Archive for the ‘Pharmaceuticals’ Category

PyongSu Joint Venture Company

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

From Wikipedia:

PyongSu Joint Venture Company, Limited is a pharmaceutical company jointly founded in 2002 by Pyongyang Pharmaceutical Company in North Korea and a company headquartered in Hong Kong which is a market leader in pharmaceuticals distribution and contract manufacturing in Asia. The corporate headquarters of PyongSu are in the Songyo district in Pyongyang. PyongSu started trial production in 2004 and, as of 2005, engaged in manufacturing mainly painkillers and antibiotics. At the end of 2006 the foreign-invested stake was sold to another investor. Felix Abt, the 3rd managing director (or president) managed to avoid the closure of the company by turning the heavily loss-making operation into a profit-making one. PyongSu became the first North Korean pharmaceutical factory to reach GMP (a universally recognized quality standard in the pharmaceutical industry as defined by the WHO), repeatedly inspected and confirmed by the WHO. It also became the first ever North Korean company to participate in tender competitions and to win contracts against foreign competitors from China, India, Germany and elsewhere. With an increasing cash-flow generated by itself, the company has even become able to buy and profitably operate pharmacies and other sales outlets in the country. Towards the end of 2008 managing director Felix Abt explained that the company now enjoys 1) a portfolio of products made by itself including an anti-helmintic and an anti-hypertensive drug that meets the patients’ needs well 2) a good reputation as a quality and service-minded company in the DPR Korea and the recognition as the “model company” of the domestic pharmaceutical industry. 3) a good market penetration thanks to wholesaling (that includes a variety of complementary products at affordable prices imported directly from reliable GMP-manufacturers) and its own profitable retail outlets (i.e. pharmacies) and 4) a healthy growth (including a high amount of orders on hand for 2009), sustainability and profitability.

Click here to read a recent interview by Mr. Abt in Interview Blog.

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Interview Blog: Felix Abt, European Business Association

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Interview Blog
How a hopeless pharmaceutical joint venture was turned into a success story, why and how humanitarian aid and economic development mostly follow conflicting interests, how foreign business people challenge and survive an environment overshadowed by heavy geopolitical influences including arbitrary sanctions imposed by foreign powers, how North Korean managers prepare themselves to get fit for export and international competition, and what the dos and don’ts are for those who want to successfully start a business in this very special country.

(click here for other North Korea-related interviews)

Klaus-Martin Meyer: Felix Abt, you came as country director for the ABB group to North Korea in 2002 where you have been resident since. ABB closed its representation just about 2 years after your arrival but you have successfully been involved in a number of other businesses since then. What happened?

Felix Abt: At the time the Swiss-Swedish ABB, a global leader in power and automation technologies, not only faced huge asbesto claims in the United States but also large debts versus a tiny equity that culminated then into a matter of life or death for the group. To survive it decided to immediately save 800 million USD cash expenses, making the closure of a number of factories and offices around the globe unavoidable.

Though we at ABB Pyongyang fully covered our cost through sufficient sales with a good margin the funds and other resources necessary to set up the planned joint ventures I had been negotiating, however promising they may have become, were definitely not available any longer. In addition the pre-contracts I secured for ABB – including one for a 9-digit USD infrastructure project I signed at the dismay of the competitors in presence of the Swiss foreign minister, the Swedish ambassador and the North Korean minister of power and coal industries – would have required even more substantial funding. Given ABB’s critical financial condition that I, far from the headquarters, grew aware of only later, neither ABB could have provided this in the form of supplier credits nor commercial banks in the absence of sufficient export risk cover nor institutions like the Asian Development Bank or the World Bank from which North Korea remained excluded as a member due to US and Japanese opposition.

It led ABB to shut down its country representation. The speculations put into circulation suggesting political rather than economic reasons or the failure of its local business operation for the shutdown were all wrong. ABB’s case also drew more attention than it deserved because this company and British tobacco giant BAT were then the only multinational groups active with resident expatriate staff in North Korea.

After the closure of ABB’s offices I continued to work in Pyongyang as an agent for ABB and added other firms to a strategic agency portfolio which comprised first-rated companies in promising key sectors like mining (e.g. Sandvik) and light industries (e.g. Dystar). On behalf of the companies represented by me I realized multi million USD sales in the following years. I was also involved in setting up mining operations.

Klaus-Martin Meyer: From heavy involvement in infrastructure and mining business to raising a North Korean pharmaceutical factory to world standard – how come?

