Archive for the ‘International trade’ Category

Recent CRS reports on the DPRK

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

The Congressional Research Service “recently” published two reports which relate to the DPRK:

The U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA): Provisions and Implementation
September 16, 2014: 2014-9-16-KORUS-Kaesong
June 2, 2011: Imports-from-North-Korea-2011

(Although this report focuses mostly on US-ROK issues, there is detailed discussion of the complex negotiations around the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC).)

Iran-North Korea-Syria Ballistic Missile and Nuclear Cooperation 
April 16, 2014: 2014-4-16-Iran-Syria-Missile

You can download most former CRS reports dealing with the DPRK here.

 

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DPRK still owes Sweden for old Volvos

Friday, August 29th, 2014

According to Newsweek:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vietnam recalls traditional North Korean medicine

Friday, August 29th, 2014

Mannyon-rx-factory-2014-8-29

Pictured above: The Mannyon Pharmaceutical Factory in North Korea which produced the banned medicine.

According to Vietnamnet Bridge:

The Bureau of Food Safety of the Ministry of Health on Wednesday decided to take Angunguhwanghwan (안궁우황환), a functional food produced by North Korea, off the market. It will also destroy all of the products, which contained high concentrations of mercury, arsenic and lead.

Test results of this product revealed that it contained mercury and arsenic exceeding the allowed limits. The Central Institute of Drug Testing collected the samples from the LC Tacy Red Ginseng Showroom in Hanoi.

The bureau has asked the firm to stop circulation, revoke and destroy the Angunguhwanghwan product and report the results to the department before August 29.

The product, produced by the Korea General Mannyon Health Corporation Chongryu No2, North Korea, was imported by Mannyon Vietnam. The product was licensed by the Bureau of Food Safety in July 2013.

As reported by the importer, it imported 30 boxes of this product in June 2014, with the purpose of introducing it to the local market. Four of the boxes were tested.

Here is a photo of the product:

Mannyon-rx-factory-product-banned-2014-8

Read the full story here:
N. Korean functional-food item taken off market
Vietnamnet Bridge
Le Ha
2014-8-29

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DPRK oil imports from China in 2014 (UPDATED)

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

UPDATE 6 (2014-8-23): For what it is worth, China recorded zero oil exports to North Korea in July. According to Yonhap:

According to the Chinese data analyzed by the Beijing unit of the Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, there were no shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea from January to July.

Diplomatic sources with knowledge of the matter cautioned against reading too much into the official trade figures because China has been providing crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid and such shipments have not been recorded on paper.

In the first seven months of this year, China’s exports to North Korea rose 1.8 percent from a year ago to US$1.95 billion, while imports fell 4.3 percent to $1.57 billion, according to the data.

UPDATE 5 (2014-8-4): The Hankyoreh weighs in on Chinese oil exports to the DPRK:

However, there are also other experts who counter that suspending the supply of crude oil ought not to be read as a sign of deteriorating relations between North Korea and China. They say that, while the statistics read zero, the supply of crude oil is actually continuing. In fact, the price of gasoline and other petroleum products in North Korea remains stable, reports have indicated.

Radio Free Asia reported that gasoline was selling recently for around 10 to 11 won per kilogram at North Korea’s markets, around the same as the 11 won price from 2012. The price of diesel also remained steady at 6 to 7 won, the broadcaster said.

The South Korean government believes that while China may have reduced its crude oil exports, it is continuing to supply North Korea with oil as a form of aid. “China has been supplying North Korea with 500,000 tons in trade, along with a similar amount of free oil. It appears to be providing North Korea with enough crude oil to prevent problems from occurring in North Korean society,” said a senior Ministry of Unification official on condition of anonymity.

But many experts believe that relations between North Korea and China are not in such a bad state that China would shut off the supply of crude oil. “Relations between North Korea and China are not normal, but they should not be seen as especially bad, either. From the viewpoint of a superpower, China appears to be steadily observing North Korea’s behavior, without grief or joy,” said Lee Hui-ok, professor at Sungkyunkwan University.

