Archive for the ‘International trade’ Category

US sanctions of Chinese entities over transactions with North Korea

Friday, June 30th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reuters reports:

The United States imposed sanctions on two Chinese citizens and a shipping company on Thursday for helping North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and accused a Chinese bank of laundering money for Pyongyang.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the actions were designed to cut off funds that North Korea uses to build its weapons programs in defiance of U.N. Security Council and unilateral sanctions.

“We will follow the money and cut off the money,” he told a news conference.

A Treasury statement identified the bank as the Bank of Dandong and the firm as Dalian Global Unity Shipping Co Ltd. It identified the two individuals as Sun Wei and Li Hong Ri.

The sanctions imposed on the two Chinese citizens and the shipping company blacklists them from doing business with U.S.-tied companies and people.

Bank of Dandong did not respond immediately to a request for comment. A staff member at Dalian Global Unity would not comment on the sanctions and subsequent calls to the firm’s office in Dalian went unanswered.

Mnuchin said U.S. officials were continuing to look at other companies that may be helping North Korea and may roll out additional sanctions.

U.S. foreign policy experts say Chinese companies have long had a key role in financing Pyongyang. However, Mnuchin said the action was not being taken to send China a message. “This wasn’t aimed at China. We continue to work with them,” he said.

China did not respond favorably:

Asked about the U.S. sanctions on Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang said that China consistently opposes unilateral sanctions imposed outside the U.N. framework.

“We strongly urge the United States to immediately correct its relevant wrong moves to avoid affecting bilateral cooperation on the relevant issue,” he said, without elaborating.

China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, said China opposed the United States using domestic laws to impose “long-arm jurisdiction” on Chinese companies or individuals, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Friday.

“If a Chinese company or individual has acted in a way that violates United Nations Security Council resolutions, then China will investigate and handle the issue in accordance with Chinese law,” he told an event in Washington on Thursday evening.

Full article here:
U.S. targets Chinese bank, company, two individuals over North Korea
Joel Schectman and David Brunnstrom
Reuters
2017-06-30

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CNPC suspends fuel exports to North Korea

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

In late June, Reuters reported that the Chinese state-owned enterprise, China National Petroleum Corporation, had suspended its exports of fuel to North Korea, ostensibly because of concerns that North Korean buyers would not be able to pay:

China National Petroleum Corp has suspended sales of fuel to North Korea over concerns the state-owned oil company won’t get paid, as pressure mounts on Pyongyang to rein in its nuclear and missile programmes, three sources told Reuters.

It’s unclear how long the suspension will last. A prolonged cut would threaten critical supplies of fuel and force North Korea to find alternatives to its main supplier of diesel and gasoline, as scrutiny of China’s close commercial ties with its increasingly isolated neighbour intensifies.

CNPC and the Ministry of Commerce did not respond to requests for comment. North Korea’s embassy in Beijing declined to comment.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked about the sale suspension and whether the Chinese government put pressure on CNPC to make this decision, said: “I do not understand this situation you are talking about” and declined to elaborate.

A source with direct knowledge of the matter said CNPC decided to put fuel sales on hold “over the last month or two” and described it as a “commercial decision”.

“It’s no longer worth the risks,” said the source. Chinese and international banks are stepping up compliance checks on companies dealing with countries on the U.S. sanctions list, such as North Korea, he said.

The North Korean agents who mostly buy the diesel and gasoline have been unable recently to pay for the supplies — CNPC normally requires upfront payments, the source said.

Reuters was unable to determine if the agents have started facing credit problems with Chinese and international banks worried about sanctions compliance issues.

Two other sources briefed about CNPC’s decision confirmed the suspension of diesel sales, but did not know directly about the gasoline move. The three people declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter and are not authorised to speak to the media.

PRICES SURGE IN NORTH

Last year, China shipped just over 96,000 tonnes of gasoline and almost 45,000 tonnes of diesel worth a combined $64 million to North Korea, where it is used across the economy from fishermen and farmers to truckers and the military.[O/CHINA4]

Most of that was sold by CNPC, which has grown over the past two decades to dominate China’s energy trade with Pyongyang.