Felix Abt: The PyongSu Pharma J.V. Co. Ltd. in Pyongyang is the first pharmaceutical joint venture between North Korean and foreign investors and the largest operational European investment at present. The foreign investors that had been holding the majority equity stake sent first a Philippino production pharmacist to Pyongyang to build up and run the joint venture. After he had been in Pyongyang for some time he decided some day not to return to Pyongyang from a holiday. The project suffered a setback and got stuck until a second one from Germany was found who stayed some years until he decided to retire. Both of them were excellent production experts and successfully set up and run pharmaceutical operations elsewhere before. And yet, PyongSu’s situation still looked desperate when the second one left and when I was asked to become managing director and the third one to, so to speak, try his luck: A WHO-sponsored international inspection had just come up with 75 objections, rejecting Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) acknowledgement, a universally recognized production quality standard in the pharmaceutical industry as defined by the WHO. In addition from being far from reaching the necessary standards, the company had no sales but only expenses, large quantities of Aspirin and Paracetamol nearing their expiry dates were stockpiled at its warehouse, and last but not least both investors, unwilling to give the company any more support, and staff were discouraged and they had little confidence left in the company’s future.

Having had the unique chance of getting to know North Korea and gaining, unlike other foreign business people, a pretty good insight and understanding of the way business is done here during the previous years of my stay thanks to my multi-faceted business activities and having worked and survived for a large multinational pharmaceutical group as country director and regional director before in no much less challenging places in the Middle East and in Africa, I thought I should dare it. At the beginning I felt really lonely in the belief that PyongSu had a fair chance of succeeding and many told me straightforward I was a day dreamer. But already recognizing the impressive potential of the Korean staff when I was a member of the board of directors before taking over as chief executive and the ability to recruit more of the industry’s best talents I believed that with proper management that included coaching and training in all business aspects good results were achievable.

The results of the new approach are quickly told: PyongSu did become the first North Korean pharmaceutical factory to reach international GMP-level confirmed by the World Health Organisation. It also became the first ever North Korean company to participate in tender competitions and to win contracts against foreign competitors from Germany, China, India, Thailand and elsewhere. With an increasing cash-flow generated by ourselves, we have even become able to add significant value to the company by buying and profitably operate pharmacies and other sales outlets in the country.

Being recognized as a model pharmaceutical company PyongSu has, at the request of the government, also made itself socially useful by sharing know-how with other pharmaceutical companies to help raise their standards.

Klaus-Martin Meyer: You have been the initiator and the first president of the European Business Association (EBA) in Pyongyang, the equivalent of a European chamber of commerce. What was the motivation for its foundation and what has been the result of it so far?

Felix Abt: I always felt that there are plenty of misconceptions about North Korea and the way business is done here. Not only was the country underreported and often misunderstood but when Western media did report about it they tended to repeat old, mostly negative stereotypes. Thus, I saw a need to provide the business world with more accurate information, ideally by competent business people on the ground themselves. I also thought an entity should be created that could serve as a bridge between European and North Korean enterprises to accelerate investment and trade between them and to break the isolation the country was pushed into by the powers who have been trying to overthrow it ever since the DPRK or, in full, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea’s official denomination) was founded 60 years ago. I also thought it could some day become a welcome medium for European businesses and North Korean authorities to hold dialogues in order to learn to understand one another’s problems, concerns and thinking which would strongly benefit both sides. I could, by the way, also imagine a larger meeting and communication platform not just limited to few European businesses but open for enterprises around the globe interested in investing and doing business in North Korea.

Since its foundation the EBA Pyongyang made some headway into the direction described before. However, my presidency was marked and overshadowed by an avalanche of arbitrary economic and financial “sanctions” imposed on the host country which kept me busy to find ways and means to keep (legitimate) business going.

As things have stabilized and as we have learnt how to deal with obstacles to our businesses in the meantime and, last but not least, in order to save time for existing business projects as well as new business opportunities in North Korea and Vietnam including those your readers may approach me with I decided a few months ago that I would no longer be available as president or committee member for a second several-year-term.

But having closely experienced Vietnam’s economic adjustment process and the way it so successfully attracted foreign investment where I have been living and working for many years before I moved to Pyongyang I would still be prepared to spend time and share experience and know-how with the competent North Korean authorities should they be interested in it.

Klaus-Martin Meyer: One of the many hats you are wearing is the one as director of the Pyongyang Business School. Is capacity building for enterprises a better alternative to sending rice bags in order to prevent hunger and starvation in North Korea?

Felix Abt: Let me explain you first that with the exception of Sweden and Switzerland all European countries, invited by the North Korean government to do development projects in North Korea, have refused to do so until now for political reasons (following largely US-policies) and provide only humanitarian assistance, particularly in times of disaster. It is mainly the United States plus European and certain Asian countries that have been donating rice and other food items instead either directly or through the World Food Programme (WFP) each and every year for more than a decade and they are continuing to do so. This not only allowed donors to get a glimpse into North Korea through the eyes of WFP-food distributors but it also created a culture of dependency which I suspect was not entirely without political intentions by the donor countries and which economists and development experts claim to also have prevented necessary economic adjustment measures that would have allowed the DPRK to get on its own feet faster.