Indeed, aside from interaction between senior officials, other sectors appear to be operating normally without any major disturbances. Trade between North Korea and China in the first half of the year remained at levels similar to 2013. Chinese exports to the North from January to May of this year were US$1.27 billion, down slightly from US$1.33 billion last year. But a big rebound in June brought the first half figures up to US$1.58 billion, nearly the same as the US$1.59 billion posted last year.

In the area of tourism, China also appeared to be taking a more aggressive attitude in the first half of the year than in 2013, running new tourism programs using bicycles and trains, reports said. In the area of personnel exchange, working-level contact is continuing, despite the lack of meetings between senior officials.

“There are virtually no senior political officials from North Korea visiting China. However, technical and economic officials continue to visit China for inspections and training,” said an official at the South Korean embassy in China, on condition of anonymity.

“It is dangerous to read too much into the temporary fluctuations and the sluggish mood recently affecting relations between North Korea and China. That would be a false diagnosis of their relationship,” said Lee Nam-ju, professor at Sungkonghoe University.

“Since North Korea and China understand each other, it does not appear likely that their relations will be suddenly damaged,” Lee said.

UPDATE 4 (2014-7-14): NK News reports on Chinese petrol exports to the DPRK:

China has increased deliveries of oil products to North Korea during the first five months of 2014 according to the latest Chinese customs data, which also confirms the widely reported halt in crude oil shipments.

However, data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs shows that the oil-products being delivered to North Korea only cover a fraction of the supplies of crude once shipped, with total deliveries falling by over 60 percent.

Experts were unsure over whether this constituted a warning from Beijing in response to North Korea’s regional provocations or whether the slow-down was due to the DPRK’s aging refineries. Crude oil must be refined into petroleum products such as fuel oil, diesel and aviation fuel before being used.

In total, China exported more than 88,000 tons of refined products to the DPRK between January and May 2014, with more than half of the growth caused by spikes in gasoline and kerosene shipments. Gasoline, is primarily used as a fuel for motor vehicles, while kerosene is used to power jet engines and as a heating fuel in North East Asia.

“[This] is somewhat over half of the recorded exports from China to the DPRK in 2010, and somewhat over a quarter of the net petroleum products imports that we estimated for the DPRK from all nations in 2010.  So there may be a real shift in petroleum products exports going on,” David Von Hippel a Senior Associate at the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability told NK News.

Kerosene, used as an aviation fuel, saw the sharpest spike in exports increasing by 5131% when compared to the same period last year. The North Koreans imported more than a hundred thousand barrels, mostly in one bulk shipment in March, amidst news published in early July by Reuters that the DPRK was looking to restart domestic flights.

Gasoline exports also rose by 84% to approximately 280 thousand barrels when compared to the  January – May period in 2013.

DPRK imports of diesel rose to 63,000 barrels and mark the first time China has exported the petroleum product since 2011, although no data is available before this point. The exports remain at a low level however, representing only a few percent of total DPRK yearly usage.

China also upped exports of Butane by 28%, which is used primarily as fuel gas or in gasoline blending. “[Butane] is more likely used as an input to bottled gas (for example, liquefied petroleum gas, LPG), which is, we have heard, increasingly used for cooking in urban households that can afford it in the DPRK.” Von Hippel told NK News.

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

Daily NK has confirmed that China is currently supplying oil to North Korea through a pipeline running between the two. Though there have been cases where Beijing has suspended such shipments in response to North Korean intransigence, particularly over nuclear issues, but this has not happened recently.

On April 10th, Daily NK visited an oil storage and pipeline facility in Dandong. There, our team interviewed Chinese Ministry of Public Security officials guarding the facility, which is owned by a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation, or CNPC.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to Yonhap:

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

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

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

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

Also worth highlighting from the report:

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

Additional information:

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

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

3. DPRK diversifying energy sources.

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

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

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

According to Yonhap:

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

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

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

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

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North Koreans attend Russian arms expo

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

North Korea sent a delegation to a Russian arms exposition last week, a news report said Tuesday, in an apparent sign of Pyongyang’s continuing interest in trading arms despite U.N. sanctions.

North Korean government officials attended this year’s Oboronexpo held in Zhukovsky, near Moscow, from Aug. 13-17, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported, quoting the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS.

The annual arms show puts missile systems, tanks, artillery, and other advanced weapons and relevant technologies on display.

