Archive for the ‘Fiscal & monetary policy’ Category

Golden Triangle Bank pre-pay cards

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

Aram Pan visited the new Golden Triangle Bank building (it has recently moved offices) in Rason and took some interesting pictures of the interior.

DPRK-360-golden-triangle-1 DPRK-360-golden-triangle-2

DPRK-360-golden-triangle-3 DPRK-360-golden-triangle-4

However, my favorite is probably the giant pile of new US $100 notes:

GTB-DPRK-360-cash

That looks like $1.8 million to me. When was the last time you saw that much cash sitting on a counter?

Mr. Pan also shows that the Golden Triangle Bank has established a pre-pay card (similar to the Narae Card or the Koryo Bank Card). I say “pre-pay card” (not debit card) because a debit card is linked to a personal account whereas a pre-pay card is drawn from a bank-owned account. I do not suspect that card holders have actually opened personal accounts at these banks but have instead topped off a card that draws from a bank-owned account (In other words, I don’t think it is easy to get your cash back, and the bank earns the float from investing the currency while the card holder carries a positive balance).

GTB-card-DPRK360-2015

Mr. Pan claims to have put RMB25 into his account, which can be spent in the Rason SEZ, but not outside of it.

Here is a closeup of the front and back of the card:

Golden-Triangle-Bank-Debit-card-2015-edited

 

Here is a translation of the card:

GTB-debit-card-translation

“Seon Bong” is how a South Korean translates “Sonbong”.

The card appears to be equipped with an EMV chip. I am not sure how that works.

UPDATE (2015-8-17): The Daily Mail did a follow up piece here.

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North Korean workers in the Middle East

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

According to the Choson Ilbo:

North Korea used civilian passenger planes to transport hard currency seized from expat laborers in the Middle East following the closure of its overseas banks for violating international law.

Sources said since prosecutors in Kuwait ordered the closure of the local branch of North Korea’s Trade Bank on charges of money laundering and illicit transfers, the North has used twice-monthly Air Koryo flights to Kuwait to ferry seized wages back to the North.

There are 50,000 to 60,000 North Korean laborers in 16 countries. In Kuwait, there have been some 4,000 since 1995, toiling at construction sites and receiving around W1 million a month (US$1=W1,123), of which the regime confiscates 70 to 80 percent.

The workers send the remainder back to their families in the North and often survive by begging or taking on overtime and extra menial jobs.

Around 2,000 North Koreans work in the United Arab Emirates and 1,800 in Qatar.

Sources said the bank’s Kuwait branch has sent back more than US$1 billion to North Korea over the last 20 years confiscated from laborers.

The bank has been blacklisted by the U.S. government for funding the development of weapons of mass destruction, and the local branch had been under investigation by Kuwaiti authorities over the last two years. Kuwaiti prosecutors seized around $1 million from the branch on suspicion of money laundering.

According to sources, North Korea has filed a lawsuit in order to recover the seized money.

One source said officials from companies supplying North Korean workers now board Air Koryo planes with suitcases stuffed with cash, while laborers are sending back money to their families through ordinary passengers.

“Air Koryo has become a new channel used to transport tens of millions of dollars of money to the Workers Party,” which runs the bank, the source said.

Read the full story here:
N.Korea Uses Civilian Airliners to Haul Hard Currency
Choson Ilbo
2015-7-3

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2015 Kaesong wage fight (UPDATED)

Monday, May 25th, 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.

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UPDATE 20 (2015-8-17): Reuters reports that the Koreas have worked out a deal. According to the article:

North and South Korea agreed to increase the minimum wage for North Korean workers at a joint factory park by 5 percent, a South Korean industry representative said, ending a months-long dispute despite heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The compromise, reached Monday, raises the monthly wage to $73.87 at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which is just north of the heavily fortified inter-Korean border.

“The fact that dialogue between South and North met with good results is welcomed and a good signal for stable management in Kaesong,” Yoo Chang-geun, vice chairman of the Corporate Association of Kaesong Industrial Complex, said on Tuesday.

The new wage is slightly below the $3.65 increase, or 5.18 percent, North Korea had demanded, which exceeded the annual increase of 5 percent agreed when the zone was established.

Here is coverage in Yonhap:

South and North Korea have agreed to hike the minimum wage by 5 percent for North Korean workers at a joint industrial park in the North, a government official said Tuesday, a move that will help resolve a monthslong row.

The two Koreas have been embroiled in a dispute following North Korea’s unilateral decision to hike the minimum wage by 5.18 percent for the about 55,000 North Korean workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North’s border city of the same name.

The quasi-state committees from the two Koreas reached an agreement on Monday to hike the wage to US$73.87, the most contentious issue in the dispute, according to a ranking official at the Unification Ministry. A 5 percent hike is the same level at which the wage has been increased every year so far.

“The most pressing issue of the wage cap has been resolved though there is still a long way to go,” the official said, asking not to be named. “But the move is expected to support the stable supply of labor and improve business conditions.”

The move is expected to raise the total monthly wage by far more than 5 percent when other compensation is included, according to an official at the group of 124 South Korean firms that are running factories in the park.

Seoul has rejected Pyongyang’s unilateral move to hike the wage, saying that it breaches a 2004 agreement that calls for the two sides to set wages through consultations.

In July, the two sides held talks of the joint committee that operates the complex, the first since June last year, but they failed to reach an agreement.

The ministry said that the two Koreas plan to hold a meeting of the committee to discuss how to revise labor guidelines.

The government official said that the two sides have agreed to continue to set the wage cap through consultations.

“By taking into account the grave situation facing inter-Korean ties, the government plans to take measures to develop the complex,” the official said.

According to UPI:

The agreement also covers social welfare for North Korean factory workers in Kaesong. Taken together, the payment of workers’ health insurance and other benefits indicates total income is to increase between 8 and 10 percent.

Coverage for North Korean workers is to include provisions for work-related injuries, death insurance and unemployment benefits.

Workers also are to be compensated for hours worked overtime and for holidays at a rate that is between 50 to 100 percent of regular hours worked, according to South Korean officials.

Ongoing tensions between the two sides have affected business operations in Kaesong but productivity at the complex has soared dramatically despite the wage dispute.

From January to April, production value was estimated to have reached $186 million, up 25 percent from $148 million from the same period in 2014.

None of the media highlighted that nearly all increased spending on North Korean workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex is simply a larger transfer to the North Korean government will little going to the actual workers themselves.

UPDATE 19 (2015-8-14): North Koreans at the Kaesong Industrial Complex already “paid” more than workers at other foreign-owned ventures. According to Radio Free Asia:

Local employees hired by foreign-invested companies inside isolated North Korea are earning much less than their counterparts who work at South Korean firms inside the Kaesong Industrial Complex, businessmen with knowledge of the situation said.