Recently, for example, I saw that an NGO bought a large quantity of cookies fortified with vitamines in China with taxpayers’ money from a European country for malnourished kids in North Korea. They thought that European hygiene, safety and quality standards of food items can be met in China but not in North Korea. Instead of helping the North Korean food companies with some capacity building reach these standards they were in fact undermining the efforts that the North Korean food processing industry is undertaking to catch up with the rest of the world. How do these do-gooders imagine that domestic factories can thrive and feed their workers and their families if they place their orders with competing industries just across the border? I can illustrate my point also with PyongSu’s example. Some organizations like the WHO and the IFRC have supported and sincerely honored PyongSu’s efforts to reach international quality and safety standards and competitive prices. They were fully aware of the fact that by purchasing quality pharmaceuticals made in the DPRK they would help raise the quality and safety of pharmaceuticals and save additional lives! And yet there are still many NGO’s and countries that prefer to buy pharmaceuticals to be donated abroad rather than from us, directly undermining efforts of PyongSu and the rest of the North Korean pharmaceutical industry to reach and maintain high international standards. This proves that there is a lot of politics, self-interest and hypocrisy involved in what I would call the foreign aid industry which literally beats the domestic manufacturing industry.

A former country director of the Swiss governmental Development and Cooperation Agency (SDC) and I thought food security could only be established by promoting adequate economic development leading to increasing income in domestic and hard currency, job creation etc. Since, of course, we would not have been able to mobilize finance for the upgrading of the infrastructure, or to buy spare parts and raw materials for enterprises, we thought that a very cost-effective means of helping North Korean companies is capacity building for senior officials and managers to enable them to make the best out of their existing enterprises and to prepare them to get fit for export and international competition.

I made a concept for approval by the sponsor SDC and the DPRK-government and then I started organizing the business school seminars (including some essential elements of an MBA-course) with lecturers from different countries with an outstanding theoretical knowledge and practical international experience. Having gained a good idea of the state of North Korean enterprises, their environment and a fair understanding of the needs of their managers when doing business with them I was not only able to select the most suitable lecturers but also brief them in such a way as to have their lectures tailored to the students’ real needs – something other foreign economic training organizers have failed to do. The students at the seminars are North Korean senior officials and company executives. It was therefore not surprising that they expressed great satisfaction with what they learnt and with the practical benefits they drew from it for their businesses. Since SDC did not pay my work and my expenses during the first two years I was not only a co-initiator but also a co-sponsor. In addition I could convince some large foreign companies to send senior executives and experts to hold seminars in Pyongyang at their own expense.

Western media like The Financial Times were quick at speculating that we were about to challenge the socialist system but that, of course, is non-sense. It’s very simple: If a country, regardless of whether it is capitalist or socialist, wants its enterprises to successfully export they need to get to know and apply the corresponding marketing tools. Or irrespective of whether an enterprise is privately or state-owned it needs to have a strategy and a business plan. So the company managers have learnt such basics at our seminars and, to stay with the example, know that if they fail to plan they plan to fail.

This year most of the lecturers have been coming from Hong Kong. They have an academic teaching background and, in addition, international management experience of 20 years on average. A further asset they have, and that’s another reason why I have chosen them, is that most of them also built up subsidiary companies in mainland China on behalf of Western companies. Thus, they are not just teaching knowledge acquired from books but have a lot of highly useful hands-on experience and are also well aware of the different business worlds and of the very different economic, cultural and political aspects in East and West, which is essential to know when interacting with businesses of other countries. Needless to say that they can understand and empathize with North Korea better than European and other Western lecturers who would have to overcome much more than just a wide geographical distance.

Klaus-Martin Meyer: With your unique and large wealth of experience in North Korea what do you recommend to business people who want to start a business in North Korea.

Felix Abt: This is your toughest question since it would take me at least a full evening to give some really useful reply.

Perhaps I would summarily try to answer that if you want to understand why and how certain companies succeed you have to know first why certain other foreign companies fail. Those who fail are quick at blaming North Korea, its system and so on, and, of course, never recognize their own shortcomings.

But it’s worthwhile having a closer look at them to learn how to avoid costly errors. From my observations these are the five main causes of their failure:

– lack of basic knowledge of the country due to a lack of due diligence (no or little home work done before traveling to Pyongyang)
– advice by ignorant and/or biased advisors and sponsors (all advisors belong to this category to at least a certain extent)
– choice of random, suboptimal business partner based on a recommendation (see above) rather than a systematic selection (i.e. asking for a range of alternative business partners from which to choose the most suitable one)
– no identification of a leverage for a long-term joint venture (e.g. lasting technological advance, ownership of unique loyal customer base etc.)
– appointment of unsuitable project manager (with lack of technical and/or social and/or cultural competence as well as lacking patience, stamina and flexibility and/or a background difficult to accept for the North Koreans)

A larger number of Chinese but also some European business people have successfully started businesses in North Korea in recent years. Readers of yours may join the growing foreign business community and I wish them good luck and success, too!

