Archive for the ‘International trade’ Category

US government issues North Korea sanctions advisory

Monday, July 23rd, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

A new advisory was issued today by several US government department, focusing on risks that companies run throughout their supply chains, where North Korean labor may have been involved without said companies knowing. NK News:

The publication of the advisory notice comes three days after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the UN Security Council (UNSC), where he called for the strict maintenance of sanctions against the DPRK amid current diplomatic engagement.

The purpose of the advisory is to “highlight sanctions evasions tactics used by North Korea that could expose businesses – including manufacturers, buyers, and service providers – to sanctions compliance risks under U.S. and/or United Nations sanctions authorities,” it reads.

“Businesses should be aware of deceptive practices employed by North Korea in order to implement effective due diligence policies, procedures, and internal controls to ensure compliance with applicable legal requirements across their entire supply chains,” it added.

The U.S. Department of State, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), and the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) co-authored the advisory.

The notice identifies what the government deemed as two primary risks to businesses, which are the “inadvertent sourcing of goods, services, or technology from North Korea” and “the presence of North Korean citizens or nationals in companies’ supply chains, whose labor generates revenue for the North Korean government.”

Full article:
U.S. government issues North Korea sanctions enforcement advisory
Hamish Macdonald
NK News
2018-07-23

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WSJ on South Korean firms planning for business opportunities in North Korea

Monday, July 23rd, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

WSJ:

After months of rapprochement—including summit meetingsbetween North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and one between Mr. Kim and President Donald Trump —hopes are rising for more open access to North Korea, a country of 25 million people with vast mineral reserves and lots of cheap labor.

Samsung C&T Corp . , the de facto holding company of South Korea’s biggest and best-known conglomerate, created a North Korea task force in May, staffed by an executive and three managers.

Samsung’s construction arm, which has built some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers and is building subway lines in Singapore and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, sees opportunity in the North as economic growth slows in the South.

Full article here:
Companies See Glimmers of Opportunity in North Korea
Jonathan Cheng
Wall Street Journal
2018-07-23

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North Korea’s negative growth in 2017: things look bad, unsurprisingly, but take the numbers with a grain of salt

Friday, July 20th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Bank of Korea (BOK) has put out their yearly estimate of North Korea’s GDP trends. This year, they estimate that the country’s GDP decreased by 3.5 percent. Off the top of my head, this seems a fairly reasonable estimate, particularly since sanctions were only in force for a minor part of the year (late fall and onward). Some quick thoughts below:

As always, remember: estimate GDP in North Korea is very, very hard. How do you evaluate, for example, the market sector versus the state sector? Given how complicated and partially opaque North Korea’s system for pricing it, how can a GDP figure even be reasonably estimated? That said, BOK has been doing this for many years, and their figures are, for all their faults and flaws, some of the most reasonable estimates among the few that exist. Still, as one of the leading experts in the field once told a class of grad students studying the Korean economy: if someone gives you a figure on the North Korean economy with a specific decimal number, you can be sure that it’s wrong.

Some news outlets have made a big number of the fact that this contraction is the largest for over two decades, according to the BOK numbers. While that is true, the proportions are very different: in 1997, BOK estimates that the economy contracted by 6.5 percent, that is, almost double the contraction of 2017. So we’re not talking about any crisis nearly as significant as the famine of the 1990s.

BOK estimates a drop by 1.3 percent in agricultural and fisheries production. Notably, still, market prices for food have looked completely normal throughout the year, as this blog has noted several times before. It’s unclear how exactly agricultural production is estimated, and what the “sector” here really means – only what goes into the state-side of agricultural production and supply, or the sale of surplus production on the semi-private markets? The latter may very well be underestimated given how tricky it is to asses what share of agricultural production still lies firmly and solely within the state system.

It’s unclear how much of the shortfall in electricity production is compensated for by items like solar panels and other forms of electricity generation increasingly prevalent on the ground. Many have noted the various creative ways in which much of the North Korean population already adapts to the shortfall and unreliability of public supply of electricity.

The estimated trade numbers are very dire but also probably approximately realistic. Though the 37 percent shortfall in exports may be an overestimate given that they (presumably) don’t account for smuggling, it is undeniable that the economy is taking a very large hit from sanctions. People who recently visited the Chinese border speak of very low levels of activity in goods transports and the like. This gives cause for some skepticism toward the reports claiming that Chinese sanctions enforcement has gone much more lax lately: it may well have, but that hardly means the doors are flung open. At the same time, imports went up 1.8 percent. Either China is letting North Korea run a trade deficit which they assume they’ll get back once sanctions are eased, or the regime has much more currency stashed away to pay with the goods for than many have thought. The truth may lie somewhere in the middle there.