More than 300 defense firms from 11 nations took part in the event.

The RFA, a Washington-based network, said it is possible that the North’s participation was aimed at purchasing weapons.

It has not confirmed whether Pyongyang signed any contracts during the expo, however.

The isolated nation is prohibited from weapons trading under U.N. sanctions imposed in response to long-range rocket and nuclear tests.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea joins Russian arms expo despite sanctions
Yonhap
2014-8-19

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DPRK -china trade dips slightly in H1 2014

Monday, August 4th, 2014

According to the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

Grain Imports Decrease, Rare-Earth Mineral Exports Increase in the First Half of 2014

It has been reported that Chinese grain imports in North Korea have fallen drastically in the first half of 2014. According to the Korean Foreign Trade Association (KFTA), Chinese exports of grain to North Korea totaled 58,387 tons in the first half of 2014, totaling a mere 47 percent of the grain exported in the first half of the previous year (124,228 tons).

China’s most heavily exported grain product to North Korea is flour, which made up 68.8 percent (40,142 tons) of all total grain exports for the first half of 2014. China also exported 13,831 tons of rice and 3,420 tons of corn to North Korea. Corn exports did not even reach twenty percent of the amount exported at the same time last year (17,655 tons).

It is postulated that China’s sharp decrease in grain exports to North Korea is due to the souring relations between the two nations in 2014. Another theory is that the decrease in exports could be due to North Korea’s recent increase in agricultural productivity over previous years.

In the first half of 2014 China exported 109,531 tons of fertilizer to North Korea, 21.3 percent less than the amount exported during the same timeframe last year (139,161 tons). In the first three months of 2014, North Korea aggressively imported Chinese fertilizer at a rate of twenty thousand tons over its monthly average. However, this decreased markedly in the months of April, May and June.

Meanwhile, North Korea has been exporting large quantities of rare-earth resources (which are used in manufacturing high-tech products) to China over the last few months. Reportedly, in May of 2014, North Korea exported 550,000 dollars’ worth of rare-earth ore to China. This figure more than doubled the following month, reaching 1.33 million USD in June.

This comes as a bit of a surprise, as North Korean rare-earth resource exports to China had come to a standstill after the first round of exports (totaling 24.7 thousand USD) in January 2013. Suddenly, after fifteen months, North Korea has exported 1.88 million USD worth of rare-earth ore (approx. 1.93 billion KRW, 62.66 thousand kilograms) over the last two months.

Since 2011, North Korea has in fact been exporting rare-earth carbonate mixtures to China; however total exports of these products have only reached 170 thousand USD over the last three and a half years.

North Korea has been placing attention on these underground rare-earth resources, of which the nation reportedly has ample quantities of in various deposits around the country. Recently, much effort has been put into surveying for deposits of these so-called “vitamins of the 21st century’s high-tech industry.” In 2013 a company for the development of rare-earth materials in North Pyongan Province was established with the cooperation of the international private equity firm “SRE Minerals.”

In July 2011, the Choson Sinbo, a news affiliate of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, reported in an interview with top executives from the National Resources Development Council that rare-earth resource deposits in North Korea total approximately 20 million tons. The drastic increase seen in rare-earth resource exports can be attributed to North Korea’s attempt to diversify its resource exports. In other words, the DPRK is investing in rare-earth material exports in order to reduce its dependency on other leading mineral exports such as anthracite, iron ore, and lead.

Exports of anthracite to China decreased by 23 percent in the first half of 2014 (compared to last year), totaling approximately 571 million USD. Iron ore exports, North Korea’s second leading resource export, reached approximately 121 million USD in the same time period – a drop of 5 percent when compared to the same time period last year.

According to the Korea Herald (Yonhap):

North Korea’s trade with its economic lifeline China fell 2.1 percent on year to US$2.89 billion in the first six months of this year, data compiled by South Korea’s government trade agency showed Monday, in another sign that strained political ties between the two nations have affected their economic relations.

During the six-month period, North Korea’s exports to China declined 3.9 percent to $1.31 billion and imports slipped 0.6 percent to $1.58 billion, according to the data provided by the Beijing unit of South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA).

There were no shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea from January to June, the data showed.