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Working logistics for the Eugene Bell Foundation in North Korea…

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

…does not sound like very easy job based on the most in-depth media coverage of their operations published in the Washington Post.

The story portrays the sad state of the DPRK’s medical facilities and shows just how much local doctors struggle to serve their patients.  According to Eugene Bell Foundation Chairman Stephen Linton:

“I’ve seen doctors who tried to capture sunlight by reflecting it from a mirror,” [during surgery] he says.

By North Korean standards, [this] patient is fortunate. She’s been given a local anesthetic, which is rare in a country where surgeons routinely etherize patients, strap them down and try to finish the operation before they come to.

and  

Like most hospitals and care centers in North Korea, the facility employs a direct-fluoroscopy machine, an X-ray device that irradiates the patient from behind while the doctor examines an image projected on a fluoroscopic plate of glass between them. “The negative is the doctor’s retina,” says Linton, who frequently admonishes physicians for submitting themselves to the machines’ potentially fatal doses of radiation. Most physicians in North Korea use them regularly, and suffer the consequences. The radiologist at Kosong, for example, has receding gums and low hemoglobin, common signs of radiation sickness. Three of his colleagues have died over the years — one from radiation overdose, another from cancer and a third from tuberculosis.

But the toll poor infrastructure takes on the provision of good health care is only exacerbated by the difficulties the DPRK bureaucracy puts in his way:

Of the 36 NGOs that began operations in North Korea as famine gutted the rural population in the mid-1990s, all but a handful have left in frustration. And Linton is particularly demanding: He insists on delivering his supplies personally, lest they be diverted to another facility or end up on the black market. When government officials balk, Linton refuses to resupply the site. So each of his two resupply visits annually is preceded by lengthy and sometimes rancorous negotiations.

“They say they want to save wear and tear on the vehicles, so they need to cut our sites by a third. Fine. I’ll cut theirs as well. Mary, I’ll need a red marker.”

Most of the cancellations involve small sanatoriums in rural areas — the very sites his donors are so keen to support. Linton suspects his hosts want to avoid those facilities because, relative to the urban care centers, their poor sanitation makes them legitimately hazardous. And the wear-and-tear issue isn’t just a red herring. Spending days crisscrossing the countryside on unpaved roads takes a huge toll on the delegation’s fleet of SUVs — vehicles that, between Linton’s visits, the ministry is allowed to use for its own purposes. In resource-starved North Korea, even government officials must barter to replace broken fan belts and transmissions. The last thing the bureaucrats want is to risk losing a precious automobile.

Linton is also apparently given a curfew when he is required to be back at this guest house in Pyongyang.

It seems Tuberculosis is running rampant at the moment:

South Korean sources suggest that tuberculosis has affected as much as 5 percent of North Korea’s population of 23 million. Linton estimates the Eugene Bell Foundation has treated up to 250,000 patients, 70 percent of whom might have otherwise died.

The whole article is well worth reading.

Donations can be made here.

The full article can be found here:
Giving Until It Hurts
Washington Post
Stephen Glain
3/9/2008, Page W16

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North Korea’s Hyesan Jangmadang Prohibits Sale of Medical Products

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

Daily NK
Moon Sung Hwee
12/4/2007

An internal source conveyed on the 30th that due to an extreme decree which prohibits all sales of medical goods, the suffering of citizens has been increasing.

The source maintained that “In August, the sale of medical products was banned, and by the start of anti-socialism inspections in September, no medical products could be found in the jangmadang.”

The North Korean authorities have long since stated its position in prohibiting the sale of medical goods, saying that the sale of medical goods in the jangmadang is a show of democracy that undermines the national medical system. However, regulations usually never went beyond formalities.

Recently, however, anti-socialism inspections have been conducted on a large-scale in Yankang with the theme of “Abolishing capitalist trends in the market.” Medical products, which are mostly from China and South Korea, have been regulated more aggressively. Some have said that the authorities have strengthened regulations due to frequent incidences involving Chinese sub-standard medical products.”

With the harbinger of regulation of medical products, pharmaceutical vendors have sold medical products to their acquaintances on a limited basis. The price has increased significantly as well. Chinese-made aspirin, “Zhengtongbian”, which costs 20 North Korean won per pill, has hiked up to 30 won. A bottle of anti-diarrhea medicine has increased from 150 won to 300 won and penicillin from 120 to 200 won.

Especially the smuggling of Electrolyte Solution, used in IV’s to hydrate hospital patients, has stopped due to regulations, causing a jump in price.