 

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China investing in North Korean infrastructure, says Kyodo News

Friday, July 20th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Kyodo:

China has decided to invest 600 million yuan (about $88.4 million) in infrastructure such as roads in North Korea around a bridge connecting the two countries, bilateral sources said Friday, raising concerns that Beijing may violate U.N. resolutions.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s leadership is scheduled to start the infrastructure investment by the end of this year, the sources said, as Beijing and Pyongyang have been strengthening their economic cooperation recently.

The effective economic aid would be regarded as a violation of U.N. resolutions aimed at preventing North Korea from producing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, U.N. diplomats said.

While preparing to dispense the aid, China is expected to begin negotiations with U.N. Security Council member states with an eye on easing economic sanctions against North Korea, now that Pyongyang has pledged to work toward denuclearization, the sources added.

The new bridge over the Yalu River from the Chinese border city of Dandong, Liaoning Province, to the North Korean county of Ryongchon was completed in 2014 after four years of construction.

But roads connecting to the bridge have yet to be developed on the North Korean side, preventing it from going into operation.

Earlier this month, Liaoning authorities decided to set up a project to support the construction of the roads and the Chinese central government has already approved it, the sources said.

Since March, relations between Beijing and Pyongyang have been markedly improving, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visiting China for summit talks with Xi no less than three times.

The two leaders apparently exchanged views on denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and economic aid, with Kim vowing to build a “powerful socialist economy.” The North Korean leader has often visited the border near China recently.

Full article:
China to invest in infrastructure in N. Korea, may violate sanctions
Kyodo News
2018-07-20

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South Korean companies gearing up to rush north, part x

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Hardly a day goes by without a new article on South Korean companies or business interests eyeing investments in North Korea as a golden opportunity. Here’s the Korean Tourism Association (from Joongang Daily):

Attracting both local and foreign travelers to lesser-known mountains and rivers across the peninsula is one of the goals of the Korea Tourism Organization under its newly appointed president Ahn Young-bae.

In the spirit of easing tensions between North and South Korea, Ahn plans to set up a team that will focus on promoting travel throughout both countries.

“If the relationship between the South and North [improves], ‘peace travel’ will really start to take off,” said Ahn during his first press conference, adding that this is one way to develop unique tour programs that can appeal to many travelers.

To develop new ideas to make the tourism industry in Korea more sustainable, Ahn also plans to set up a new tourism big data center. Here, he said, one can find out which areas are becoming popular vacation spots and what travelers are purchasing during their time away from home so that the travel industry can set up better marketing strategies. While a future management team, another initiative Ahn plans to start, will focus on how to make such changes, a value management team will conduct research based on the data and present their findings to the organization.

Full article:
KTO sees opportunity up North : New president plans to use big data to improve local tourism
Lee Sun-Min
Joongang Daily
2018-07-18

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Crackdowns in North Korea continue against “anti-socialist elements”

Monday, July 16th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The wave of crackdowns against “anti-socialist” activity in North Korea following the spring of summitry continues. The latest report by Daily NK (below) focuses on crackdowns against those breaking the economic rules in fishing villages. This all highlights a central problem with North Korea’s often ad-hoc marketization process: much of the space the state grants for economic activity beyond its reach, it can quickly take away whenever it sees fit:

While there are signs that the ‘anti-socialist’ crackdown by the North Korean authorities has slowed in recent days, sources have reported that crackdowns are still occurring in the fishing communities of North Hamgyong Province.

“There was a crackdown on a fishing company in Hamgyong Province that owned more fishing boats than it had registered with the state,” said a source in North Hamgyong Province on July 11.

“The boats that were registered with the state sent the required amount of fish to the government, while the catch from the unregistered boats was sent somewhere else. The company is getting punished for this.”

An inspection revealed that the fishing company had only 30 ships registered, but was actually operating more than 300 small fishing boats.

“The authorities are angry because they confirmed the number of unregistered fishing boats across North Hamgyong Province to be around 2,300,” said a separate source in North Hamgyong Province. “The authorities confiscated all of the unregistered boats and handed them over to the province’s major fishing enterprise. The state also ordered that all the fishing boat captains are to be replaced.”

There are still crackdowns on illegal activities in places that the authorities have designated as “problem areas.” The crackdown on the unregistered fishing boats has led to anger from fishermen in the towns.