“Despite the six-month absence of oil shipments, the scale of North Korea’s decline in imports is minimal,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s exports of rare earth to China jumped 153.7 percent on year during the January-June period, the data showed, without providing the value of the exports.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s trade with China falls 2.1 pct in H1
Korea Herald (Yonhap)
2014-08-04

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Food imports from China fall in 2014

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s grain imports from China tumbled more than 50 percent on-year in the first half of this year, data showed Wednesday, amid speculation that relations between the communist allies are not like before.

North Korea imported 58,387 tons of cereal crops from China in the January-June period, down 53 percent from 124,228 tons recorded a year earlier, according to the data by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).

By type, flour topped the list with 40,142 tons, or 68.8 percent, followed by rice and corn with 13,831 tons and 3,420 tons, respectively, added the Seoul-based agency.

Analysts say the remarkable decrease may be attributable to reportedly strained ties between the two sides in recent months.

“Of late, North Korea has appeared to move to reduce its economic dependence on China and diversify its foreign economic partners,” said Lim Eul-chul, professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University.

Kwon Tae-jin, researcher at private think tank GS&J, said it might have been more affected by Pyongyang’s increased crop yield.

“North Korea’s stockpile of crops seems to have grown due to a good harvest last year.

Meanwhile, China’s fertilizer exports to North Korea also plunged 21.3 percent to 109,531 tons during the January-June period this year from a year earlier, said KITA.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s grain imports from China halve in H1
Yonhap
2014-7-30

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Chinese Koreans and cross border trade

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

The Hwagyo, North Korea’s community of overseas Chinese, are seeing their value rise in response to demand for assistance transporting cross-border freight for local traders hamstrung by their proscribed freedom of movement, according to a source inside North Korea. The local traders refer to the process as “renting a passport”.

The source in North Pyongan Province reported to Daily NK on July 28th, “Pyongyang Hwagyo are catering to the tastes of middle-class consumers in the city’s markets by taking orders from individuals or by bringing in goods on the behalf of traders.

“The measles outbreak prevented Pyongyang hwagyo in Pyongyang from taking the cross-border train, but recently that ban was lifted so they can come and go from Dandong again.” The measles travel ban was put in place during June in Yongcheon and Sinuiju, but was withdrawn on July 15th.

Hwagyo are treated as citizens in North Korea, carrying the same identification cards as all other residents; however, they are also able to hold Chinese passports, which allows for greater mobility and autonomy than other North Koreans. That is the reason for the high demand; North Korean traders and wholesalers employ them to ensure that their supplies arrive from China.

“Although there are a lot of hwagyo from Sinuiju and elsewhere in Dandong, Pyongyang hwagyo are the ones who get hired the most because the train ends in Pyongyang; This makes it easier to get the goods into circulation, and the procedures there are not as stringent,” the source reported. “This has caused their value to rise.”

“The hwagyo either use their own money to get products to sell in Pyongyang markets directly, or they use money from traders and take 5% of the total upon delivery,” she said. “They take commission for transferring goods from the cross-border trains to merchants in Pyongyang markets.”

“Merchants used to collaborate with train operators coming in from Dandong to bring goods into Sinuiju. However, more are seeking out the hwagyo instead, because it’s cheaper,” the source said.

There is a stipulated limit of 300kg of cargo per person on the train between Dandong and Pyongyang. Excess luggage is possible, but only up to 50kg, and this is charged at 1.50 RMB per kg, according to the source. The ticket for the 5hr 30min ride is 300 RMB, and this must also be factored into the overall freight transit cost.

The train departs at 10:00 daily. Once it arrives in Pyongyang at around 15:30, passengers and freight are subjected to customs procedures, followed by immigration inspections. “Not a single person can leave the train until everyone goes through immigration and officers check their passports and travel visas,” the source recalled.

“Because the staff in Sinuiji Customs House are tough about inspections and are sure to take at least one thing, it’s safer and cheaper to transport goods via the cross-border train,” the source said, concluding, “How funny it is that this place prevents North Korean citizens from moving around freely and ends up making hwagyo richer.”