From mid-August to the end of October, the anti-socialism inspections in Hyesan, Yankang were cooperatively conducted by the central Party, the Prosecutor’s Office, the National Security Agency and the People’s Safety Agency. Along with the strict regulation of cell phones, the market, and capitalist “corruption,” the medical goods ban has cast a heavy burden on the civilians.

“Good Friends” reported in October that “Thirty people have been incarcerated as a result of the anti-socialism inspections in Yankang since mid-August, and regulations have tightened.”

When the sale of medical products completely ceased in the markets, citizens and doctors who must treat their patients have been extremely disgruntled.

The source said, “People have to go to the homes of pharmacists in order to buy medicine, but they cannot if the pharmacists do not know them personally. The price has increased dramatically due to the regulations of medicinal products.”

“Even hospitals do not carry medicine and there is no way to procure them, even at doctors’ request.” Doctors have complained, saying “Are we supposed to just sit by and watch the sick people?”

A majority of medical products that could be found in the markets were Chinese-made contraband goods. In some cases, Party leaders or army hospital leaders have illegally procured medicine as well.

The source commented that when civilian discontent rose, the Party Municipal Committee explained the cause of the cease in sale of medical goods as, “In a socialist society, hospitals have guaranteed medical goods, but during this temporary time of suffering, some immoral people have hoarded the national medical supply and are making a profit.”

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EBA Press Release: Pyongyang International Trade Fair

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Europen Business Association
October 2007

EBA.JPG18 European companies are participating at the European booth organized by the European Business Association (EBA) in Pyongyang. This has been the largest ever participation of European companies at a Trade Fair in Pyongyang. The 18 EBA-member companies come from 6 European countries and are engaged in banking, IT, pharmaceuticals, maritime transportation, railways, courier services, industry, mining, solar driven water pumps, energy saving technology, commodity inspection, cosmetics and other consumer goods and general trading. Some already operate in joint ventures with Korean partners or found other forms of close business cooperation, particularly in the fields of banking, mining, internet services, logistics, software development and pharmaceuticals.

The EBA will continue to make efforts to attract more European companies to invest and do business in the DPRK in the coming years and will share its experience to help make the endeavors of the newcomers and their Korean partners a success. The EBA closely cooperates with the DPRK Chamber of Commerce and the Korea International Exhibition Corporation to facilitate the participation at exhibitions, to intensify trade between European and DPRK-enterprises and to enhance the identification of suitable business and investment opportunities for European companies.

Pictures of the European booth will be published on http://www.eba-pyongyang.org/
Felix Abt, President
Dr. Barbara Unterbeck, PR-manager
European Business Association
President´s Office
Chang Gwang Foreign Residential and Office Building
10th Floor, No. 10-2
Central District
Pyongyang
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
http://www.eba-pyongyang.org/

 

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Seoul seeks to cooperate in modernizing N. Korea’s regional hospitals: minister

Monday, October 8th, 2007

Yonhap
Tony Chang
10/8/2007

South and North Koreas’ top health officials have tentatively agreed to cooperate in modernizing regional hospitals in the communist country, Seoul’s health minister said Monday.

“During unofficial talks with North Korean Health Minister Choi Chang-sik, we’ve agreed to seek joint projects to modernize provincial hospitals in the North,” Byun Jae-jin, South Korea’s health minister, told reporters.

Byun was part of a Seoul delegation that accompanied President Roh Moo-hyun during his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il last week, where both sides also agreed to end military hostility and significantly expand inter-Korean cooperation in various fields.

The minister said last week that the two Koreas agreed to cooperate in welfare and medicine, possibly forming an inter-Korean medical body to deal with future peninsula-wide epidemics, Seoul’s top health official said Thursday.

Choi, along with other top North Korean officials, reportedly requested South Korea to construct a pharmaceutical factory in Nampo, near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, according to Byun.

Seoul’s on-and-off aid to the communist state has mostly focused on food and other necessities, while medical supplies to North Korea have been largely organized by non-governmental organizations and other private agencies.

North Korea’s lack of basic medical supplies has often been cited in local and foreign media, with the country often requesting health-related supplies to combat diseases such as malaria and scarlet fever from the South.

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North Korea Wants End to Sanctions Before It Makes Nuclear Deal

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Bloomberg
Bradley K. Martin
7/26/2007

To make painkillers and antibiotics in his factory in Pyongyang, Swiss businessman Felix Abt needs reagents, chemicals used to test for toxic impurities. Abt can’t get them now — because the world refuses to sell North Korea a product that is also used to manufacture biological weapons.

Such sanctions on trade with the regime of Kim Jong Il — some dating back to the Korean War — may be the next diplomatic battleground after North Korea bowed to pressure last week and shut down five nuclear facilities at Yongbyon.

