible for severance pay, regardless of the condition of their leave. The previous clause stated severance pay was to be paid only when the termination incurred from “circumstance of the company”; but this condition has been deleted from the revised clause, and pay must now be given even for voluntary leave. Also removed was the provision that states the wage should be paid directly to the employee in cash.

Meanwhile, the South Korean government made a statement disproving the recent modifications to the KIC regulations. The South Korean government is refuting North Korea’s decision based on the fact that it was a unilateral decision by the North without consulting the joint committees of the KIC. The South is affirming its position to strongly counter against the North’s one-sided decision.

Revision of the labor regulations of the KIC is regarded as a violation to the general agreement that undermines the stability and the credibility of the KIC regulations. Such labor regulations clearly violate the inter-Korean agreements on wage system and various labor and tax systems newly reached by the various institutions in the North-South Joint Committee of the KIC after the KIC was restarted last year.

The current minimum wage of a KIC worker is USD 70.30, which reaches up to an average of USD 150.00 per month after various incentives are included. Each company is paying a total of USD 210.00 per employee where 15 percent of the minimum wage is allocated to social insurance, transportation, and snack costs.

North Korea has persistently demanded for a wage increase. North Korean employees dispatched to China’s Dandong City are paid an average of USD 300.00 per month. Thus, the recent move by North Korea can be seen as a move to raise the minimum wage at the KIC to a similar level. In addition, this move can be interpreted as North Korea’s intention to maximize economic gain by taking unilateral action toward tenant companies in the KIC.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-12-9): In 2011, Kaesong workers received their 5th consecutive annual “pay increase”. In 2012, they received their 6th consecutive pay increase. In 2013 there was no pay increase because Pyongygang closed the complex down in a dispute with the south Koreans. In 2014, Kaesong workers received a 5% pay increase, but Pyongyang wanted a 10% to make up for the 2013 year (in which they closed the complex!). Now it looks like Pyongyang is signaling that it intends to unilaterally raise wages.

According to Yonhap:

South Korea is scrutinizing North Korea’s unilateral decision to amend a number of wage-related clauses at the jointly operated Kaesong Industrial Complex, an official said Tuesday.

As soon as a review of the North’s demands are finished, the government will take appropriate steps, the unification ministry official told reporters.

“We are in the process of reviewing and analyzing the contents revised by the North,” he said on background.

The South and the North have an agreement over 49 items in place on the working conditions for around 53,000 North Korean workers in the zone.

Without prior consultations with the South, the North announced its decision to revise 13 of them, which include scrapping a 5-percent cap on the annual minimum wage increase rates, easing qualifications for severance pay and strengthening the authority of the North’s agency in charge of running the complex, according to the official.

North Korean workers’ wages have jumped 5 percent every year since 2007. North Korean workers are currently paid US$70.35 each month. If various allowances and incentives are counted, wages reach $130, reportedly about 50 percent higher than the average income of workers in North Korea.

Read the full story here:
S. Korea reviewing NK move over Kaesong workers’ wages
Yonhap
2014-12-9

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DPRK and FATF (UPDATED)

Monday, March 16th, 2015

UPDATE 6 (2015-3-16): Following the FATFs statement regarding the DPRK on February 27, the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a new advisory.

Read the full advisory here (PDF)

Here is coverage in Yonhap.

UPDATE 5 (2015-2-17): The FATF has issued another statement on North Korea:

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is the global standard setting body for anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT). In order to protect the international financial system from money laundering and financing of terrorism (ML/FT) risks and to encourage greater compliance with the AML/CFT standards, the FATF identified jurisdictions that have strategic deficiencies and works with them to address those deficiencies that pose a risk to the international financial system.

Jurisdictions subject to a FATF call on its members and other jurisdictions to apply counter-measures to protect the international financial system from the on-going and substantial money laundering and terrorist financing (ML/FT) risks emanating from the jurisdictions.

Iran
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Jurisdictions with strategic AML/CFT deficiencies that have not made sufficient progress in addressing the deficiencies or have not committed to an action plan developed with the FATF to address the deficiencies. The FATF calls on its members to consider the risks arising from the deficiencies associated with each jurisdiction, as described below.