Foreign-invested companies pay local employees less than the U.S. $70.35 monthly minimum wage paid to the 53,000 North Koreans who work at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the joint inter-Korean economic project north of the demilitarized zone, sources said.

Some North Koreans who work at the industrial park receive more than U.S. $140 a month when overtime is included, they added.

A Chinese-Korean businessman who operates a roofing material company and metal pressing company in the Rason area on the northeast tip of the country told RFA’s Korean Service that he pays his North Korean workers about 300 Chinese yuan (U.S. $47) a month. Other Chinese companies in Rason pay similar wages to their North Korean employees, he said.

A Chinese businessman who employs about 100 North Koreans at a mine he is developing in Hwanghae province said he pays his workers U.S. $60-$70 a month.

“There might be some wage differences at other foreign companies, but they are not that much different from the level of wages I pay,” he said.

The sources noted that some media reports published outside North Korea put the average monthly wage of workers in the Rason Special Economic Zone, set up by the North Korean government in the early 1990s to promote economic growth through foreign investment, at around U.S. $100. But this contradicts salary information provided by the foreign companies doing business there, they said.

“It’s a big problem paying the same wage rates to the workers dispatched unilaterally by the North Korean authorities [to foreign-invested companies inside the country] without determining whether they’re skilled or unskilled, or taking into consideration if they are men or women, based on the nature of the work they’re supposed to do,” one source said.

While those who work for foreign-invested companies in North Korea also receive an allowance for one meal per day, the sources said, they also log fewer hours than their Kaesong counterparts, because they often fail to report for work whenever authorities order labor mobilizations or electricity supplies are low.

UPDATE 18 (2015-7-17): The talks ended with no resolution. According to Yonhap:

South and North Korea on Thursday failed to settle their months-long dispute over wages of North Korean workers employed at their joint factory park in rare inter-Korean talks held in the communist country.

Delegations from Seoul and Pyongyang sat together in the North Korean border town of Kaesong earlier in the day over the tangle, which started with the North’s unilateral decision in February to hike the minimum wage for about 55,000 North Korean laborers.

The North demanded the per-hour minimum wage be lifted by 5.18 percent to US$74, but the South had resisted the steeper-than-agreed hike before the two countries agreed last week to settle the issue through dialogue.

The ground rules set when the joint cooperation project opened in 2004 capped the maximum rate of wage increase at 5 percent per year.

The meeting ended without any major progress as the two sides failed to narrow gaps on the wage issue, a South Korean official said after the talks broke down.

The two sides intend to meet again to put the issue to renegotiation, although a date has not been set, he noted.

Pak Chol-su, a vice director of North Korea’s special economic zone development department, who heads the North Korean delegation, had earlier expressed hopes for a favorable outcome as the negotiations kicked off inside the Kaesong complex.

Touching on the severe drought reported in the North, Pak also said recent rainfalls “pretty much improved harvest.”

The Thursday meeting marks a rare opportunity of inter-Korean contacts with the countries mired in long-running military and diplomatic tensions.

It was the first meeting of their joint committee in charge of running the Kaesong Industrial Complex since the last one was held in June last year. It was also the first government contact between the countries following a working-level military dialogue convened in October in 2014.

Amid the bellicose mood, the North abruptly called off U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s planned peace-promoting visit to the Kaesong park in May.

The joint factory park, the result of the first-ever inter-Korean summit in 2000, is the last remaining symbol of once-vibrant inter-Korean reconciliation. It has also served as a core source of foreign currency for the cash-strapped North, while providing South Korean companies with a cheap but skilled workforce.

A total of 124 South Korean firms, mostly small- and medium-sized manufacturers, run factories at the complex under the auspice of the South Korean government.

The operation of the complex has been a yardstick of ups and downs for inter-Korean ties.

In April 2013, the North unilaterally shut down the park for about four months amid worsening tensions on the peninsula.

Since the unilateral wage hike demand in February, the countries agreed to tentatively freeze the minimum wage at the current $70.35 level, allowing the two sides to buy time for talks on the wage issue.

Also discussed in the Thursday meeting was how to tighten public order among South Koreans moving in and out of the complex.

The North has vowed to take punitive actions on South Koreans who are caught carrying banned goods into the North including USB memory sticks or newspapers from the outside world.

Here is coverage in the Daily NK. Here is coverage in the Joong Ang Ilbo.

UPDATE 17 (2015-7-9): Two Koreas to hold talks to negotiate Kaesong wage issues. According to Yonhap:

South and North Korea plan to hold talks on a joint industrial park in the North next week to discuss a prolonged dispute over the North’s unilateral move to raise wages for its workers at the complex, Seoul officials said Thursday.

North Korea has accepted the South’s offer for holding the meeting at the Kaesong Industrial Complex next Thursday at the border city of the same name, according to the unification ministry.

The move raises hopes for resolving a months-long wage row between the two Koreas following Pyongyang’s unilateral bid to hike the minimum wage by 5.18 percent to US$74 per month for about 55,000 North Korean workers at the park. A total of 124 South Korean small- and medium-sized enterprises are operating factories there.

The South has rejected the communist neighbor’s move, saying it is in breach of a 2004 agreement that calls for the two sides to set wages through consultations. The wage cap has been set at 5 percent per year.

In August 2013, the two Koreas decided to set up a joint committee in charge of running the industrial park following the North’s unilateral move in April of that year that shut down the park for about four months.

The committee is an integral part of a deal that called for reopening the complex and adopting safeguards to prevent any work stoppages in the future. The committee has not met since June last year due to the North’s refusal.

The joint factory park, which opened in 2004, is the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation. It has served as a major revenue source for the cash-strapped communist North, while South Korea has utilized cheap but skilled North Korean laborers.

In what could be a temporary relief, North Korea accepted South Korea’s tentative offer in late May to pay wages at the current level of $70.35, but Seoul and Pyongyang have yet to resolve the issue fully.

Meanwhile, the ministry said that Pyongyang has sent a notice to Seoul saying that it will tighten its surveillance over South Koreans moving in and out of the complex.

The North is known to have expressed complaints over South Koreans bringing in goods, such as mobile phones and newspapers, that are restricted in the North, vowing to take punitive actions if found.

In response, the South said that the issue should be dealt with in accordance with the two sides’ agreement and related regulations, according to the ministry.

UPDATE 16 (2015-5-25): South Korean firms begin paying regular wages, though the matter is still not resolved. According to Yonhap:

South Korean firms in an inter-Korean factory park in North Korea plan to pay wages to their North Korean employees this week, a government official said Monday.

The move came days after Pyongyang accepted Seoul’s tentative offer of wage payments for North Korean workers at the factory park in North Korea’s border city of Kaesong at a previously agreed level until separate consultations are held.