The article also gives a clue to one of the sources of the so-called “ghost ships” that arrived on Japanese shores over the past year or so:

Locals are complaining that it is difficult for their small boats to fulfill the harvest quotas set by the government set and that the state is only focused on meeting those quotas with registered boats. Fishing boat operators contend that they risk their lives to earn a living and are being treated unfairly by the state.

“We have to catch seven tons of squid or sailfin sandfish during the harvest seasons, but we can’t catch even half of that in our small boats […] The state is calculating that the large number of unregistered boats means that fishing companies are fishing a lot and making a significant amount of money, but in fact fishing with such small boats means that we cannot catch much at all,” the second source quoted one captain as saying.

This source also stated that the crackdown has led to the firing of several fishing boat captains. “[The captains] just stare out to sea and are at a loss for what to do,” he said.

“They receive no rations from the state and are just eking out an existence. The crackdown has led to the collapse of the base of the fishing industry in the region.”

The initial source also said that captains that had purchased their own boats are unable to get any financial return on them.

“Many of them are complaining that nothing they do helps them make a living and are unsure how they will survive,” he said.

Article source:
North Korean authorities continue crackdowns in fishing villages
Ha Yoon Ah
Daily NK
2018-07-16

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South Korea, North Korea and Russia discuss railway cooperation

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Trilateral cooperation discussions on the cross-peninsular railway happened in Rason despite Russia’s earlier cancellation:

A group of representatives from South Korea’s presidential panel returned home Sunday after a trip to North Korea, where they discussed possible trilateral economic cooperation involving the two Koreas and Russia, its official said.

The Presidential Committee on Northern Economic Cooperation sent an 11-member team led by committee chairman Song Young-gil to the North’s northeastern border region of Rason. They stayed there for two days from Friday.

The team originally planned to attend a seminar hosted by Russia to discuss trilateral economic cooperation involving the two Koreas and Russia but canceled its participation. Instead it had discussions with North Koreans and Russians on the Rajin-Khasan project and other issues, the official said.

Rason, formerly known as Rajin and Sonbong, was designated as a special economic zone in 1991. The North has sought to develop the zone by drawing outside investment but faced setbacks amid its continued provocations.

The Rajin-Khasan project, in particular, is a logistics project aimed at transporting coal from Russia to the North by using a 54 km-long railway linking Khasan in Russia to the Rajin port of North Korea and then to South Korea by ship.

There have been test operations of the transport route three times, including the latest one in November 2015.

The trilateral cooperation project, however, has been put on hold as South Korea banned maritime transport from the North in early 2016 in the wake of the North’s nuclear and missile provocations.

South Korea and the United States have said that full-fledged economic cooperation with the North should wait until it carries out its promised “complete denuclearization.”

“The Rajin-Khasan project is not subject to U.N. sanctions but to sanctions imposed by the U.S. So we plan to draw up and propose a broad picture and make preparations for joint study until there is progress in denuclearization and discussion begins on lifting those sanctions,” the panel official said.

Article source:
Presidential panel discusses Rajin-Khasan cooperation during trip to N.K.
Yonhap News
2018-07-15

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Reopening Kaesong key to cooperation, says ROK gov’t official

Friday, July 13th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

A South Korean official (albeit one specifically representing the interests of the zone) calls re-opening Kaesong a “first step” towards resumed inter-Korean economic cooperation. Yonhap:

A South Korean official in charge of promoting investments in North Korea’s Kaesong Industrial Complex said Friday that the reopening of the now-suspended industrial park in the North’s border town will be a first step towards resuming inter-Korean economic cooperation.

Addressing a unification symposium in Seoul, Kim Jin-hyang, chairman of the Kaesong Industrial District Foundation, said the operation of the Kaesong complex has to be restarted as quickly as possible.

“Inter-Korean economic cooperation cannot be discussed without the Kaesong Industrial Complex,” said Kim, who doubles as chief of the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee.

The government of former President Park Geun-hye abruptly announced the closure of the Kaesong park on Feb. 10, 2016, in retaliation for the North’s fourth nuclear weapons test and long-range missile launch.

Kim dismissed the abrupt closure of the complex as a “completely failed policy,” saying, “The decision was a grave disaster that shut down peace, economy and security altogether. North Korea was never dealt a blow when the Kaesong park was closed.”

“The Kaesong complex was not a special favor to the North. It was intended to support the South Korean economy stuck in a low-growth trap,” he said.

Kim noted that the Kaesong park is also very symbolic in terms of security and peace, arguing that the mix of about 60,000 South and North Korean workers in a single location can deter tensions and guarantee peace.