Algeria
Ecuador
Myanmar

———–
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Since October 2014, the DPRK sent a letter to the FATF indicating its commitment to implementing the action plan developed with the FATF.

However, the FATF remains concerned by the DPRK’s failure to address the significant deficiencies in its anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime and the serious threat this poses to the integrity of the international financial system. The FATF urges the DPRK to immediately and meaningfully address its AML/CFT deficiencies.

The FATF reaffirms its 25 February 2011 call on its members, and urges all jurisdictions, to advise their financial institutions to give special attention to business relationships and transactions with the DPRK, including DPRK companies and financial institutions. In addition to enhanced scrutiny, the FATF further calls on its members, and urges all jurisdictions, to apply effective counter-measures to protect their financial sectors from ML/FT risks emanating from the DPRK. Jurisdictions should also protect against correspondent relationships being used to bypass or evade counter-measures and risk mitigation practices, and take into account ML/FT risks when considering requests by DPRK financial institutions to open branches and subsidiaries in their jurisdiction.

UPDATE 4 (2015-2-4): NK News picked up the Choson Sinbo piece and offered these comments:

But other regime watchers suggested that there are at least certain segments of the North Korean elite who do indeed want money laundering combated.

“There’s a cohort of DPRK businessmen who want the country to take more active steps in dealing with financial improprieties because they are losing money or opportunities,” said Michael Madden of North Korea Leadership Watch. “The DPRK leadership, particularly Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong, is thinking more long-term on this.”

And Christopher Green of the Daily NK suggested that this was an effort by the North Korean government to not only avoid sanctions, but assert its control over the domestic financial industry by cracking down on money launderers.

“The state wants to bring into its remit all those rogue financial elements that occasionally tend to fall outside the remit of the ruling coalition,” he said. “The state is in a constant battle to stay as top dog in the financial sector in a country where so much is illegal for historical and political reasons – and illegality is always exploited eventually.”

And Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group suggested that the North may have its eye on its northern neighbor with this move.

“I think it will be helpful – from the DPRK perspective – if Pyongyang ever needs to plead their case with Beijing to avoid financial sanctions that include Chinese banks since they are critical for the DPRK’s international financial linkages,” Pinkston said.

Kim Chon Gyun told the Choson Sinbo that the nation’s penal code has already been revised to reflect international standards when punishing money laundering.

UPDATE 3 (2015-2-3): Yonhap reports on the recent Chosun Sinbo article:

North Korea has created a national committee on efforts to fight money laundering and terrorist financing, a senior Pyongyang official confirmed Tuesday.

The communist nation’s move came after it joined the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), the Asia-Pacific arm of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), last year.

“The National Coordinating Committee is an organ to guide projects to prevent money laundering and financing of terrorism,” Kim Chon-gyun, head of North Korea’s central bank said in an interview with the Chosun Sinbo. The newspaper is published by the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, or Chongryon.

The panel, chaired by a deputy premier of the Cabinet, involves officials from the central bank, the foreign ministry, the finance ministry, and law-enforcement authorities, he added.

The North has already revised its penal code to take punitive measures against related violations in accordance with international norms, said Kim.

In January, Pyongyang said that it sent a letter to the FATF, based in Paris, pledging the sincere implementation of an action plan to meet global anti-money laundering standards.

UPDATE 2 (2015-2-3): The Chosun Sinbo has posted an article on anti-money laundering measures in the DPRK. Here is a rough translation:

[Interview] Kim Chon-kyun, the President of the Central Bank of the DPRK, Cooperation with International Organizations for Prevention from Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing.

“Establishment of the National System for Preventing from Illegal Acts”

By Kim Ji-young, reporter from Pyongyang

Kim Chon-kyun, the President of the Central Bank of the DPRK presented, at the interview with the Choson Sinbo, the opposite stance of North Korean government against money laundering and terrorist financing as follows.

“What cannot be allowed according to institutional characteristics”

– A letter from the president of the Central Bank of the DPRK that pledged to implement plans for action for prevention from money laundering and terrorist financing was submitted to Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on Jan 1st. How has the negotiation between North Korea and FATF proceeded?

The implementing recommendations of the plans for action we pledged this time were consented at the negotiation between North Korea and Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering in Cambodia on September 2014.