The deal on Friday would allow South Korean firms to pay the wage based on the US$70.35 per month that was originally set. But it called for the 124 South Korean firms to provide retroactive pay based on the outcome of separate consultations.

The official said North Korea demanded that South Korean firms in Kaesong pay March and April wages by the end of this month. The official asked not to be identified, citing policy.

The sides have yet to produce a deal over the more sensitive issue of a wage cap, which has been set at 5 percent per year.

In February, North Korea unilaterally decided to hike the minimum wage by 5.18 percent to US$74 per month for about 53,000 North Korean workers in the factory park.

The factory park, an outcome of the first-ever inter-Korean summit of leaders in 2000, is a major symbol of reconciliation between the rival Koreas.

It combines South Korean capital and technology with cheap North Korean labor to produce clothes, utensils, watches and other labor-intensive goods.

The factory park is a major source of hard-currency for the impoverished north.

UPDATE 15 (2015-5-22): Koreas buy time for talks on wage at factory park. According to Yonhap:

North Korea has accepted South Korea’s tentative offer of wage payments for North Korean workers at a joint industrial park, allowing the two sides to buy time for talks on Pyongyang’s unilateral wage hike, officials said Friday.

The two Koreas have been embroiled in the wage dispute as North Korea unilaterally decided in February to the hike minimum wage by 5.18 percent to US$74 per month for about 53,000 North Korean workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the border city of the same name.

The agreement between the quasi-state committees from both sides will allow South Korean firms to pay the wage based on the $70.35 per month that was originally set, according to government officials. Then, the 124 South Korean firms will provide retroactive pay.

Friday’s deal is not final as the two Koreas have not produced a breakthrough over the more sensitive issue of a wage cap. But the North has accepted Seoul’s offer to pay the wage at a previously agreed level until separate consultations are held.

Seoul has rejected the North’s unilateral move, saying that the North violated a 2004 agreement that calls for the two sides to set wages together. The wage cap has been set at 5 percent per year.

“The move will ease concerns about production setbacks that could be sparked by North Korean workers’ threat not to work or to seek a work slowdown,” the Ministry of Unification said in a statement.

It added that the government will make efforts to resolve the wage dispute as soon as possible through talks with North Korea.

The agreement came amid concerns about the strained inter-Korean ties following North Korea’s recent abrupt cancellation of its invitation for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to visit the industrial complex.

On the same day a group of businessmen visited the KIC to help resolve the impasse. According to Yonhap:

A group of South Korean businessmen visited a joint industrial complex in North Korea Friday amid a drawn-out row over wage payment for North Korean workers there, an official from the group said.

The two Koreas have been embroiled in the wage dispute as North Korea unilaterally decided in February to hike monthly wages by 5.18 percent for about 53,000 North Korean workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the border city of the same name. Seoul has rejected the North’s unilateral move.

The group of South Korean businessmen with factories there visited the complex in an effort to resolve the prolonged dispute as the 10-day period of the wage payment for April began Sunday. They made similar visits three times before.

The visit came as North Korea abruptly canceled its invitation for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to visit the industrial park, dampening hopes for better inter-Korean ties.

The joint industrial park, which opened in 2004, is the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation following a landmark inter-Korean summit in 2000. It has served as a revenue source for the communist country while South Korea has utilized cheap but skilled North Korean labor.

Seoul said that Pyongyang violated a 2004 agreement that calls for the two sides to set the wages together. The wage cap has been set at 5 percent per year.

In August 2013, the two Koreas also decided to set up a joint committee in charge of running the complex following the North’s unilateral move to shut down the park for about four months in April of that year.

Seoul has requested its companies not to send out paychecks, vowing to punish violators. But despite the warning, about 50 out of 124 South Korean companies have paid March wages to the North’s workers apparently after threats from the North.

Here is coverage in Xinhua.

UPDATE 14 (2015-5-19): Kaesong companies pass resolution opposing North’s unilateral wage raise. According to the Hankyoreh:

Kaesong Industrial Complex tenant companies reached an agreement not to accept North Korea’s unilateral demands to increase wages. Instead, they agreed to provide the North Korean authorities with a letter of guarantee to pay the difference in the wages once North and South Korean negotiators reach an agreement.

During a general meeting of the Corporate Association of Gaeseong Industrial Complex (CAGIC) on May 18, with about 90 tenant companies attending, a group of company chairs approved a letter of guarantee they had proposed providing to the North Korean Bureau of Central Special District Development.

On May 15, the association chairs visited Kaesong to meet Park Chol-su, deputy chief of the bureau, and offered to write a letter of guarantee. The letter would state that the companies refuse to accept North Korea’s request to raise wages but promise to retroactively pay the difference in the wages and the late fees according to the agreement that North and South Korean authorities eventually reach.

On Apr. 20, the deadline for paying the wages for March, the North Korean bureau had asked the South Korean tenant companies to sign a letter of guarantee in which they would effectively acknowledge the wage increase on which it had unilaterally decided and agree to pay the ensuing late fees. Reportedly, five companies agreed to this demand.
In order to prevent South Korean companies from giving in to North Korea’s demands for raising wages, the South Korean government asked them to first deposit workers’ wages with the South Korean management committee, which would then forward the payment to the North Korean bureau.

The government is putting pressure on tenant companies, threatening that it will not extend the loan repayment schedule for companies that do not obey these instructions. Tenant companies were loaned emergency operating funds when the complex temporarily shut down in 2013.

“During a meeting with the group of company chairs on May 17, the Unification Minister said that, if we can show that the companies are not agreeing to North Korea’s demand to raise the wages, the Ministry might not predicate extending the loan repayment schedule on depositing workers’ wages with the management committee,” CAGIC Chairman Chung Ki-sup told reporters after the general meeting on Monday.

“In order to comply with this, we reached an agreement in the general meeting today to pay North Korea the April wages according to the February rates, before North Korea had asked for a wage increase.”

This past February, North Korea notified South Korea that it would be unilaterally increasing the minimum wage of North Korean workers at the Kaesong complex by 5.18% from US$70.35 to US$74 a month beginning with the March wages.
49 of the 125 tenant companies had paid the wages to North Korea as of May 8. The South Korean government is currently investigating to see whether these companies used double bookkeeping to pay their wages at the level North Korea demanded.

The South Korean government has insisted on raising the minimum wage no more than 5% through deliberations between North and South, as the labor regulations stipulated before North Korea unilaterally revised them.

On May 15, the South Korean government sent a message to North Korea through the secretariat of the Inter-Korean Joint Committee on the Kaesong Complex proposing that the committee hold its sixth meeting on May 20, but North Korea again refused to receive the message.

The joint committee was set up after operations at the complex were suspended for five months in 2013 in order to prevent the reoccurrence of such a shutdown. The committee is supposed to convene every quarter, but last year, only one meeting was held.