North Korea said July 16 that ending sanctions, and its removal from a U.S. list of countries that sponsor terrorism, are prerequisites for further progress in the negotiations to end its nuclear weapons program. The U.S., meanwhile, says the next step is for North Korea to disclose all its nuclear capabilities, followed by a permanent dismantling of Yongbyon.

North Korea is playing a “tactical game,” said David Straub, a Korea specialist at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. After shutting down Yongbyon and receiving a pledge of 950,000 tons of oil, the reclusive nation will try to “force the U.S. and others to lift sanctions,” Straub said in an e-mail exchange.

While many of the post-Korean war sanctions were lifted between 1994 and 2000 by President Bill Clinton, Americans are prohibited from exporting “dual-use” products or technologies, a wide range of items that might have military as well as civilian applications — including reagents and even aluminum bicycle tubing, which might be used to make rockets.

UN Sanctions

Much of the world joined the sanctions regime after North Korea tested an atomic device last October. The United Nations called on member states to stop trade in weapons, “dual-use” items and luxury goods. Japan went further, stopping used-car exports and banning port calls by North Korean vessels.

Now that North Korea has shut its facilities at Yongbyon and allowed in international inspectors, the haggling will begin on the next steps. If its demands aren’t met, North Korea could kick out the inspectors and restart the plants, as it did in 2002.

“The Bush administration must choose between settling for a temporary closure of the nuclear sites and taking a strategic decision to coexist” with North Korea, said Kim Myong Chol, Tokyo-based president of the Center for Korean-American Peace, who for three decades has encouraged foreign reporters to consider him an informal North Korean spokesman. “Otherwise, the agreement will break up, leaving the U.S. with little to show.”

‘Contentious Issue’

Sanctions represent “a multiplicity of issues that could become contentious,” said economist Marcus Noland, North Korea specialist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, in an e-mail exchange. China has already called for the lifting of the UN sanctions imposed Oct. 14.

North Korea agreed with the U.S., South Korea, Russia, China and Japan on Feb. 13 to close its Yongbyon reactor, which produced weapons-grade plutonium, and to eventually declare and disable all of its atomic programs. Working groups will meet in August before another round of talks in September.

If the U.S. insists on a list of all the country’s nuclear facilities without starting to negotiate on sanctions, North Korea might consider that “a spoiler” for the talks ahead, Kim Myong Chol said.

Swiss businessman Abt said that in the past he could get around U.S. sanctions for his North Korean pharmaceutical factory by buying supplies from other countries. The UN sanctions shut off those sources.

Using Old Stocks

“Luckily, we have enough stock of reagents, but when it runs out we would not be able to guarantee the safety of our pharmaceuticals any longer,” he said.

Abt, 52, is president of Pyongsu Pharma Joint Venture Co., an enterprise with ties to the Ministry of Public Health that makes painkillers and antibiotics for humanitarian organizations in North Korea. He is also president of Pyongyang’s European Business Association.

“The same is true in many other civilian industries,” said Abt, who moved to North Korea from Vietnam five years ago. Gold mines are affected too, he said: “If they cannot import cyanide, they can’t extract the gold.” Cyanide is another “dual-use” product, part of the process for making some chemical weapons, he said.

All this has “a highly negative impact” on the economy at a time when the regime has announced it wants to focus on development, Abt said. Foreigners are showing “more and more interest in doing business here,” Abt said, predicting that North Korea will eventually be regarded as a successor to Vietnam as “the newest emerging market.”

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S. Korean group donates medicines to N. Korea

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

Yonhap
Tony Chang
7/11/2007

A South Korean pharmaceutical association said Wednesday it had provided North Korea with drugs worth about 3 billion won (US$3.25 million) in May in response to a request from the impoverished country.

In February, the North Korean Red Cross Society sent a letter requesting antibiotics, tuberculosis medicine, pneumonia medications, and other basic drugs, the Korea Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (KPMA) said.

“Drugs made in the South are precious to us because medicines from China are often fake and not fitting to the North Korean constitution,” the society was quoted as saying in the letter.

The North even requested drugs that have outlived their shelf life, underscoring its urgent need for basic drugs, the KPMA said, adding that it had rejected the request for safety reasons.

In late 2006, the North was hit by an outbreak of scarlet fever, which led to travel bans and school closings, according to reports. The country’s east coast was also reported to have been struck by a series of infectious diseases in January, affecting up to 4,000 people.

North seeks medicine, even if expired for a year
Joong Ang Daily

Kim Young-hoon
7/11/2007

A letter from a Red Cross hospital official in North Korea did not mince words. “We welcome any donation of medicine, even if its expiration date has passed,” the official said.

Moon Kyung-tae, vice chairman of the Seoul-based Korea Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, said yesterday the official sent the letter through a civic group, Unification Affairs Research Institute, in February.