When looking into the recommendations, it included maintaining cooperative relations such as sharing data and proceeding cooperation with organizations, joining as a member state, devising a means to sanction and to punish on money laundering and terrorist financing, reinforcing the confirmation procedure of traders, establishing financing watching and information business system including reporting surreptitious trade, joining in international agreement, assessing loca, etc. These measurements are, in a word, that we should establish national system to punish severely illegal acts like internal/external money laundering and terrorist financing.

North Korea institutionally does not allow those illegal acts.

Long before such “international standard” appeared, North Korea already set legal, organizational measurement adequate for our society to prevent from money laundering –like acts. This is specifically described on our laws and those regulations have renewed according to the need for development in reality.

It is interesting that the head of the central bank is the point man for this operation because the DPRK’s central bank does not have the authority to hold foreign currency accounts–only accounts denominated in DPRK won. It seems to me that international money laundering should also be of concert to the Foreign Trade Bank, a sanctioned entity that is responsible for managing hard currency deposits in the DPRK.

UPDATE 1 (2015-1-24): According to the Pyongyang Times:

DPRK commits itself to anti-money laundering action plan

The Governor of the DPRK Central Bank on January 15 sent a letter to the Financial Action Task Force on Anti-Money Laundering, assuring it that the country would implement the Action Plan of International Standard for Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism, a spokesman for the DPRK National Coordinating Committee on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism told KCNA on January 16.

He described this as a manifestation of the DPRK government’s political will based on its consistent stand to step up international cooperation in this field.

Recommendations of the action plan are legislative and organizational measures to criminalize and punish money laundering and financing of terrorism, and almost all of them have long been implemented in the DPRK to suit its actual conditions, according to the spokesman.

The DPRK will sincerely implement the action plan as it has pledged itself for the promotion of mutual understanding with member nations in the face of the obstructive moves of the US and some other countries that are reluctant to cooperate with the international organization, he stated.

He requested the organization to positively respond to the DPRK’s cooperative efforts as it assured in negotiations with the country.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-10-24): FATF issues a public statement from Paris that includes the following:

Jurisdictions subject to a FATF call on its members and other jurisdictions to apply counter-measures to protect the international financial system from the on-going and substantial money laundering and terrorist financing (ML/FT) risks emanating from the jurisdictions.

Iran
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Since June 2014, the DPRK has further engaged directly with the FATF and APG to discuss its AML/CFT deficiencies. The FATF urges the DPRK to continue its cooperation with the FATF and to provide a high-level political commitment to the action plan developed with the FATF.

The FATF remains concerned by the DPRK’s failure to address the significant deficiencies in its anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime and the serious threat this poses to the integrity of the international financial system. The FATF urges the DPRK to immediately and meaningfully address its AML/CFT deficiencies.

The FATF reaffirms its 25 February 2011 call on its members and urges all jurisdictions to advise their financial institutions to give special attention to business relationships and transactions with the DPRK, including DPRK companies and financial institutions. In addition to enhanced scrutiny, the FATF further calls on its members and urges all jurisdictions to apply effective counter-measures to protect their financial sectors from money laundering and financing of terrorism (ML/FT) risks emanating from the DPRK. Jurisdictions should also protect against correspondent relationships being used to bypass or evade counter-measures and risk mitigation practices, and take into account ML/FT risks when considering requests by DPRK financial institutions to open branches and subsidiaries in their jurisdiction.

Here is the web page for FATF. You can learn more about FATF here.

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DPRK interest in electronic payments

Monday, December 15th, 2014

According to MK Business News:

In particular, the North is reported to show much interest in electronic payment systems appearing in the global market. It is well known that Kim Jong-un in his early 30s, who directly experienced the information and communications revolution, has put a lot of efforts into technology development in the field of information and communications technology

“North Korea is keenly interested in electronic payment systems such as PayPal,” said Park Chan-mo (79), an honorary president, who teaches students in Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, in an interview with the Maeil Business Newspaper. He elaborated on the changing North Korean society during the three year regime of Kim Jong-un.

Of course the DPRK has already started experimenting with electronic payments in the form of the Narae  and Koryo Bank debit cards. Of course, these technologies are restricted to the use of hard currency, and we are unsure of the scale of their by ordinary North Koreans (as opposed to foreigners). There was one story on this topic here.  I have also see North Korean television footage advertising a prepay card used by some of the restaurants on Changwang Street just north of the Koryo Hotel.