UPDATE 13 (2015-5-14): The North Koreans have issued a statement that tried to tie the Kaesong wage increase to revision of domestic labor regulations rather than a unilateral action against South Korea. According to KCNA:

New Labor Regulations to Be Invariably Enforced in KIZ
Pyongyang, May 14, 2015 09:56 KST (KCNA) — The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK revised the labor regulations and promulgated them in November last year in conformity with the development of industrial zones, taking into full consideration the situation in the Kaesong Industrial Zone (KIZ), realities in international special zones, etc.

Pursuant to them, the DPRK notified the south side that a new wage pattern would be applied from March this year so that businesses of the south side might be fully ready for the new regulations.

In consideration of conditions of businessmen, the DPRK took such generous measure as extending the date of wage payment for March a week.

Nevertheless, the south Korean authorities, far from thanking the DPRK for its good faith and generosity, pulled up it over its legitimate enforcement of legislation, terming it “unilateral one violating the north-south agreement.” Not content with this, they are threatening and blackmailing the businesses to prevent them from paying the wages for March while making investigations into them.

A spokesman for the General Bureau for Central Guidance to the Development of the Special Zone declared in a statement on Wednesday the KIZ is an economic special zone being operated together with businessmen of the south side and that the south Korean authorities, therefore, have neither reason nor pretext to interfere in it.

We cannot but take a serious note of the fact that the south Korean authorities are set to apply a “deposit” system to wage payment from April, something rare to be found in economic zones of other countries, in a crafty bid to use the businessmen for wantonly violating the laws and regulations in the KIZ and openly encroaching upon the sovereignty of the DPRK, the statement noted, and went on:

Businessmen of the south side should keep vigilance against this move so that they may not be scapegoats for the authorities’ plot to wantonly violate the DPRK’s laws and regulations in the KIZ, an encroachment upon its sovereignty.

They should seriously think once again over what they would gain by yielding to the pressure of the authorities to turn the KIZ into the one of factories without workers where business autonomy is seriously violated.

Explicitly speaking, the issue of enforcing the new labor regulations is not an issue to be discussed at the talks between authorities as it is an issue concerning the DPRK’s legitimate enforcement of legislation.

The south Korean authorities should stop at once putting the brake and pressure upon the businesses’ autonomous management in the KIZ and deliberately laying an obstacle in the way of the operation of the KIZ and ensure their free management.

Not only the south Korean authorities but also the commission responsible for the management of the KIZ are to blame for the situation prevailing in the zone.

If the management commission continues working hard to infringe upon the inviolable sovereignty of the DPRK, making the KIZ a political bargaining chip for someone under the manipulation of the south Korean authorities, departing from its mission, the DPRK will call it into question for the ensuing serious consequences and it would not be possible for the DPRK to entrust the management of the KIZ to the commission.

The KIZ is, in actuality, a zone for north-south economic cooperation, not a theater for confrontation between the authorities of the north and the south.

The DPRK will keep enforcing the new labor regulations for the normal development of the KIZ in the future.

UPDATE 12 (2015-4-21): Pyongyang has allowed normal wages to be paid for March of 2015. According to the Hankyoreh:

“The North said it would allow the payment of the regular wages for now and calculate the difference from the hike later,” explained Corporate Association of Gaeseong Industrial Complex chairman Chung Ki-sup in a telephone interview with Hankyoreh on Apr. 20. That day marked the deadline for payment of March wages to North Korean workers at the complex.

North Korea recently announced a unilateral 5.18% hike in the minimum wage at the complex, which would raise monthly pay from US$70.35 to US$75.00. The South Korean government has blocked tenant companies from complying on the grounds that a unilateral increase beyond the agreed-upon 5% ceiling is unacceptable.

Chung explained that North Korea “wants us to sign statements confirming the unpaid difference.”

“Wage payments were already made over the course of ten days, so late fees for the difference are being deferred until this weekend,” he added.

The agreement buys a few extra days for authorities on both sides to discuss the matter before additional frictions erupt over the minimum wage hike at the complex. Tenants companies have reportedly convinced North Korea to accept the earlier US$70.35 minimum wage standard for March pay, with the difference to be paid retroactively after authorities reach an agreement on the matter.

“It appears that North Korea took into account the difficult position the tenant companies are in with the South Korean government insisting that they not pay the extra amount,” Chung explained.

“I don’t think North Korea wants the repercussions of this to grow either,” he said.

A group of tenant company directors at the complex had initially planned to visit Kaesong on Apr. 20 to discuss the wage issue, although the plans were eventually canceled.

“Our biggest concern is out of the way now that the North has agreed to accept the pre-hike pay,” Chung said. “My understanding is that the visit was canceled because they concluded it wasn’t going to really fix matters as they stand now.”

UPDATE 11 (2015-4-20): Kaesong firms stuck between Korean governments. According to Arirang News:

South Korea’s Kaesong business owners are stuck in a dilemma.

On the one hand, they’re facing the prospect of having to pay a late fee if they don’t comply with the North’s demand for a wage hike, but on the other hand, they face the possibility of punitive measures from the South if they do.

None of the 124 South Korean companies have paid the March wages yet, which are due April 20th.

North Korea has threatened to impose a late fee of 15 percent per month if the South Korean companies don’t issue the wage payments on time.

South Korea says it will not accept the North’s unilateral demand for a wage hike, saying Pyongyang violated a 2004 agreement that calls for two quasi-governmental committees to set the pay rate together.

The two committees met for a second time on Saturday, but failed to reach a compromise.

In addition, Seoul has warned the South Korean companies operating in the complex that they will face punitive measures if they concede to the North’s wage hike demands.

The two Koreas have been at odds over the issue since February, when the North unilaterally decided to raise the wage level by more than 5 percent to roughly 74 U.S. dollars a month starting in March for the approximately 53-thousand North Korean workers in the complex.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry says it is still sending messages to Pyongyang asking to meet on the wage issue, but the North maintains that it’s a matter for Pyongyang to decide.

Yonhap reports that a few South Korean firms have made increased payments in accord with Pyongyang’s demands:

Three South Korean firms have paid more wages for North Korean workers in the Kaesong Industrial Complex as Pyongyang demanded, a government source here said Monday.

Their move runs counter to the South Korean government’s firm stance not to accept the communist neighbor’s unilateral decision to raise wages for its 53,000 workers in the North’s border town.

The North unilaterally decided to raise the minimum wage by 5.18 percent to US$74 per month, starting in March, for those workers employed by the 124 South Korean small- and medium-sized firms in the Kaesong zone.

Three of the firms paid the increased wages, the source said. They are expected to face administrative punitive action from Seoul’s government.

The South’s unification ministry, meanwhile, dismissed news reports that the North extended a deadline for the payment of the March wage.