Read the full story here:
Hwagyo Step in to Dominate Border Trade
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2014-07-29

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DPRK increases exports of rare earths to China

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

According to the Korea Times:

North Korea has increased its rare earth exports to China amid worries within the international community that its mineral exports could weaken the effect of sanctions imposed on the reclusive state.

The cash-strapped communist country exported goods to the value of $550,000 and $1.33 million in May and June, respectively, according to the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).

Last January, the North exported elements worth nearly $25,000 to China for the first time and continued them this year. The country has an estimated 20 million tons of rare earth elements.

The North’s resources exploitation have stirred speculation that the impoverished state may further diversify mineral exports to China, where it has previously mostly exported anthracitic and iron ore.

The KITA report identified the changing trend in North Korea’s earnings from mineral exports.

In the first half of this year, earnings from anthracitic and iron ore exports decreased 23 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

These earning deficits were compensated for by exports of rare earth elements. There has been a sharp increase in global demand over the last recent decade because several high-tech devices, including smartphones, and other high technology devices use them in core components. Rare earth elements are a group of 17 elements on the periodic table referred to by the US Department of Energy as “technology metals” because of their use and application.

The communist country relies heavily on mineral exports as a major source of hard currency after international sanctions were imposed on the Pyongyang regime for its continuing missile launches and testing of nuclear weapons.

Natural resources account for 73 percent of North Korea’s bilateral trade with China in 2012. The North exports 11 million tons of anthracitic to China annually.

Yonhap coverage:

North Korea exported rare-earth elements worth $1.87 million to China from May to June, resuming outbound shipments of the crucial industrial minerals to its key ally and economic benefactor in 15 months, data showed Sunday.

North Korea shipped rare-earth minerals worth $550,000 and $1.32 million to China in May and June, respectively, which amounted to a total of 62,662 kilograms, according to the Korea International Trade Association based in Seoul.

The communist regime first exported rare-earth metals worth $24,700 to China in January 2013 and had stopped selling them until recently.

Separately, Pyongyang has sold carbonate-containing rare-earth compounds to China since 2011, but the size of outbound shipments is small, with the total amount is estimated at about $170,000 over a period of three and a half years.

The impoverished nation is known to have large reserves of rare-earth minerals, which are crucial ingredients used in many tech products as well as the military and medical sectors.

The latest move comes as the North has stepped up developing rare-earth deposits to support its moribund economy.

Last year, the North’s state-owned Korea Natural Resources Trading Corporation signed a 25-year deal with British Islands-based private equity firm SRE Minerals Limited to mine deposits in Jongju, northwest of the capital, Pyongyang.

Experts said the recent surge in North Korea’s rare-earth shipments may be part of its attempts to diversify sources of mineral exports, which account about half of its total exports.

The North’s export of anthracite coal fell 23 percent in the first half of this year to $571.2 million from a year ago, while ironstone declined 5 percent to $120 million in the cited period, according to trade data.

“The rare-earth minerals sold to China were valued at $30 per kilogram, and they were considered to be processed iron concentrates or oxidized substances,” said Choi Kyung-soo, chief of the Seoul-based North Korea Resource Institute. “It could be seen as an attempt to diversify items of mineral resource exports, but it remains to be seen whether the North will start exporting large volumes of rare-earth minerals.”

Read the full stories here:
Rare earth elements boost NK income
Korea Times
Kang Hyun-kyung
2014-7-27

N. Korea exports US$1.8 mln worth of rare earth to China in May-June
Yonhap
2014-7-27

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Rajin (Rason) port 3 open for business

Friday, July 18th, 2014

According to KCNA:

Wharf No. 3 of Rajin Port Goes Operational

Rason, July 18, 2014 20:13 KST (KCNA) — Wharf No. 3 of Rajin Port has been built with success in the DPRK.

The building of the wharf pursuant to the plan for cooperation between the DPRK and Russia provided another foundation for making a positive contribution to boosting the friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries and economic and trade relations among countries of Europe and Northeast Asia.

An inaugural ceremony took place in Rason City Friday.

Present there were Jon Kil Su, minister of Railways, officials concerned and working people in the city.

Also present there were Vladimir Yakunin, president of the Russian Railways Company, Yury Viktorovich Bochkarev, consul general of the Russian Federation in Chongjin, those concerned of railways and other Russian guests and staff members of foreign embassies in the DPRK.