You can read the full story here:
Pyongyang showing keen interest in electronic payment
MK Business News
Kim Sung-hoon
2014-12-15

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New central bank building appears completed (on the outside)

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Ray Cunningham took this picture of the DPRK’s new Central Bank headquarters in September 2014:

Central-bank-Cunningham-2014-9-13

The outside of the building appears nearly completed. Still no mention in the DPRK’s official media.

I wrote an article about the project for NK News back in 2013.

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DPRK still owes Sweden for old Volvos

Friday, August 29th, 2014

According to Newsweek:

North Korea’s foremost trade debt to the western world is bizarre even by North Korean standards. Each time the administration misses a payment, as it has done every year for the past 40 years, we are reminded of one of the most unexpected political twists of the last century: Kim Il-sung scamming Sweden out of 1,000 Volvo 144 sedans.

Each fiscal year, the Swedish Export Credits Guarantee Board calculates interest on a single debt that accounts for more than half of all its political claims. It’s been a tradition since 1974, when the government agency was advised to insure Volvo, Atlas Copco, Kockum, and other Swedish companies’ exports to an entirely new buyer: Supreme Leader Kim Il-sung. For nearly half a century, the Board has been in charge of the Sisyphean task of coaxing €300m from a nation that thinks international law is an elaborate gambit designed by capitalist pig-dogs.

“We semi-annually advise when payments fall due,” Stefan Karlsson, the board’s head of risk advisory, tells Newsweek. “However, as is well known, North Korea does not fulfil their part of the agreement.” Sweden being Sweden and North Korea being North Korea, that’s about as hardball as it gets.

Small wonder that a regime so impressed with itself soon developed expensive taste. “Inside the 144 GL you sit on leather,” reads the unambiguous 1970s marketing material that Volvo likely sent its North Korean buyers. Together with contemporary industry giants Atlas Copco and Kockums, Volvo was one of the first European companies to foray into the North Korean market, and promptly received an order for 1,000 vehicles, the first of which were delivered in 1974. But less than a year later, the venture blew up at a Swedish-Korean industrial trade fair in Pyongyang, where it suddenly became clear that the Kim regime wasn’t actually paying for the goods it was importing – not even the machines it ordered for the expo. The bills were simply piling up.

Exporters realised that the venture had gone horribly wrong. But for the past few years, Sweden had had North Korea fever, with countless hours and funds spent on diplomatic and industrial ties. Acquiescing in a massive failure was not easy. “Many had been blinded by North Korea’s impressive economic growth – people had raced to get there first,” Lamm Nordenskiöld says. “Sweden was supposed to be the first country to unlock this new market.”

While many companies pressed on with payment negotiations in an effort to save face, Swedish media was having a blast unraveling one of the most bizarre trade debacles in recent memory. In an indignant spread featuring a photo of the supreme leader with the caption “Kim Il-sung – Broke Communist,” Åge Ramsby of the newspaper Expressen in 1976 went all out listing reports of other debts the Kim regime shirked, including a cool €5m to Swiss Rolex, from whom it had allegedly ordered 2,000 wristwatches with the engraving “donated by Kim Il-sung”.

“North Korea had expected to pay their foreign debts with deliveries of copper and zinc,” the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter wrote in 1976, referring to the reserves the imported mining equipment was supposed to unlock. “But the North Korean economists had been too optimistic in their calculations, and the international market price for these ores had also dropped ­catastrophically.”

Fair enough – but two things suggest that botched calculations and sheer lack of funds only partially explain North Korea’s failure to pay up. First, it is widely accepted among biographers and manufacturers that the Kim regime conducted extensive industrial espionage during the trade fair. Colluding to cop specs from technology you’re paying for would be weird even by Kim’s standards.

More importantly, Erik Cornell, a diplomat and former Swedish ambassador to North Korea, recalls in his book North Korea: Emissary to Paradise a widespread local belief that the Western world had finally “seen the light” in the global struggle against the American imperialist – that Europe had recognised its duty to assist the brave People’s Republic, and that quibbles regarding who owed whom money would soon dissolve in grand efforts to crush capitalism as a whole.