The North is willing to take medicine that has expired for up to a year, Moon said, and also was willing to accept responsibility for any problems that might arise.

However, Moon said, “We just cannot do that.”

The association sends about 5 billion won ($5.4 million) worth of medical aid packages to the North every year, but the amount is not nearly enough for what is needed.

In 2005, the South provided support to build pharmaceutical factories in the North, but the facilities could not operate properly due to water and electricity shortages.

The country is extremely vulnerable to epidemics. In October, scarlet fever, which can be treated by taking three pills a day for 10 days, broke out in the North. A significant number of children and the elderly died because they lacked the proper medicine, sources well-informed about the North’s situation said.

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Due to China’s protest, North Korea’s drug production facility partly closed

Monday, May 21st, 2007

Daily NK
Han Young Jin
5/21/2007

Well-informed sources say Heungnam manufacturer’s production facility shuts down.

Several well-known sources relayed on the 20th that as North Korean drugs flow into China in large amounts, it strongly protested to North Korea and requested that the Heungnam Pharmaceutical Manufacturer in Hamheung be shut down.

Following suit, the North Korean government authorities was known to destroy the Heungnam Pharmaceutical Manufacturer used in producing bingdu (the alias for “ice” classified in the category of Philopon in North Korea).

The well-informed source said, “China’s judicial authorities are strongly coping with the situation by imposing three years of penal servitude to those who sell 10g of Bingdu (so called “Ice” in North Korea) or a penalty of 20,000 yuan. When North Korea demonstrated a lax response, China expressed strong discontent.”

In North Korea, the Nanam Pharmaceutical Manufacturer in Chungjin, North Hamkyung is famous as a representative drug manufacturing company. The source evaluated that Hamheung, which has recently risen as a drug production base, had weak means of living which produced the highest number of deaths during the 90s’ mass starvation and the stimulant “Ice” was misused due to the lack of medical products.

$3,000 per kilogram…dealt for $10,000 at the border

An internal source said, “During the March of Suffering, a part of citizens who even sold raw materials and factory equipment earned big money by selling drugs. Since then, everyone has followed the trend. The people in Hamheung started handling drugs with great ambition due to the fact that at the Heungnam Pharmaceutical Manufacturer, the prime cost for a kilogram is $3,000 dollars and the profit exceeds $5,000.”

The source said, “In the past, people touched drugs hoping to make a big fortune with a single swoop, but everyone is thinking about making money by selling drugs nowadays. Inevitably, the number of civilians who have become ‘ice’ addicts has significantly increased.”

Ice can be produced for $3,000 per kilogram and sold on site for $7-8,000 and at the border region where smuggling is possible, it can be sold for up to $10,000.

Another source said, “Civilians have fallen to the bedazzlement of making a jackpot with drugs, so they have gone to the border region carrying drugs and seeking dealers. However, fakes that have been manufactured ingeniously are also making a wave.”

In North Korea, as drug sales have been unyielding, it was known that teenagers who are touching “ice” are not only seriously in Hamheung but in all regions. They are not showing immediate signs of addiction, but they can be presumed as “high-risk” people for addiction.

North Korean businessman Mr. Kim, who is engaging is trade between North Korea and China, wore a sorry expression and said, “Nowadays, children who are not yet fully grown use ‘ice.’ Not too long ago, my friend’s 12-year old son was found while secretly using his father’s ‘ice.’ After severely beating him, the father asked, “Do you like ‘ice’ so much? The son responded, ‘it is a cure-all.’”

In the mid-1990s, due to deteriorated medical facilities and a shortage of medical goods, citizens started to depend on folk remedies. Civilians who started using ‘ice’ in lieu of cold medicines started using it as emergency medicine even for the flu and strokes.

Mr. Kim said, “Ice has a stimulant quality, so it is used to as a stimulant and a stress-releaser. Even children have come to regard it as a panacea and think that a little suck of ice will instantly get rid of pain and make one refreshed.”

Narcotic squads hardly have any strength

The North Korean authorities issued a narcotics degree in March of last year to prevent drug abuse. It has even issued the threat of putting to death related parties of drug deals. However, businesses that have earned money through drugs feed bribes to inspection organs, so sources said that these institutions cannot exert any strength.

One domestic source said, “Recently, a Central Party inspection group was organized in Shinuiju and came forward to regulate drugs, but authorities such as the National Security Agency, the National Security Office, and others have become implicated. However, exposing them in increasing measures makes punishment difficult, because complicit individuals can come forward in hordes.”

Drug sellers in the border region have divided left-over profits from handing over to China with participating National Security officers. The source said, “If a drug dealer is arrested, if back-money is given, even the ring-leader will be immediately released.”