UPDATE 10 (2015-4-15): Seoul hints at drawn-out row over Kaesong wage problem. According to Yonhap:

South Korea said Monday it will not be restrained by a timetable in resolving an ongoing row over wage hikes for North Korean workers at a joint industrial park in the North.

The two Koreas have been in dispute since the North unilaterally decided in February to raise the wage level by 5.18 percent to US$74 per month starting in March for about 53,000 North Korean workers hired by South Korean companies at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North’s border city of the same name.

Seoul is seeking to hold talks with the North over the issue through a quasi-governmental committee as the payday for the March wages, which began Friday, will last for 10 days. None of the 124 South Korean firms have paid March wages to North Korean workers.

Seoul’s unification ministry said that it will do its best to resolve the wage dispute, adding that the row may be prolonged if it passes the deadline.

“As we cannot exclude the possibility that the wage dispute cannot be settled until April 20…the Seoul government will continue to make efforts to resolve the issue,” Lim Byeong-cheol, spokesman at the unification ministry, said at a press briefing.

“What’s important is that the government has the will to tackle this row. We do not prejudge any situations without having a specific deadline in mind.”

Seoul has not accepted the North’s unilateral move, saying Pyongyang violated a 2004 agreement that calls for two quasi-government committees from each side to set the wages together. The wage cap has been set at 5 percent.

Its efforts for the talks have gained urgency as North Korea will take days off on Wednesday and Thursday to mark the April 15 birth anniversary of its late founder, Kim Il-sung.

The industrial complex opened in the early 2000s, the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation. It has served as a major revenue source for the cash-strapped communist country.

Lim also called on North Korea to stop threatening to retaliate against a move by Seoul activists to resume their campaign to send anti-Pyongyang leaflets and other materials via balloons across the inter-Korean border.

“It is not desirable for North Korea to criticize Seoul activists’ leaflet launch as it is a matter of freedom of speech,” Lim said. “North Korea should immediately stop making threatening remarks to South Korean people.”

Despite Seoul’s request for restraint, anti-North Korea activist Park Sang-hak on Thursday made an attempt to launch balloons carrying leaflets and copies of DVDs of “The Interview,” a U.S. comedy film about a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. His attempt was scuttled by police.

North Korea said Friday it will take “ruthless” actions against Seoul activists’ move, saying that the move to send the U.S. movie to the North is tantamount to a declaration of war against Pyongyang.

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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North Korea to concentrate state budget towards economic construction

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea has drafted a budget that emphasizes improving the lives of its citizens and the establishment of an economic power this year.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that on April 9, 2015, North Korea held the 3rd Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), where authorities balanced accounts from last year’s spending and decided the budget for this year.

“This year the state budget was designed to further strengthen the self-defense capabilities of national defense while putting technology firmly at the front and bringing about a transformation in the building of an economic powerhouse,” North Korea’s head of the Finance Ministry, Ki Kwang Ho, explained at the session.

First, North Korea decided to raise the entire budget expenditures over last year by 5.5 percent to celebrate the 70th anniversary this October of the establishment of the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK).

This year the national defense expenditures represent 15.9 percent of the budget, the same as last year. Meanwhile, authorities decided to increase investment in the technology sector over last year by 5 percent.

The following areas were also increased over last year: forestry (9.6 percent), basic construction (8.7 percent), physical education (6.9 percent), education (6.3 percent), culture (6.2 percent), general industry and light industry (5.1 percent), fisheries (6.8 percent), agriculture (4.2 percent) and health (4.1 percent).

Every aspect of the budget is designed to improve the citizens’ lives and further economic development. Finance Ministry Director Ki Kwang Ho explained, “[the budget] enables the state to raise the entire People’s economy and drastically improve the lives of the people while fully engaging in the forest restoration battle and the construction of monumental building projects.”

North Korea, however, did not disclose the full amount of the budget. Based on the budget, it is predicted that North Korea will concentrate state management this year on improving the people’s quality of life.

In his New Year’s address, First Chairman Kim Jong Un intimated his intentions to better the lives of the people through economic reform this year.

“We need to solve the people’s food issue through the three axes of agriculture, livestock and fisheries and bring the food situation to the next level […] We need to encourage businesses to be proactive and creative to take the lead in business activities,” he proclaimed in his address.

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ROK report on DPRK military spending

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

North Korea has increased its defense spending by 16 percent over the past five years despite a moribund economy, Seoul’s defense ministry said Tuesday.

The communist North is presumed to have spent US$10.2 billion for national defense last year in accordance with the calculation based on purchasing power parity (PPP) terms, the ministry said, citing figures by the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA).

The amount is about 16 percent more than the $8.77 billion in 2009, the ministry said, adding that Pyongyang spent $10.1 billion on its military last year.

The world’s most reclusive nation has not made public the exact amount of its defense budget.

“North Korea said in April that it spent some 15.9 percent of the total budget last year for national defense, which translates into a mere $1.15 billion. But the amount was solely for maintenance and does not include costs for its military build-up and investment,” a ministry official said, requesting anonymity.

South Korea’s defense budget last year came to $32.5 billion, some three times larger than that of its communist neighbor.

North Korea has been pushing for its military-first policy at the expense of its moribund economy. Its gross national income stood at 33.8 trillion won ($30.9 billion) in 2014, compared with South Korea’s 1,441 trillion won, according to the data by Statistics Korea.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s defense spending rises 16 pct over 5 yrs: Seoul ministry
Oh Seok-min
Yonhap
2015-4-14

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Third session of 13th SPA held

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

According to KCNA (2015-4-9):

The Third Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of the DPRK took place at the Mansudae Assembly Hall Thursday.

Present there were deputies to the SPA.

Present there as observers were officials of the party, armed forces and power organs, social organizations, ministries and national institutions and those in the fields of science, education, literature and art, public health and media.

The participants observed a moment’s silence in memory of President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il, founder and builder and eternal leaders of the DPRK.

Discussed at the session were “1. On the work of the DPRK Cabinet for Juche 103 (2014) and its tasks for Juche 104 (2015)”, “2. On summing up the fulfillment of the state budget of the DPRK for Juche 103 (2014) and its state budget for Juche 104 (2015)” and “3. Organizational matters”.

Deputy Pak Pong Ju, premier of the Cabinet, made a report on the first agenda item.

He said that last year the DPRK registered great successes in grain production, provided a guarantee for completing the stock-breeding base in Sepho area as a gift to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea and built many monumental structures, icons of Juche architecture, through army-people coordinated operations.

It opened up a bright prospect for implementing the behests of Kim Jong Il on turning the Chongchon River into one of treasure and patriotism, made progress in developing economy and improving the people’s living standard by dint of science and technology and made great achievements in the fields of sports, education and public health, he noted.