Adjusted for interest and inflation, the debt to the Swedish state now exceeds three billion Swedish kronor, or €300m. It is an astronomical claim, particularly on capital that has depreciated to a fraction of its original value.

If Kim Jong-un and his officers rounded up all 1,000 vehicles and sold each of them at the current book value of about €2,000, they would raise 0.6% of the debt.

Read the full story here:
North Korea Owes Sweden €300m for 1,000 Volvos It Stole 40 Years Ago – And Is Still Using
Newsweek
John Ericson
2014-8-29

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North Korea joins OECD anti-money laundering group

Saturday, July 19th, 2014

According to the JoongAng Daily:

North Korea has joined the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), whose purpose is to prevent funding of terrorism and development of nuclear weapons.

Members of the APG unanimously decided to accept North Korea and Tuvalu as observers during its general meeting held in Macau yesterday.

APG is the Asia Pacific unit of the Financial Action Task Force under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has 41 member countries including the U.S., South Korea, China and Japan and observers include countries such as Germany, France and the U.K., as well as 27 international organizations such as the Asia Development Bank and World Bank.

Since North Korea has been accepted as an observer, it has to follow several rules including the prevention of money laundering, funding of terrorist organizations or actions, sharing its knowledge and experience and following global regulations and laws.

The APG will decide later whether to elevate North Korea from observer status to a member country once it evaluates Pyongyang based on its annual reports to the organization and visits by the representatives of the group over the next three years.

South Korea and many other members are trying to figure out the motive behind the unexpected move by Pyongyang, because North Korea was previously opposed to joining the APG.

“[North Korea’s motive] is a mystery to us,” said a high ranking government official, who requested anonymity. “We suspect that North Korea, while looking for ways to ease the international financial restrictions imposed on them, decided to show their efforts in improving their global image [by joining the APG].

“But since the lists that they need to follow are long, we will probably have wait and see how sincere and determined they are with their decision.”

In other words, it could be a facade as a way for North Korea to ease the sanctions imposed on it, since the possibility that Pyongyang will give up its nuclear ambitions is low.

The action is particularly suspicious because up until last year’s APG meeting held in Shanghai, North Korea refused to join the organization because of the rule requiring members and observers to follow global standards. North Korea at the time argued that it would join the APG only after the agreement to follow UN resolutions was taken out.

The resolutions include prevention of money laundering, nuclear terrorism and development of nuclear weapons, which is the opposite of the North Korean government’s goal of securing both economic growth and nuclear weapons.

But now, North Korea has agreed to follow all regulations presented by APG.

The tide seemed to have turned as financial sanctions imposed by the international community and led by the U.S. have intensified.

Pyongyang suffered heavily last year after the U.S. and China closed the accounts of the Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea, which was known as the money laundering window for Pyongyang. The money laundered through the trade bank is suspected of being used in funding the regime’s control over the country.

In May, the state-run Bank of China said it had notified the Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea that it was closing all of its accounts and suspending all financial transactions. It did not specify the number of accounts in the bank.

The move came as a shock considering China and North Korea’s strong ties. China was previously the lifeline of North Korea, whose economy has been heavily dependent on its close ally.

Last year wasn’t the first time that North Korea’s accounts have been shut down. In 2005, the U.S. froze North Korea’s accounts at Macau’s Banco Delta Asia, which was a heavy blow to Pyongyang’s ability to secure foreign capital.

The recent change of heart seems to have been triggered by a report by the U.S. State Department in May designating North Korea as a country that is non-cooperative against terror, citing its decision not to join either the FATF or APG.

Although suspicious, the South Korean government isn’t disapproving of the move by the North, as there are positive aspects such as better transparency of Pyongyang’s finances if it conforms to the APG’s regulations.

And if Pyongyang doesn’t follow the rules and loses its license as an observer, the sanctions against North Korea will further tighten.

“North Korean representatives, after their acceptance was approved [in Macau], stressed that they will work on following the APG’s international standards and our [South Korean] government has emphasized the importance of following the resolutions set by the United Nations Security Council,” said a government official.