The source also said that upper-class drug inspection groups can instantly become conspirators due to the high amount of money to be handed over to their superiors.

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Foreign NGOs in N.Korea try to counter culture of dependence

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

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 AFP
 Philippe Agret
 5/2/2007

 

SARIWON, North Korea (AFP) – To cope with the pouring rain, the hospital tossed sawdust down the stairway leading to the operating theatre.

Two surgeons washed their hands in a sink, but sometimes they lack soap.

Much like the rest of North Korea, a political pariah and economic black hole, the nation’s hospitals subsist with whatever they can get their hands on, making ends meet with obsolete equipment, short-cut procedures and a smattering of foreign assistance.

Even by the standards of the developing world, the facilities here in Sariwon, a 45-minute drive south of the capital Pyongyang, leave much to be desired.

The medical equipment is largely German or Soviet, reused as long as possible, but spare parts are desperately lacking.

“As we lack sufficient or working equipment, we use local anaesthesia and acupuncture for operations,” said the director of the Sariwon hospital, Dr Choe Chol, a surgeon.

In winter, surgeons operate in rooms where the temperature is lower than five degrees Celsius (41 Fahrenheit).

To improve conditions, the doctors and nurses pitch in themselves to make the hospital work, sometimes even laying down the tiling in the operating theatres.

“We do our best here. There’s no bleach, no soap, no disinfectant. We cleanse with distilled water. It’s the volunteers — the doctors and nurses — who regularly do the cleaning up,” said Veronique Mondon, the North Korea head of the French charity Premiere Urgence.

Premiere Urgence is one of only six foreign non-governmental organisations allowed to work in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Like others NGOs, the group has set a goal of bringing the most basic treatment to the population — but also to encourage North Koreans to develop their own medical infrastructure.

Premiere Urgence’s primary effort has been producing intravenous drips — one of the only medical supplies made in North Korea — for the 12 hospitals where it works.

With 70 to 80 percent of the medicine in North Korea coming from overseas donations, the IV drip — in the form of a packet with a solution of distilled water, glucose and sodium — serves to ease the impact of the lack of supplies.

“These packets can be used for a great number of the medical problems in North Korea such as accidents, malnutrition, dehydration, diarrhea, typhus and hepatitis. They save lives,” said Mondon, a biologist who opened Premiere Urgence’s branch in North Korea in April 2002.

If IV drips are effective, their production is a daily challenge. The packets must be sterilised on site in the most sanitary conditions possible, a process that takes about three and a half hours.

In light of the instability of the electricity and frequent short power cuts, Premiere Urgence has brought in specially made transformers from China.

“The people in the laboratories work during the night to produce the packets so as to save the electricity for the sick people and operations during the day,” Mondon said.

“It was tough at first. It seemed to be an insurmountable task. But now, the North Koreans know that this is needed,” she said.

After the April 2004 disaster in the northern city of Ryongchon, when a cargo train blew up, killing more than 160 people and wounding a thousand others, Premiere Urgence worked round the clock to produce IV drips and distributed 40,000 of them to two hospitals that were treating victims.

Today, the laboratory in Sariwon produces 300 IV drips a day — enough to treat more than 200 patients in this 750-bed hospital.

Across North Korea, Premiere Urgence produces 500,000 packets a year, each one worth around 50 US cents.

The French group has also set up a central laboratory in Pyongyang for quality control over injectable solutions.

North Korea’s communist leadership adheres to the homegrown ideology of “Juche” — self-reliance and self-sufficiency.

But at least hundreds of thousands of people died in a famine in the 1990s and North Korea has since relied heavily on foreign assistance — notably for food — despite continued political defiance, including its test of an atomic device in October.

From the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to the few NGOs in North Korea, all encourage local initiatives in an effort to prevent a culture of dependence.

Premiere Urgence plans eventually to hand over the maintenance of equipment and training of technical staff to the North Korean ministry of public health.

As for the ICRC, as well as helping produce 1,200 prosthetic limbs in 2006, it has focused efforts on training local people, including orthopaedic specialists and surgeons.

“North Korea’s pharmaceutical industry will never be able to develop if humanitarian groups flood North Korea with foreign medicine. It will continue to vegetate and manufacturer substandard products if foreigners do not buy local medicine,” said Felix Abt, a Swiss businessman who heads PyongSu Pharma JV. Co Ltd., one of the first foreign joint ventures in North Korea.

Pyongsu has set up a “model” pharmacy in Pyongyang and since September 2004 has run a factory with 30 employees manufacturing paracetamol, the pain relief drug sold under name brands such as Tylenol, along with aspirin and antibiotics.

Abt hopes one day to be able to export medicine from North Korea.

“For now, we are giving the North Koreans fish. It would be better to give them nets so they can catch fish,” Abt said.

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An affiliate of 38 North