Data for May released on Friday showed China supplied significantly lower volumes of diesel and gasoline compared with a month earlier, although monthly tonnages can vary widely. June data will be released in late July.

Fuel prices in North Korea, meanwhile, have sharply risen in recent months, suggesting a tightening in supply.

A Reuters analysis of data collected by Daily NK showed the price of gasoline sold by private dealers in Pyongyang and the northern border cities of Sinuiju and Hyesan had hit $1.46 per kg on June 21, up almost 50 percent from April 21. Until then, they had remained relatively stable since late last year.

Diesel prices averaged $1.20 per kg as of June 21, more than double over the same period, according to Daily NK, a website run by defectors who collect prices via phone calls with North Korean fuel traders.

Full article:
Exclusive: China’s CNPC suspends fuel sales to North Korea as risks mount – sources
Chen Aizhu
Reuters
2017-06-28

This does not seem to imply that the CNPC altogether halted crude oil deliveries to North Korea, only deliveries of fuel purchased on a commercial basis. And usually, the first follow-up question to ask in reaction to news of China halting deliveries of supplies X, or the imports of good Y, is “for how long”?

These deliveries may of course have happened on other contracts, but NK Pro reports continued North Korean oil tanker presence in Chinese oil terminals in both May and June.

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Chinese officials telling companies not to hire North Koreans

Sunday, June 18th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The sourcing for this story looks to be some quite thin gruel, but given the current context, it makes sense. Nikkei Asian Review:

According to a source who is familiar with China-North Korea diplomacy, Beijing began instructing Chinese businesses to refrain from hiring North Korean nationals in March 2016 — the month that the U.N. toughened sanctions on the country in response to Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test.

The instruction has so far been given informally, and in some cases, orally. No formal notices have been issued, the source said.

The companies receiving the instruction are mainly in Jilin and Liaoning provinces, on the border with North Korea. Beijing appears to be gradually including more companies in its whisper campaign, the source said.

The informal sanction appears to contradict the Chinese foreign ministry’s position that the country should not impose any form of sanction against North Korea if it is not based on a U.N. Security Council resolution. At the same time, it is a means by which Beijing can register its displeasure with Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear testing.

Full article:
China telling companies not to hire North Koreans
Oki Nagai
Nikkei Asian Review
2017-06-18

This seems to be the pattern when it comes to Chinese sanctions enforcement against North Korea. Orders and directives are given in a vague, non-specific fashion, making them relatively easy to rescind and relax at a later time. In other words, news like this should not necessarily be taken as evidence of some grand Chinese push against North Korea. The way that policy directives like these are delivered, is itself indicative of their temporary nature. This current period is not the first (and probably not the last) time that China has restricted trade with North Korea, but that itself is not evidence of any long-term “squeeze”. It is probably safe to assume that these directives will be reversed or relaxed soon enough.

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Lower Chinese imports of North Korean coal hitting coal mine workers in the north

Friday, June 16th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reports Daily NK:

“It has been four months since coal exports to China were blocked, and North Korea is in a war-like crisis. Hundreds of coal mine workers belonging to dozens of trading companies have lost their jobs and been pushed into a life-threatening economic crisis,” a source in South Pyongan Province recently told Daily NK.
“Local residents who were once making a living by running food stalls near the coal mines or carrying coal have all lost their jobs. As a result, regional economic activity has plummeted.”
The local businesses that once relied on the coal export industry, including restaurants, car washes, and fuel vendors, have all met a similar fate and the circulation of money has stagnated in the general markets, causing disarray.
As a flow-on effect, the price of coal purchased for domestic consumption (primarily as a fuel source for home cooking and heating) has also dropped, inflicting further losses on coal exporting companies.
“Coal trading companies that used to allocate 10 percent of their coal export profits toward management have either suspended production or are only producing small quantities of coal. As such, the trading companies, markets, and residents alike have all been driven into a crisis,” a source in North Pyongan Province explained.
Although the local economy is in serious trouble, the North Korean authorities are not taking any tangible steps to address the issue. According to the source, the coal produced at the state-run coal mine in Sunchon City continues to be sent to the Pyongyang thermal power plant, irrespective of the suspension of coal exports.
The sources reported that residents are eagerly hoping that coal exports will resume, but the authorities feel as long as the state-run enterprises remain operational, there are no problems to address. This is causing complaints from the residents who instead see the nation’s resources poured into weapons development.
Full article:

North Korean coal business in jeopardy after four months of export suspension
Seol Song Ah
Daily NK
2017-06-16

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Market prices up in North Korea, following Chinese trade restrictions and seasonal variation

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

DailyNK reports that prices on some markets, for certain goods, have gone up recently. The causes are two-fold: increasingly difficult import conditions with heightened scrutiny and more items being restricted on the Chinese side, and seasonal variations. May and June are the height of the so-called lean season in North Korea, when food is in particularly short supply:

According to Daily NK’s sources, the rice price has risen from 4,800 KPW to 5,200 KPW per kilo at Hoeryong Market in North Hamgyong Province. Similarly, 25 kg bags of flour have risen by 10 RMB to 13,000 KPW, while sugar (50 kg) has jumped by 50 RMB.
May and June mark an annual period of agricultural hardship in North Korea. To make matters worse, the farming season began a month late this year, sending the price of vegetables including cabbage and radish skyrocketing. China’s recent efforts to restrict the quantity of imported items is further exacerbating the situation.
“Most of the products that are normally imported through Chinese customs offices, including food and industrial goods, have become much more expensive. The price surge must have been influenced by China’s stricter measures,” a source in North Hamgyong Province said.
Until last April, China’s customs offices generally waved through most items for export to North Korea including food, daily necessities, and clothes, with inspections little more than a formality. But in a sign of worsening relations between Beijing and Pyongyang, an increasing number of items are being placed on the restricted list.
“Due to China’s implementation of stricter customs procedures, the volume of products coming into North Korea has fallen by half compared to the previous month (April). The period of spring poverty is a hard time for North Korean people in both the cities and rural areas, and China’s actions are adding to their problems,” added a source in North Pyongan Province.

Given all the scrutiny and debates about whether or not China is implementing sanctions on North Korea, decreasing trade and upping the economic pressure et cetera, it is important to remember that we’re really not seeing any full-scale blocking off of trade between China and North Korea, even in goods that no country is supposed to be trading with North Korea following UN sanctions. Seasonal variations matter a great deal too. Moreover, though price changes like these certainly are troubling for North Korean consumers, they don’t appear, at least not for now, significant enough to have any major impact on the economy as a whole. Last but not least, Chinese implementation of sanctions measures, scrutiny, surveillance of goods and other similar measures in trade with North Korea has historically waxed and waned, and rarely remained consistent.

Full article:
Market prices leap as China implements strengthened customs procedures
Lee Sang Yong
Daily NK
2017-06-13

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New report on North Korea’s proliferation financing system

Monday, June 12th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The non-profit C4ADS has released a new report (Risky Business) about the networks that North Korea uses to get around the international sanctions regime, and to continue trading and financing its weapons programs. Among the most interesting findings, in my opinions, is that of how interconnected and few the Chinese firms that trade with North Korean entities are:

North Korean overseas networks have been extremely adaptive to the combined pressures of international sanctions, in large part due to their ability to nest and disguise their illicit business within the licit trade. Like the cover material of iron ore over the RPG’s aboard the Jie Shun, or the dual role played by Dandong Hongxiang, the problem is particularly acute in the North Korean context where the state controls major aspects of the international trading economy. As early as 2006, former Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey noted that, “the line between North Korea’s licit and illicit money is nearly invisible.” As North Korea has become ever more isolated internationally, it has had to confine nearly all of its trade to China. Data from 2016 shows that around 85% of total North Korean trade was conducted with China. According to Harvard-based North Korea specialist John Park, “what we are seeing now is the operation of sophisticated North Korean-run networks based in China.” In this relationship, North Korea has repeatedly taken advantage of the system of trade to conduct illicit activity nested within the licit system.