Read the full story here:
North Korea joins OECD anti-money laundering group
JoongAng Daily
Jung Won-yeop and Park Jin-seok
2014-7-19

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Mobilization of idle funds emphasized for fiscal expansion

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2014-6-18

With the international sanctions against the DPRK and the country’s continual isolation, North Korean authorities are stressing the need to mobilize the “cash in the closet” being kept by more and more North Korean people and institutions.

According to an article published in the Kim Il Sung University Gazette (Vol. 1, 2014, January 20), “The Basic Direction of Financial Management and Measures to Resolve Funding Problems Based on Kimilsung-Kimjongilism,” one solution to finance the enormous defense and economic construction costs is to “mobilize idle funds.”

The article states the following: “Some of the funds that are being circulated in the market have strayed away from the normal production process and distribution passage and remain harbored in the hands of organizations, enterprises, and people. . . . Mobilization of idle funds shall meet the funding needs of the state and serve as a source of supplementary income to increase state revenue.”

The article adds that “The state should secure idle funds of institutions and enterprises through banks and mobilize idle cash kept by the people through savings and insurance,” and furthermore states that “Banks should concentrate to have control over idle funds.”

According to the article, “Dependence on foreign aid to resolve funding problems will lead to continuous financial subjugation.” Mobilization of idle funds is seen as a necessary policy to realize the national goal of “autonomous economy,” which takes precedence over attracting foreign investment.

Since the early 2000s, North Korea has emphasized the need to mobilize institutions’ and persons’ idle funds. But the North Korean people remain reluctant to save money in banks for the fear of revealing their income to authorities and anxiety over the possibility of losing their savings.

The recent increase in North Korean academia’s emphasis on the “fiscal expansion through the mobilization of idle funds” began from late last year, but it also appears to serve the purpose of attracting capital to fund economic development zone projects, which is currently suffering from fund shortages.

North Korea continues to seek opportunities to expand trade and exchanges with Russia and China but is also turning an eye toward the domestic market to fully maximize its objective of fiscal expansion.

In addition, the issue of introducing commercial banks (as a means to effectively mobilize idle funds of the private sector) is being raised again — a policy that remained inactive for a decade due to insignificant results.

North Korea instituted the Commercial Banking Act in 2006, but the actual operation of the bank has yet to be confirmed.  

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New KNIC web page

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

The Korea National Insurance Corporation (KNIC) has a new web page that is internet accessible. Martyn Williams was the first to notice it. Although the web page offers information in English and Korean, I have only examined the English portal and I am unaware if there are significant differences between the two.

According to the web page:

KNIC, as a sole insurer of the DPR Korea has over 10 provincial insurance branches and over 200 insurance offices at municipal (district) and county levels under its umbrella nationwide and representative offices overseas.

The English web page provides basic financial and corporate information from 2008-2012. You can check out financial highlights, underwriting performance, and the consolidated balance sheet. It is unclear why 2013 and Q1 2014 data is not presented, but it is not like the shareholders or regulators are going to be up in arms about it.

On the corporate side we have a letter from the chairman of the executive management committee (since there are no shareholders he cannot be chairman of the board of directors)–again seeming to date from late 2012 or early 2013. We also see a list of the members of the executive management committee and an organization chart. The organization chart shows a list of internal divisions but does not explain how KNIC is linked to the cabinet.

KNIC posted a table of financial data (all numbers are in millions of KPW and cannot be verified):

KNIC-table

The chart shows gross written premiums (총접수보험료) experienced an average growth of 16.6% (from 41,939m KPW to 48,905m KPW) between 2008 and 2012. Investment revenue (투자수입) also increased 87% (from 1,597m KPW to 2,996w KPW). Profits (순소득), however, fell 31% on average from 8,041m KPW in 2008 to 5,544m KPW in 2012. So over time, the firm has experienced increasing costs. I am not sure what these costs are, but if you love forensic accounting, please go through the financial reports and let me know.

The DPRK won experienced a significant loss in value compared to the US$ on the black market in 2012, falling from 4,400 to 9,100 per 1$. Using an annual average rate of 6,750 KPW to the US$, profits totaled just $821,333. Using the black market rate of 9,100, profits total $609,203. Using the official rate of 100KPW to the US$, profits grow to $55.44 million. Using the official Euro rate of 130KPW, profits total E42.64 million.

