Archive for the ‘Mining/Minerals’ Category

A few things worth noting about China’s August 2017 import ban of North Korean seafood and iron ore

Monday, August 14th, 2017

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Beijing’s Commerce Ministry has issued an order for companies in the country to comply with UN sanctions, and cease imports of coal, iron ore, sea food and other items on the sanctions list, Reuters reports:

China’s Commerce Ministry issued on Monday an order banning imports of coal, iron ore, lead concentrates and ore, lead and sea food from North Korea, effective from Tuesday, as Beijing moved to implement United Nations sanctions announced earlier this month.

The UN sanctions must be implemented 30 days after the resolution was approved in a vote on Aug. 6.

Full article:
China issues order to implement U.N. sanctions on North Korea
Reuters
2017-08-14

Washington Post also reports on the iron ore and seafood import ban:

The ban will take effect from Tuesday, the Ministry of Commerce announced.

But at the same time, Beijing warned the Trump administration not to split the international coalition over North Korea by provoking a trade war between China and the United States.

The warning comes as President Trump is expected to sign an executive memorandum Monday afternoon instructing his top trade negotiator to launch an investigation into Chinese intellectual property violations, a move that could eventually result in severe trade penalties,

In China, these proposed measures were seen as an attempt to put pressure on Beijing to act more strongly against North Korea, and at the same time an attempt to shift the blame for the world’s failure to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs onto China alone.

“It is obviously improper to use one thing as a tool to imposing pressure on another thing,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news conference Monday. “There will be no winner from a trade war, it will be lose-lose.”

[…]

China accounts for roughly 90 percent of North Korean trade but moved earlier in February to suspend North Korea’s coal imports until the end of the year. Coal normally accounts for about half of North Korea’s exports, but despite the coal ban, overall trade between the two countries remained healthy.

Last month China announced that imports from North Korea fell to $880 million in the six months that ended in June, down 13 percent from a year earlier. Notably, China’s coal imports from North Korea dropped precipitously, with only 2.7 million tons being shipped in the first half of 2017, down 75 percent from 2016.

But a 29 percent spike in Chinese exports to North Korea — North Korea bought $1.67 billion worth of Chinese products in the first six months of the year — helped push total trade between the two countries up 10 percent between January and June, compared with the same period last year.

The latest move to stem imports of iron, iron ore, lead and lead ore, and seafood products will put significantly more pressure on Pyongyang. But it is unlikely to be enough to convince Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program, which it sees as essential to its own survival, experts say.

Full article:

China bans North Korea iron, lead, coal imports as part of U.N. sanctions
Simon Denyer
Washington Post
2017-08-14

Three things are worth noting:

First, this sort of order seems to be a general routine in China’s process of complying with UN sanctions, regardless of how strict controls and enforcement actually turns out to be later on. For example, China ordered coal trade to cease in April 2016, to comply with UN sanctions on North Korea, but the trade continued, with the “humanitarian exemption” clause as the excuse. The order itself, in other words, does not seem to be anything out of the ordinary. Whether or not it is enforced in the weeks, months or even years ahead will be the real test.

Second, Chinese imports of iron ore increased quite drastically over the past few months. It is only speculation, but perhaps Chinese authorities, businesses or other entities involved here sensed that UN sanctions on the horizon would target North Korea’s iron ore exports, and decided to “backload” its imports to compensate for an anticipated shortfall later on. Chinese iron ore imports from North Korea in April 2017 were two and a half times higher than in April 2016. We’d need to see actual numbers by the end of the year to really evaluate the impact of this iron ore import ban on North Korea’s foreign currency earnings, but the higher levels of imports in the preceding months will certainly cushion some of the impact from this ban.

Third, enforcement is tricky. To state the obvious, China is a huge country. Its border to North Korea is long and traders in both countries have years of experience in sanctions evasion. The flow of goods between the two countries — much of it through one single point between Sinuiju and Dandong — is difficult to monitor. Even after China’s import suspension of North Korean coal this past winter, some of the trade continued, and perhaps still does today under the radar.