It is the main tasks for this year to settle the food problem of the people with the farming, stock-breeding and fishery as the three thrusts, boost electricity production and put the metal industry on a Juche basis while taking it as the lifeline and key point to carry out the behests of Kim Jong Il and pushing forward them consistently, he said, referring to the concrete tasks.

Deputy Ki Kwang Ho made a report on the second agenda item.

The plan of state budgetary revenue for last year was over-fulfilled 1.6 percent, 6 percent increase over the previous year, the plan for state budgetary expenditure was carried out at 99.9 percent, and 46.7 percent of the total state budgetary expenditure was spent for the development of the national economy, 37.2 percent for the cultural field and 15.9 percent for national defence, he said.

The state budgetary revenue for this year will grow 3.7 percent over last year.

The state budgetary expenditure for this year will grow 5.5 percent over last year, 15.9 percent of total budgetary expenditure will be spent for national defence and bigger investment will be made to shore up the national economy and to improve the people’s living standard, he said.

Speakers said that the work of the Cabinet and the fulfillment of the state budget for last year have been reviewed correctly, clear-cut tasks for this year for improving the standard of people’s living and building an economic power have been advanced and the state budget was properly shaped to fully display the advantages of the socialist system. They expressed full support and approval of them.

They evinced the pledge to consolidate the political and military might of the country in every way, bring about fresh progress in all spheres of socialist construction and thus mark the 70th anniversaries of the WPK founding and the liberation of Korea as grand festivals of victors.

The session adopted a decision of the SPA of the DPRK “On approving the report on the work of the DPRK Cabinet and the summing up of the fulfillment of the state budget for Juche 103 (2014)” and an ordinance of the SPA of the DPRK “On the state budget of the DPRK for Juche 104 (2015)”.

Deputy Pak To Chun was recalled from member of the DPRK National Defence Commission due to his transfer to other post.

Deputy Kim Chun Sop was elected member of the DPRK NDC to fill a vacancy upon the authorization of Marshal Kim Jong Un.

KCNA also reports “SPA Session Reviews Cabinet Work Last Year and Advances Its Tasks for This Year“:

Deputy Pak Pong Ju, premier of the Cabinet, delivered a report on the work done by the Cabinet last year and tasks facing it this year at the Third Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of the DPRK Thursday.

According to the report, last year was a year of shining victories as the foundation for winning a final victory in all fields of building a thriving nation was consolidated and invincible might of Juche Korea was strikingly demonstrated under the wise leadership of Marshal Kim Jong Un.

Farming materials including chemical fertilizers, rice-seedling transplanting machines, mobile threshing machines, farm machine parts and oil were provided as planned last year, true to the intention of the party which set the agricultural field as a key field in the drive of pushing forward economic construction and improving the standard of people’s living and an outpost of defending socialism.

Pasture covering 50 000 hectares was created in the Sepho area and the work of securing livestock was pushed ahead simultaneously with the construction of structures and preparations for their operation to provide a guarantee for completing the stock-breeding base in Sepho area as a gift to the 70th anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

The Wisong residential district for scientists, Yonphung Rest Home for Scientists, Pyongyang Orphanage and Baby Home and lots of other monumental structures were built as icons of Juche-based architecture.

More than 1 000 valuable scientific and technological development projects were carried out.

The coal industry showed 28 percent increase in production over last year.

The production of cement jumped 12 percent over last year and that of various industrial indices including nitrogen fertilizer, salt and timber also went up.

Players of the DPRK bagged many gold medals at the 17th Asian Games and other international sports events, demonstrating the honor of the country. The popular policies of the party were implemented at a higher level in the fields of education and public health.

Referring to the tasks for this year, he stressed the need to consistently hold fast to the implementation of the behests of leader Kim Jong Il as a lifeline and the most important work. The main thrusts for this year are to organize the economic work with a main emphasis on solving the food problem of the people with agriculture, stock-breeding and fisheries as the three pivots, drastically increasing power production and putting metal industry on Juche basis, the reporter said.

He called for improving the production environment of the units associated with the leadership feats of President Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and steadily raising their modernization level so as to continue glorifying their undying feats.

It is important to thoroughly carry out the party’s strategic line on simultaneously developing economic construction and the building of a nuclear force and provide equipment, raw materials and funds necessary for the combat readiness of the People’s Army and the defence industry in a responsible manner and thus actively contribute to bolstering up the defence capabilities.

Investment in the field of science and technology should be increased and efforts be concentrated on solving scientific and technological problems urgently required by reality including key state projects for the development of science and technology.

Scientific farming methods should be actively introduced into the agricultural field and drive of securing and saving water should be conducted and such farming materials as chemical fertilizers, rice seedling transplanting machines, rolled steel, farm machine parts and oil be satisfactorily provided.

Ministries, national institutions and provincial people’s committees should complete flawlessly and qualitatively the construction of dwelling houses, pens of domestic animals, public buildings, pavement of roads and creation of windbreaks by the 70th anniversary of the WPK. The management of modern stock-breeding bases, fish breeding bases, greenhouses and mushroom production bases in different parts of the country should be put on normal footing and production be boosted there.

In the fisheries field fishing boats and fishing tackle should be modernized and scientific fishing methods be actively introduced to haul fishes all the year round.

In the field of light industry, local supply of raw and other materials should be actively pushed forward and their production be markedly boosted to provide the people with more consumer goods.

A decisive measure should be taken to provide equipment and materials needed for thermal power plants and coal mines on a top priority basis.

The power stations in tiers on the River Chongchon, Paektusan Songun Youth Power Station, Ryesonggang Power Station, Orangchon Power Station and other hydroelectric power stations that were planned by Kim Jong Il should be completed in a short span of time.

Efforts should be focused on further rounding off the work of putting metal industry on a Juche basis.

In the chemical industrial field, production should be put on a normal footing at Juche fertilizer and Juche fiber production bases.

High temperature air combustion technology and other technologies that do not require the use of heavy oil should be introduced into various fields of the national economy.

Sustained great efforts should be directed to reenergizing the production in the vanguard sectors and key industries of the national economy such as railway transport, mining, forestry and machine-building industry.

All the fields and units should turn out in the drive of restoring forests and work hard to turn the mountains of the country into those in thick verdure full of nuts and fruits. Substantial work should be conducted to turn Pyongyang into the hub and model of Songun culture and a world class city and to spruce up provincial, city and county seats so that they may preserve their local characteristics.

The work to drastically improve education in the new century should be actively pushed forward, enthusiasm for sports should be raised higher and lots of fine literary pieces be created to encourage all people in the general offensive for glorifying the grand October festivals.

The reporter called on all the officials in the field of economic guidance to thoroughly carry out the important tasks set forth by Kim Jong Un in the New Year Address and at the enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and fulfill their responsibilities and duties in the general offensive this year marking the 70th anniversaries of the WPK and the liberation of Korea.