Vladimir Yakunin in a speech said he was pleased with the completion of the wharf.

The wharf is capable of loading and unloading millions of tons of coal, he said, expressing belief that such joint work would not only develop the bilateral cooperation but promote friendship and mutual understanding between the two countries.

Jon Kil Su said in his speech that the successful reconstruction of the Rajin-Khasan railway section and the completion of Wharf No. 3 of Rajin Port are precious products of the vitality of the Moscow Declaration signed by leader Kim Jong Il and President V. V. Putin. He noted that the transport channel newly provided in the spirit of friendship and cooperation between the two peoples would satisfactorily play the role of a friendship bridge linking Europe and Northeast Asia and, through this, the international position of the Rason Economic and Trade Zone would be further enhanced.

Then followed congratulatory speeches.

A reception was given on the same day.

According to ITAR-TASS:

A new Russian-North Korean terminal was commissioned on Friday in Rajin, which is the major seaport of the North Korean Rason trade and economic zone located in the northeast of the republic. Thus, the pilot part of the project aimed at the reconstruction of the Trans-Korean railway from Russia’s Hasan to the seaport of Rajinis over. Relevant agreement of the heads of Russian, North and South Korean railway authorities was signed in Russia’s Siberian city of Irkutsk in 2006.

Russian Railways’ (RZD) subsidiary, RZD Trade House, and the Rajin port had established the joint venture Rason Con Trans in order to carry out the modernization process. The cargo traffic capacity of the new high-tech multi-purpose facility is about five million tonnes a year. The initial stage of the terminal operation envisions supplies of coal and other bulky goods towards the port. Alongside with cargo transshipment and storage, the terminal makes it possible to organize coal magnetic cleaning and coal separating.

“Today, we are eyeing the loading of the first ship with Russia-mined coal,” RZD President Vladimir Yakunin told the terminal commissioning ceremony. “We are interested in bigger amounts of cargoes in the terminal and higher number of vessels, which will represent the whole world. The launching of the terminal is expected to be fruitful and beneficial not only for the economy of North Korea, but also business communities of neighbor states.”

Jointly with representatives from Russia and North Korea, businessmen from South Korea were also attending the ceremony.

This Russian source had a good summary of events leading up to the opening (Translated by Google):

The official ceremony is scheduled for July 18 in Rajin, which is considered the main port of the SRE. Investment in the project is mainly carried out by the Russian side.The volume of transshipment terminal at the first stage is planned at 4-5 million tons, according to ITAR-TASS.

Initially, the terminal was planned for container transport, but in agreement with the leadership of North Korea until it will be used for the carriage of the Russian coal. In the future, is expected to increase traffic and expand the range of goods.

Agreement to begin the reconstruction of the railway line from the Russian station to Hassan and the port of Rajin as a pilot project to restore the Trans-Korean Railway was reached in 2006. The project started in October 2008, when an agreement was signed between the “Russian Railways” and the Ministry of Railway Transport of the DPRK to cooperate in its implementation. The project is implemented by the joint venture “RasonKonTrans”, created in the same year, with the share of JSC “RZD Trading House” (70%) and the port of Rajin (30%).

In October 2011, a team of machinists Far Eastern Railways of Russia led a demonstration container train in Rajin, opening cargo traffic between the two countries. To control the movement of trains on the line Hasan – Rajin, a special control center with the participation of specialists “RasonKonTrans” and North Korean shipping company “Donghae”.

34 specialists from the DPRK have been trained in the training centers of the Far Eastern Railway.

In the future, when the message will be set up all over trnskoreyskoy magitrali – from the South Korean port of Pusan ​​through Korea to Russia, will be able to refocus on the Russian Trans-Siberian significant portion of goods that are currently going by sea from South Korea to Europe.

According to experts, these advantages have Rajin – ice-free port on the eastern coast of North Korea with the developed infrastructure, which uses Russian standard gauge with a high degree of security for shippers and benefits for entrepreneurs.

Additional information:

1. The Russia-Rason Railway that services the port was opened in September 2013.

2. South Korea is also interested in the Rajin port.

3. There has been some confusion on the legal status of the various piers at Rajin. I help shed some light on the confusion here.

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