In sum, as always, only time will tell what this actually comes to mean for North Korea.

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North Korea’s natural resources and the “Five-year Plan”

Monday, August 29th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

North Korea’s natural resource and minerals issue runs as a clear thread throughout its economic past and present. On the one hand, they provide immense wealth (not least through export revenues), but on the other hand, the leadership has often been wary of letting their role grow too large. Moreover, it appears that the North Korean leadership, both at various times in history and in recent years, has seen individuals scrambling to amass personal wealth through mineral exports as a danger to state incomes and economic control. Recall that one of the accusations against Jang Song-taek was that he sold off the country’s natural resources to “foreign countries” for cheap.

In a brief from the beginning of the month, IFES analyzes Rodong Sinmun coverage of the role of natural resources in implementing the five-year plan for economic development, the details of which are yet to be revealed:

Kim Jong Un has appealed for all energy to be put into developing underground resources in order to implement the ‘Five Year State Economic Development Strategy’ (unveiled at the 7th Party Congress of the Workers Party of Korea held in May).

In reporting that appeared in Rodong Sinmun on July 13, 2016 it was asserted that “The task of developing and using underground mineral resources effectively to raise self-sufficiency and independence lies in front of party members and workers who are vigorously participating in a 200 day speed battle to make a breakthrough in the implementation of the Five Year State Economic Development Strategy in the country, which is known worldwide for its minerals.”

Self-sufficiency and natural resource dependence have often been highlighted in North Korean economic publications as mutually exclusive. Presumably, Rodong Sinmun advocates that natural resources be used for economic production through fuel and the like, rather than merely for export incomes.

It went on to urge that “with the close collaboration between the state resources development sector and scientific research groups, all resources must be concentrated on prospective and current surveys (surveys that measure mineral reserves) to ensure that the Five Year State Economic Development Strategy succeeds.”

It added, “energy must be put in to find more as yet undeveloped potential sites for development . . . reserves must be secured to ensure that mine production continually rises.”

It also emphasized that “all illegal extraction of underground mineral resources by [production] units, factories and collective organizations for the benefit of their own unit alone must be gotten rid of . . . [and] the role of institutions supervising and controlling underground resources and environmental protection must be strengthened.”

In other words, incomes from mineral extraction should go to the central government, and individuals trying to exploit the expanding opportunities for private business activity to generate personal profits through mineral exports should be kept under control.

Admittedly, the paper also demanded natural tourist attractions be protected: “the staff of supervisory institutions must engrave deeply in their hearts the earnest wish of the Great Leader by not developing Mount Kumgang and Mount Myohyang, regardless of how large the underground mineral deposits are there, and hand down their beautiful scenery and nature to posterity.”

At the aforementioned 7th Party Congress, Kim Jong Un unveiled the ‘Five Year State Economic Development Strategy’, and also set out to revolve energy problems and strengthen the self-sufficiency and independence of the people’s economy.

Full publication here:
Mobilizing “All Energy in Securing Underground Resources” to Implement Development Strategy
Institute for Far Eastern Studies
2016-08-01

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North Korean iron ore continues flowing into China, reports suggest

Friday, August 12th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Despite firm promises from Chinese officials of full sanctions enforcements, reports from Daily NK suggest that iron ore is still being exported in substantial quantities from North Korea. Sanctions allow imports of iron ore when proceeds benefit “livelihood purposes,” but this seems to be a very difficult criteria to ensure in practice:

Thousands of tons of iron ore exports from the North are pouring into China daily, despite UN Security Council sanctions issued in April that ban states from procuring minerals from the regime unless related to “livelihood purposes”, Daily NK has learned.
“The Chinese regions facing Musan County in North Korea are teeming with thirty- and forty-ton trucks loaded with iron ore,” a source in China with knowledge of North Korean affairs told Daily NK in a telephone conversation on August 11.
Sources in North Hamgyong Province corroborated this news.
The trucks, he added, are mostly transporting iron ore to a classification yard near Helong City in China. In the past, the railways near Helong running along the Tumen River border area were not frequently utilized. But recently China added express freight trains on this route, presumably to facilitate more expedient transport of North Korean iron ore to local steel mills. More broadly, the source asserted the development indicates Beijing’s future intentions to expand trade with the North.
Connecting dozens of 100-ton freight cars, the express trains transport some 2,000 tons in a single shipment, with several round trips transpiring daily. Moreover, the source noted, “Some cargo trucks transport goods from Musan Mine across the submerged bridge on Tumen River directly to steel mills in China.”
The partially underwater bridge, made by connecting slabs of rock large enough to permit vehicular transport, was constructed in the early 2000s to facilitate the Sino-North Korean iron ore trade industry. However, following the implementation of strong global sanctions earlier in the year, iron exports plummeted, rendering the bridge obsolete.
More recently, however, this crude piece of infrastructure is experiencing a resurgence, coming as quite a surprise to local Chinese residents. The source explained that goods passing through Chilsong Customs are checked thoroughly, item by item. Customs officers at the underwater bridge, on the other hand, merely record the total number of shipments passing through, making it the preferred conduit for proscribed goods.
The general rise in trade can also be noted in Dandong, the gateway to 70 percent of trade between the North and China. A source in the city told Daily NK earlier in the month that after the reopening of the aging Sino-North Korean Friendship Bridge, after yet another round of repairs, the volume of shipments has been on a steady uptick.
“Roughly 1,000 trucks, each with a 20-ton loading capacity, are laden with diverse goods and pulling into Sinuiju daily. That’s more than a ten-fold increase,” she said.
Full article:
North Korean iron ore exports to China booming despite sanctions
Daily NK
Choi Song Min
2016-08-12
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Mobilizing “All energy in securing underground resources” to implement development strategy

Monday, August 1st, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

Kim Jong Un has appealed for all energy to be put into developing underground resources in order to implement the ‘Five Year State Economic Development Strategy’ (unveiled at the 7th Party Congress of the Workers Party of Korea held in May).

In reporting that appeared in Rodong Sinmun on July 13, 2016 it was asserted that “The task of developing and using underground mineral resources effectively to raise self-sufficiency and independence lies in front of party members and workers who are vigorously participating in a 200 day speed battle to make a breakthrough in the implementation of the Five Year State Economic Development Strategy in the country, which is known worldwide for its minerals.”

It went on to urge that “with the close collaboration between the state resources development sector and scientific research groups, all resources must be concentrated on prospective and current surveys (surveys that measure mineral reserves) to ensure that the Five Year State Economic Development Strategy succeeds.”

It added, “energy must be put in to find more as yet undeveloped potential sites for development . . . reserves must be secured to ensure that mine production continually rises.”

It also emphasized that “all illegal extraction of underground mineral resources by [production] units, factories and collective organizations for the benefit of their own unit alone must be gotten rid of . . . [and] the role of institutions supervising and controlling underground resources and environmental protection must be strengthened.”

Admittedly, the paper also demanded natural tourist attractions be protected: “the staff of supervisory institutions must engrave deeply in their hearts the earnest wish of the Great Leader by not developing Mount Kumgang and Mount Myohyang, regardless of how large the underground mineral deposits are there, and hand down their beautiful scenery and nature to posterity.”

At the aforementioned 7th Party Congress, Kim Jong Un unveiled the ‘Five Year State Economic Development Strategy’, and also set out to revolve energy problems and strengthen the self-sufficiency and independence of the people’s economy.

Early this month, Kim Jong Un conducted an inspection tour of the ‘Pyongsong Synthetic Leather Factory’ in South Pyongan Province, a facility producing consumer goods for the North Korean people. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on July 12 that while there he said that “this factory has grown to become a treasured factory that actively contributes to improving the lives of the people.”

Since being appointed Chairman of the State Affairs Commission on June 29, an image of Kim Jong Un as ‘the leader who loves the people’ has become pronounced, with Kim visiting a Pyongyang Secondary school and a soft-shelled turtle factory.