Finally, KCNA reports “SPA Session Reviews Implementation of State Budget for 2014 and Sets forth State Budget for 2015“:

Deputy Ki Kwang Ho, minister of Finance, made a report on the review of the fulfillment of the state budget of the DPRK for Juche 103 (2014) and the state budget for Juche 104 (2015) at the Third Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly on Thursday.

According to the report, the plan of state budgetary revenue for last year was over-fulfilled 1.6 percent, 6 percent increase over the previous year.

The local plan for budgetary revenue was carried out at 122.2 percent and the plan for state budgetary expenditure at 99.9 percent.

46.7 percent of the total budget was spent for the development of the national economy.

37.2 percent of the total state budgetary expenditure was spent for the cultural field including education, public health, sports and literature and art.

15.9 percent of total expenditure was directed to national defence.

The state budgetary revenue and expenditure for this year have been shaped in such a way as to bolster up the capabilities for self-defence and effect a turn in building a socialist economic power and a highly civilized nation by giving definite precedence to science and technology.

The state budgetary revenue will grow 3.7 percent over last year; transaction revenue is expected to swell 2. 6 percent, revenue from the profits of state enterprises 4.3 percent, revenue from the profits of cooperative organizations 3. 2 percent, real estate rent 0.7 percent, social insurance fee 2.8 percent, revenue from sale of properties and price differential 1.4 percent, revenue from other sources 0.8 percent and revenue from economic trade zones 3.6 percent.

The national budgetary revenue will account for 79 percent and the local budgetary revenue 21 percent of the state budgetary revenue. Provinces, cities and counties are expected to ensure expenditure with the revenue from local sources and provide profits to the national budget.

The national budgetary expenditure is expected to grow 5.5 percent over last year for focusing investment in augmenting the national power, developing science and technology and undertaking the projects for fulfilling the grandiose plan of the party so as to financially guarantee the general advance for greeting the grand October festival with labor achievements.

15.9 percent of total expenditure will be spent for national defence.

The allocation of funds for the field of science and technology is expected to go up 5 percent.

4.2 percent more financial disbursement will be made for the agricultural field, 6.8 percent more for the fisheries field, 5.1 percent more for the industrial field including light industry and vanguard fields of the national economy, 8.7 percent more for capital construction and 9.6 percent for the forestry field to shore up the national economy as a whole, bring about a turn in improving the people’s living standard and wage a dynamic drive for the building of monumental edifices and reforestation.

Expenditure for education goes up 6.3 percent, that for public health 4.1 percent, that for sports 6.9 percent and that for culture 6.2 percent so as to provide a financial guarantee for the drive for bringing about a turn in building a highly civilized socialist state.

A large amount of funds will be sent as educational aid fund and stipends for the children of Koreans in Japan this year, too.

The reporter stressed that the Korean people faced with huge tasks this year but the DPRK is sure to emerge victorious as there are the tested and seasoned leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea, invincible revolutionary spirit and fighting spirit and the army and people full of revolutionary and patriotic enthusiasm.

Here is a summary in Yonhap:

 

Additional information:

1. 38 North offers analysis by Ruediger Frank and Alexandre Mansourov.

2. The Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) offered two reports.

3. Here is coverage in the Daily NK.

4. Here is coverage in Yonhap.

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Total development plans completed for economic development zones: Tenant companies to be put under selection process

Friday, February 27th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2015-2-27

According to the Choson Sinbo, a pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan, North Korea is promoting “diversification in foreign economy,” and has recently signed “bilateral agreements on promotion and protection of foreign investment” with 28 countries and “double taxation avoidance agreements” with 13 countries.

The newspaper cited an interview with Kim Chon Il, the director of (North) Korea Economic Development Association: “multilateral foreign economic development signifies developing foreign economic relations with many countries around the world in various economic sectors and units, unlike in the past where foreign economic activities were concentrated around only a few countries.”

In addition, he said, “the form of exchange and cooperation is also orienting toward diversification” and “We are promoting businesses in various sectors in trade, investment, joint venture, and science and technology cooperation based on new products and achievements made with the state-of-the-art science and technology.”

The Choson Sinbo article emphasized that, “Currently foreign economic business projects are not delegated to only a specific unit,” and that “Choson [North Korea] is promoting various business establishments and management of domestic institutions, corporations, and organizations as well as encouraging various overseas companies and individuals in joint venture projects and establishing independent foreign companies in special economic zones.”

The news also elaborated on the amendment of recent foreign investment laws and explained that new regulations and bylaws are being developed to incorporate various investment strategies including internationally recognized BOT (build-operate-transfer) method.

Moreover, the article confirmed that “the core of the DPRK’s foreign economic development lies with the economic development zones,” and the development plans for economic development zones and investment attraction projects are well underway since last year.

Director Kim Chon Il confirmed that “Currently, the total development plans of 13 provincial-level economic development zones were completed and the total plans for the rest of the economic development zones are in the closing stages.”

He added that the Wonsan District Development General Corporation was launched last year and disclosed that the development plans for the Wonsan-Mt. Kumgang International Tourist Zone was completed.

Furthermore, Kim estimated the preparatory period for the business to take about two years and that the substantial business plans must begin now, starting with the selection process for tenant companies. He stressed, “It is timely to vigorously attract investment from around the world on a large scale in accordance with the total development plans of the economic development zones.”

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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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DPRK replaces 5,000 won note

Monday, August 18th, 2014

UPDATE 3 (2014-9-2): Simon Cockerell has posted a photo of the new note to his instagram account. You Can see it here.

UPDATE 2 (2014-8-18): According to the Daily NK:

Daily NK has learned that the recent 5000 KPW note exchange has prompted an overall apathetic response from residents in North Korea. As Daily NK first reported here on July 31st the North Korean authorities informed residents that the largest denomination monetary unit would be replaced with a new bill.

US Dollars and Chinese Yuan being the currencies of choice in the markets, the recent collection and exchange of the highest denomination bill “doesn’t really affect people’s lives.”

A source in the capital reported to Daily NK on August 14, “A new [5000 KPW] note has been issued, but the exchange of old to new notes hasn’t made much headway.” This is hardly a nuisance to most residents, who are used to adapting, she went on to explain. “People are fairly indifferent about the new 5000 bill, and anyone who expresses concern about it is considered to be a fool by others.”

Production of the new 5000 KPW notes began last year; at the end of July 2014, the Chosun Central Bank announced that residents would have until 2017 to exchange the old bills. “At first, residents didn’t know what the exchange rate would be when they converted to the new bills, so a bit of chaos ensued; once they found out it was a 1:1 exchange rate, things have been pretty quiet of late,” she explained. “The number of residents holding 5000 KPW notes is pretty low so there isn’t an atmosphere of concern surrounding the matter.” The source did add that it cannot be verified at this time if those in rural or farming areas are equally as impervious to the matter.