[…]

Although the regime has seen a boom in the sale of natural resources in recent years, the increased sale of fewer and fewer commodities to a single country has left its system of trade progressively more vulnerable. Analysis reveals that the scope of licit trade, in which North Korea nests its illicit networks, is surprisingly small. According to trade records, from 2013 to 2016, there were only 5,233 companies within China that either imported goods from or exported goods to North Korea. To put that number in perspective,as of 2016, 67,163 Chinese companies exported to South Korea. Additionally, these 5,233 businesses are not all unique actors: many of them have subsidiary relationships with companies within the dataset. For example, the network surrounding the DHID, the Liaoning Hongxiang Group, was made up of 18 companies in China alone, many of which appear within the dataset as unique entities.

The report mainly carries three findings:

In this report, we conduct a system-level examination of the North Korean overseas financing and procurement system. Our paper finds that this system is centralized, limited, and vulnerable, and that its disruption should greatly increase the pressure on the Kim regime to return to the negotiating table.

  • In Centralized, we examine key individuals and companies that connect networks from around the world. We discuss case studies of both regime “tactical controllers,” who conduct the operational tasks needed to move illicit goods, as well as “strategic chokepoints” through which these goods and their regime financing must flow.
  • In Limited, we explore trends within China-North Korea trade, the largest market exploited by North Korean overseas networks. Our data shows only 5,233 Chinese companies to have traded with North Korea from 2013 to 2016. Our analysis shows a small number of interconnected firms annually account for vast proportions of the trade, limiting the number of avenues in which North Korea can nest its illicit activity.
  • In Vulnerable, we analyze corporate structures and risk indicators that can be used to filter this data to identify potential dual-use transactions and networks of possible concern. Our priority lay in linking previously unidentified entities with known North Korean illicit actors to showcase the possibility of causing systemic disruption using targeted enforcement.

Full report:
Risky Business: A System-Level Analysis of the North Korean Proliferation Financing System
David Thompson
C4ADS
June 2017

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No more North Korean labor in Bulgaria

Monday, May 29th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reports Yonhap:

Bulgaria said Monday that it has suspended imports of workers from North Korea amid criticism that Pyongyang is extorting money earned by their people overseas.

The action was taken along with the Czech Republic and Romania, the Bulgarian Embassy to South Korea said in a press release.

“Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Romania set a precedent by ceasing their labor imports after realizing the conditions of North Korean overseas laborers,” it said.

“The suspension of receiving North Korean laborers by these three East European countries is an example where states have actively taken measures against the extortions of the laborers’ remuneration,” it added.

Full article:
Bulgaria suspends labor imports from N.K.
Yonhap News
2017-05-29

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Chinese imports of North Korean coal down since February ban, data says

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reuters reported today on the most recent figures on China-North Korean trade. They show that coal imports have declined, to the lowest level in three years, according to Reuters. It must be remembered that coal trade (in volume terms, not necessarily in USD-numbers) has climbed for several years in a row since 2010, so a relative decline does not mean catastrophically low levels. Also, of course, Chinese customs data should be taken with a huge grain of salt.

Reuters:

The world’s second-largest economy bought goods worth $99.3 million in April from North Korea, the lowest monthly tally since at least June 2014, according to Chinese customs data. Previous data was not available.

That compares with $114.6 million in March and $167.7 million a year earlier.

A fifth of the April total was iron ore imports, which hit 285,000 tonnes, their highest since August 2014. That was up 10 percent from a month earlier and 2-1/2 times higher than a year earlier.

[…]

Cho Bong-hyun, who heads research on North Korea’s economy at IBK Bank in Seoul, said China’s imports from North Korea were likely to continue to decline due to Pyongyang’s repeated missile tests and the suspension of coal shipments to China.

“This won’t be disastrous for North Korea, but it will obviously hurt North Korea because it tends to export goods to China worth around $3 billion per year,” he said.

The value of imports from North Korea has fallen month-on-month since December, the data showed.

CHINESE SALES DOWN AS WELL

China’s exports to North Korea eased to $288.2 million in April, down 12 percent from March. Exports for the first four months of the year were up 32 percent at $1 billion.

Diesel shipments to North Korea in April more than halved from March to 2,606 tonnes and gasoline sales dropped 6 percent to 13,496 tonnes. North Korea gets most of its oil needs from China.

Crude oil exports from China to North Korea have not been disclosed by customs for several years, but sources have put it at about 520,000 tonnes a year.