It is unclear what exactly “Pre-state payment result” (국가납부전 결과) is, but I believe it is the equivalent of “Earnings Before Taxes (EBT)” under Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Since the DPRK has officially abolished taxes, direct cash transfers to the state must take another name, so it appears to simply be “State Payment”, but it is definitely not “tax”.

“Profit for the year” listed for each year is .675 of the “Pre-state payment result” which tells us the unofficial tax rate on the firm is a flat 32.5% (1-.675) on net earnings.

It is unclear what happens with profits in these firms. In privately owned firms in capitalist countries, profits are generally reinvested in the business or distributed as dividends to shareholders, partners, or proprietors.

Moving on to the corporate side, the web site lists the following major operational departments:

1. Property Insurance Department is in charge of non-life insurance classes, such as property, crop, livestock, engineering and motor applied from institutions, enterprises, cooperatives and individual citizens.

2. Marine Insurance Department handles such lines as marine hull, cargo and liability, aviation hull and liability applied from institutions, enterprises and cooperatives.

3. Life Insurance Department provides life and personal accident coverage applied from institutions, enterprises, cooperatives and individual citizens.

4. Economic Cooperation Insurance Department offers different classes of insurance to newly developed economic zones and foreign invested enterprises (foreigners, joint ventures, representative offices, correspondent branch offices, embassies and international organizations) including Rason Economic and Trade Zone and Hwanggumphyong and Wihua Islet Economic Zone.

5. Reinsurance Department organizes reinsurance protection for primary insurance accounts written by KNIC. This department has a bad reputation in the west.

6. Investment Department conducts investment activities into financial securities and mining, and manages non-insurance enterprises like a shipping company.

7. Additional divisions: Market Research, Insurance Cooperation, Financial Supervision, Finance & Accounting, Administration and Protocol, all of which are engaged in their respective functions.

 

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Austria claims it is owed $200m by DPRK

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

According to the Korea Times:

North Korea currently is $200 million (2.5 billion won) in debt to Austria, Voice of America (VOA) reported Wednesday.

Austria’s annual financial report indicates unpaid debt from foreign countries had reached approximately $1.26 billion (1.2 trillion won). Among them, North Korea has not paid anything back for 20 years, said Die Presse, an Austrian daily.

After a debt settlement between two countries in 1987, in which Austria received $7.6 million from the North, all payments stopped in 1992, the VOA said.

Die Presse added it is uncertain if the rest will be redeemed after inactive efforts for 20 years. It also explained the North took out loans from 30 western European countries in the late 1960s and inefficient management resulted in the indebted situation.

A source familiar with the issue speculated North Korea owes $18 billion (18.4 trillion won) in external debt.

Russia waived 90 percent of a $10.1 billion debt owed by the North, while the rest could be repaid over 20 years and be reinvested in North Korea.

Read the full story here:
NK owes Austria $200 million
Korea Times
2014-5-28

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North East Asia Bank

Friday, May 16th, 2014

The North East Asia Bank has received a new headquarters building in downtown Pyongyang, next to the Changgwang Hotel:

NorthEastAsiaBank-2013-12-1

 Pictured Above (Google Earth, 2013-12-1): Pyongyang’s North East Asia Bank

The Ministry of Unification offers some details on the bank. I translated and altered their information to provide this information:

The ING-East Asia Bank was founded as a joint venture in December 1995 by Korean International Insurance Company(조선국제보험회사) [A subsidiary of the Korea National Insurance Corporation (조선민족보험총회사)] and ING of the Netherlands. The bank was established to to facilitate various financial transactions for foreign investors in the Rason SEZ. Disappointed in the North’s underdeveloped financial system, ING stepped out in 1999.  Korean International Insurance Company acquired  ING’s share and changed the Bank’s name to the North East Asia Bank (동북아시아은행).

According to Kim Kwang-jin, “Change in Foreign Currency System in North Korea and it’s Increasing Dependency on Hard Currency” (2008, p. 27):

 In June 11, 2000, Kim Jong il has personally gave his command to give the [North East Asia] Bank the power to manage funds of the Organization and Guidance Department’s administrative organs. 

The bank has not been featured in the North Korean media.

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