The source cited two chief factors underpinning this resident indifference: trust in the authorities continues to decline, as does the value of North Korean currency.

The 5000 KPW bill is the largest denomination of bill in North Korean currency, but when compared with foreign currencies like Chinese Yuan or US Dollars, its value is dismal, considered by most to be “wastepaper.” By current exchange rates, 1 USD is equal to 8000 KPW; in other words, the largest note in North Korea [5000 KPW] is less than 1 USD or equal to approximately 5 RMB.

Moreover, at current market prices, 5,000 KPW [6000 KPW per kilo] is insufficient for people to purchase a kilo of rice or a dozen eggs [5000 KPW yields six eggs at present]. “Even when people buy a block of tofu [700 KPW], they use dollars,” the source explained. “Because merchants only do business in US Dollars of Chinese Yuan, people save all their money in these currencies.”

Citing the 2009 currency reforms, she explained the shift in public sentiment on the KPW, “People won’t suffer any losses even if there are 10 more currency reforms. Even those in poorer, rural areas regard North Korean currency as something for ‘use by the state’ and keep their assets in rice and other goods. ”

This shift in attitude of North Korean currency as “means of exchange” to “means of savings” occurred during and after the Arduous March in the 1990s [the North Korean famine if 1994-1998]. After ceasing distribution of regular food rations, starvation quickly became rife. In order to minimize dependency on a broken state system, people sought to build assets by saving as much KPW as possible.

Tragically, those savings were reduced to worthless scraps of paper during the currency reforms in 2009.The goal of the currency redenomination of November 30, 2009 was officially to bring inflation under control and eliminate monetary overhang, but the result of the 100:1 redenomination was catastrophic. This led to a complete transformation in resident commercial activity. The North Korean residents lost complete faith in state-issued banknotes and adopted foreign currencies, namely Chinese Yuan and US Dollars, as the preferred legal tender for business transactions.

“Because KPW is ‘not even worth counting’, there are more and more people who don’t care about the new 5,000 won bill,” she went on. “Instead of curiosity or trepidation as to the motivations behind the exchange, people just feel reassured by holding onto foreign currency.”

Once the privilege of traders and Party officials working abroad, accessibility to these foreign currencies has trickled down to market vendors and young students. Daily NK has recently learned that markets in all major cities in the North even provide small change back to customers in US Dollars and Chinese Renminbi.

Read the full story here:
Residents Indifferent to 5000 KPW Swap
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2014-8-18

UPDATE 1 (2014-8-12): Chris Green has more at NK News here.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-8-11): According to the Choson Ilbo:

North Korea’s new 5,000 banknotes no longer feature a picture of nation founder and demigod Kim Il-sung. But the new note shows Kim’s childhood home in Mangyongdae.

The new bills feature the house prominently on the front and on the back a museum in Pyongyang that displays gifts Kim and his son Jong-il received from foreign leaders*.

During a botched currency reform in 2009, Kim Il-sung was also dropped from the 2,000 and 1,000 won bills.

The 5,000 won note is North Korea’s largest denomination and nominally worth around US$50, though its actual market value is nearer $1. Workers in the North Korean state economy are paid some W3,000 a month on average, making it vital for most to seek other forms of income.

A North Korean source said when the new notes were officially announced on July 25, they sparked fears of yet another misguided currency reform, triggering a certain amount of chaos as food prices surged temporarily and some people began stockpiling food.

* Presumably the Choson Ilbo is referring to the International Friendship Exhibition at Myohyangsan. This is not in Pyongyang (Though it used to be!).

Read the full story here:
N.Korea Drops Kim Il-sung from New Banknotes
Choson Ilbo
2014-8-11

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Rice prices starting to increase…

Friday, July 25th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

Market rice prices in North Korea held steady throughout the “farming hardship period” in April and May; however, prices have recently started to rise. In towns near the border, including those in the provinces of Yangkang and North Hamkyung, rice has reached 6,000 KPW per kilo, inside sources report.

“From the end of last week, the cost of rice began to rise, reaching 6,000 KPW,” a source in North Hamkyung Province reported to Daily NK on the 25th. “All five of the markets in Hyesan, including Yunbong, Masan and Hyesan, have seen the same sudden leap.”

“People are used to small fluctuations in rice prices, but they don’t often see a quick 1,000 KPW increase,” she went on.

A source in Yangkang Province confirmed the increase. “Just a few days ago, rice was 5,000 KPW, so imagine my surprise when I went to buy it yesterday,” she said. “It seems that even the sellers don’t know why it happened.”

“They don’t need to be sure why prices have risen; simply, if one raises the price of her rice, the rest will follow suit,” she added.

The source went on to say that she examined conditions across the city on Daily NK’s behalf, checking markets in areas that could have been in a different condition. “Because miners are receiving their rations, I thought maybe prices around mines would be stabler,” she reported, “but in Masan, one of those areas, it was also 6,000 KPW.”

Last month, rice cost 4,300 KPW in Pyongyang, 4,500 KPW in Sinuiji and 5,050 KPW in Hyesan. Moreover, prices actually went down last week, to 4,250 KPW, 4,380 KPW and 4,800 KPW respectively. But now they have increased by 1,000 KPW within a week.

Daily NK sources speculate that the reason for the sharp increase is due to reduced distribution of rice and below-average yield of early new potatoes. Of course, April and May are called the “farming hardship period” for a reason; in other words, supply-side limitations could simply be filtering down to the retail market.

According to the source, local people are concerned that prices could rise to 7,000 KPW, the high point reached during the mourning period for Kim Jong Il at the start of 2012. However, others are less worried, saying, “Since fall is right in front of us, prices won’t rise any more.”

Although rice prices usually vary in accordance with fluctuations in currency exchange rates, recent ups and downs have not followed this pattern. Despite the fact that the North Korean Won is currently 30 KPW stronger per Chinese Yuan higher than it was last month, rice prices have sharply increased.

“In fifteen days, people will harvest barley and have corn that was planted earlier. So rice prices won’t go up any more,” the source in Yangkang Province said. However, the source in North Hamkyung Province voiced the concern that “flooding from the monsoon may influence yields of barley, corn and other grains.”

Analyzing the situation, Kwon Tae Jin of GS&J Institute said, “Rice is never abundant in Hyesan; it must have been affected by drought in eastern parts of China. Travel restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of diseases may have contributed to the increase as well.”

“Once the corn is harvested in August, prices will stabilize for a while. But a poor yield overall could cause them to start rising later,” he predicted.

Read the full story here:
Markets See Quick Spike in Rice Prices
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin
2014-7-25

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