He stressed that South Korea should now join Singapore, Russia and China in preparing for large-scale investments in North Korea following its successive summit talks with the United States and South Korea to enhance the peace mood on the Korean Peninsula.

Article source:
Reopening of Kaesong Industrial Complex key to inter-Korean cooperation: official
Yonhap News
2018-07-13

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North Korea likely did 89 illegal ship-to-ship transfers in 2018, says U.S. data

Friday, July 13th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reports Chad O’Carroll over at NK News:

North Korea likely conducted at least 89 ship-to-ship transfers to illicitly obtain refined petroleum products between January 1 and May 30, U.S. data provided to the United Nations and seen by NK News on Friday claims.

Pyongyang may have illegally imported up to 1,367,628 barrels of refined petroleum as a result of the transfers, upper-end estimates suggested, over double the 500,000 barrels authorized for export to North Korea each year by current UN sanctions.

Consequently, the U.S. recommended that the UN 1718 sanctions committee issue a “public note verbale to all UN Member States to inform them that the DPRK has breached the UNSCR 2397 OP5 refined petroleum product quota for 2018,” and that all countries should “order an immediate halt to all transfers of refined petroleum products to the DPRK.”

Since the May 30 data cut-off, the Japanese government has revealed details surrounding three extra cases of North Korean vessels caught conducting likely ship-to-ship transfers, with two on June 21 and June 22, and one on June 29.

North Korean skippers are thought to be conducting the at-sea transfers of fuel products to circumvent UN sanctions designed to limit how much Pyongyang can import each year.

Two countries were also flagged in the U.S. report for their role in provisioning on-the-books exports of petrol products supplementary to the barrels illicitly acquired through ship-to-ship transfers.

“As China and Russia have reported to the UN 1718 Committee in 2018, both member states continue to sell refined petroleum products to the DPRK,” the report said.

“These sales and any other transfer must immediately stop since the United States believes the DPRK has breached the UNSCR 2397 refined petroleum products quota for 2018.”

To evidence its claims, the U.S. included satellite imagery of four vessels described as either “likely in the process of delivering” or “delivering refined petrol products” that were “procured via illicit ship-to-ship transfer” at Nampo Port on the DPRK’s west coast.

Full article and source:

N. Korea likely conducted 89 illicit ship-to-ship transfers in 2018: U.S. data
Chad O’Carroll
NK News
2018-07-13

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North Korean-Chinese efforts at scaling back sanctions

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The following is from Mainichi Shimbun on a North Korean economic delegation trip to China, where it supposedly met with Chinese foreign ministry officials to discuss economic cooperation. Since I don’t read Japanese, I’ve pasted what google translate generated, mostly for my own record-keeping…

[Beijing / Urushima Koji] China has activated diplomatic offensives toward easing sanctions against North Korea. At the end of June, at the end of June, a draft statement for the media to seek relief of sanctions on the UN Security Council was distributed to the Security Council with Russia. At the working-level level in the mid-day and the morning, North Korea’s Kim Bong-tae and foreign minister of foreign affairs have accepted the visit and it seems that they are discussing economic support with a view to easing sanctions due to denuclearization.

According to a source in the middle of the morning, Mr. Kim arrived at Pyongyang airport from Pyongyang this morning. Mr. Kim is said to have been in China, who has led the economic delegation to visit. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mr. Rikuo avoided confirming the visiting information at a regular press conference the same afternoon, but on the other hand, “While the middle morning is a friendly neighboring country, each level, normal in each field We are maintaining a regular visit. ”

Following the US-North Korea summit meeting in Singapore, China is expected to ease sanctions ahead of the United States and it is believed that it is aimed at advancing negotiations with the US with trade friction etc. advantageously by placing North Korea on the side.

 In the mid-day border zone, there were projects that could support economic assistance to North Korea in the form of technical cooperation even before the easing of sanctions, and negotiation at the worker level was necessary. The Chinese government will maintain normal interaction and cooperation with Korea (North Korea) on the premise that it does not violate international obligations (such as the Security Council sanctions) “(Mr. Shuo Qi · so = = Deputy Press Bureau Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and It’s a posture.

North Korea’s Kim Jung-eun, the chairman of the Korean Workers’ Party, visited a cosmetic factory in Shinwigu, North Pyongan Province, which borders the mid-day border. Prior to this, he is showing a willingness to emphasize the redevelopment of the mid-North Korean border, such as visiting the area around the economic zones in the same way that it had jointly developed with China.

Source:
North Korea seeks easing sanctions Economic support consultation?
Mainichi Shimbun
2018-07-03

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