Cutting off oil to North Korea for an extended period would be a crippling measure that analysts have said they don’t expect China would take.

[…]

Data released later on Tuesday showed China did not take any North Korean coal in April for a second straight month, after Beijing’s ban of such imports following repeated missile tests by Pyongyang.

China imported 1.53 million tonnes of coal worth $72.3 million from North Korea in April 2016.

Full article:
China’s imports from North Korea sink as coal ban bites
Josephine Mason
Reuters
2017-03-23

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China’s iron ore imports from North Korea in April highest since 2014

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reports Reuters:

China’s imports of North Korean goods in April fell below $100 million to the lowest in nearly three years, data showed on Tuesday, after China stopped buying coal from the isolated country and as calls mount for further economic sanctions.

Neighboring China is North Korea’s biggest trade partner, and the data indicates that China’s halt of North Korean coal imports on Feb. 26 is having an impact and curbing Pyongyang’s ability to raise hard currency through exports.

The world’s second-largest economy bought goods worth $99.3 million in April from North Korea, the lowest monthly tally since at least June 2014, according to Chinese customs data. Previous data was not available.

That compares with $114.6 million in March and $167.7 million a year earlier.

A fifth of the April total was iron ore imports, which hit 285,000 tonnes, their highest since August 2014. That was up 10 percent from a month earlier and 2-1/2 times higher than a year earlier.

U.S. President Donald Trump has been urging China to put more pressure on North Korea to step back from its nuclear and missile programs, and lavished praise on President Xi Jinping last month for efforts to do so.

At a regular briefing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing’s actions were not aimed at proving anything to anyone else.

“This is our international obligation as a responsible member of the international community and permanent member of the U.N. Security Council,” she said.

Cho Bong-hyun, who heads research on North Korea’s economy at IBK Bank in Seoul, said China’s imports from North Korea were likely to continue to decline due to Pyongyang’s repeated missile tests and the suspension of coal shipments to China.

“This won’t be disastrous for North Korea, but it will obviously hurt North Korea because it tends to export goods to China worth around $3 billion per year,” he said.

The value of imports from North Korea has fallen month-on-month since December, the data showed.

CHINESE SALES DOWN AS WELL

China’s exports to North Korea eased to $288.2 million in April, down 12 percent from March. Exports for the first four months of the year were up 32 percent at $1 billion.

Diesel shipments to North Korea in April more than halved from March to 2,606 tonnes and gasoline sales dropped 6 percent to 13,496 tonnes. North Korea gets most of its oil needs from China.

Crude oil exports from China to North Korea have not been disclosed by customs for several years, but sources have put it at about 520,000 tonnes a year.

Cutting off oil to North Korea for an extended period would be a crippling measure that analysts have said they don’t expect China would take.

Pyongyang does not publish economic data.

North Korea fired a ballistic missile into waters off its east coast on Sunday, the second test in a week in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

In a statement posted on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged North Korea not to violate U.N. resolutions on its nuclear and missile programs.

Washington has weighed tougher economic sanctions on Pyongyang, including an oil embargo, a global ban on its airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese banks that do business with Pyongyang.

Full article:
China’s imports from North Korea sink as coal ban bites
Josephine Mason
Reuters
2017-05-23

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Chinese imports of North Korean goods down by 35 pct in March 2017

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Yonhap reports a 35 percent drop in Chinese imports from North Korea in March this year, compared to February, citing decreased coal imports after the February ban as a reason:

Imports from North Korea declined to US$114.56 million last month from $176.7 million tallied the previous month, according to Chinese customs data.

In late February, China suspended North Korean coal imports through the end of the year in accordance with the U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in December to punish Pyongyang for its fifth nuclear test in September.

The resolution centers on putting a significant cap on North Korea’s exports of coal — the country’s single biggest export item and source of hard currency. The cap was set at whichever is lower between 7.5 million tons or $400 million.

North Korea heavily relies on coal exports to China for its foreign currency income. China imported $1.19 billion worth of coals from North Korea last year.

Full article:
China’s imports of N. Korean goods fall 35 pct in March
Yonhap News
2017-04-25

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