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North Korea’s natural resource risks: Kim Jong-il’s own take

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

As North Korea debates and experiments in economic strategies, it’s always interesting to go back and look at older debates of a similar nature. While reading vol. 14 of Kim Jong-il’s Collected Works (Sonjib) I stumbled upon an interesting speech attributed to Kim from 1995.* Whether it was foresight or just common logic of political economy, Kim actually warned of the risks of North Korea becoming a mere natural resource exporter to other countries, without reaping the full benefits of trade. Recall that one of the charges against Jang Song-taek was selling out the country’s natural resources for his own benefit. The issue itself, of course, is much older.

In the speech, given to an audience of Central Committee functionaries, Kim attacks cadres that have a faulty understanding of foreign trade under socialism, and think only about how their own “units” (단위) can make foreign currency profits (p. 8). He also emphasizes the need to calculate all the costs involved with foreign trade, including production costs at home, to calculate actual profit.

The most interesting part, in my opinion, however, is where Kim gets to the natural resource question. Kim states that natural resources shouldn’t just be sold to other countries, but processed (가공) domestically to the greatest extent possible (p. 10). He says that “now, capitalists are buying natural resources at a cheap price from our country, processing them and selling them to a higher price.”

Kim complains that it’s a grave crime that capitalists are pocketing their own wallets by selling off North Korea’s own resources by processing them, and that North Korea could become mere suppliers to monopoly capitalism if it doesn’t start processing their natural resources itself. He also states that those who just sell off natural resources without processing are just like slaves to foreign countries.

Kim also warns people about thinking that foreign currency can be earned “for free.” “The imperialists and capitalists never give anything to anyone for free,” Kim states, and says that if capitalists say they have anything to give, it is because they have their own desires” (p. 11).

This speech is a reminder that North Korea has grappled with how to handle its natural resources for a long time, and it suggests that controversies abounded in the 1990s as well.

*These works are sometimes edited after the fact, sometimes several times over, but this edition is from 2000, published by the Worker’s Party Publisher (N’odongd’ang chulpan’sa). All translations are my own, and if anyone has any corrections to offer, please get in touch.

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Chinese local governments formally notified of sanctions against North Korea

Monday, March 21st, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

I’m not sure if this is anything out of the ordinary or if this is the formal routine every time sanctions have been passed. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting development. If sanctions against North Korea are ever to hit the economy where it hurts, Chinese local governments are perhaps the most important implementers since much (or most) of North Korea’s external trade occurs with them. Korea Herald:

China has notified its local governments on how to implement new U.N. sanctions on North Korea, including specific measures on imports from North Korea, a diplomatic source with knowledge of the matter said Monday.

Kim Hong-kyun, South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy, held talks with his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei, last Friday as the two nations vowed to fully implement the new U.N. sanctions against North Korea’s fourth nuclear test and rocket launch.

During the talks, Wu told Kim that China has been “in the process of implementing the new U.N. resolution on North Korea,” said the source, who attended the Friday meeting.

“The Chinese side also believes that strong sanctions are needed to show its sincerity on denuclearization,” the source said.

Earlier this month, the U.N. Security Council levied tougher sanctions against North Korea’s fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 and the Feb. 7 launch of a long-range rocket, both of which violated previous U.N. resolutions.

The new U.N. sanctions require countries to limit or ban imports of North Korean coal, iron ore and other mineral resources if the proceeds are used for the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

One of the potential loopholes is a provision that allows North Korea to continue exports of coal and iron ore if such transactions are for “livelihood purposes.”

Full article here:
China notifies local gov’ts of new U.N. sanctions on N. Korea
Yonhap News/Korea Herald
2016-03-21

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Over 500 types of high-quality mineral reserves in North Korea

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korean website DPRK Today recently lauded the copious amounts of over 500 types of quality mineral reserves in North Korea including iron ore, anthracite, bituminous coal, gold, silver, and copper. This news appeared amidst the discussions about expanding international sanctions on North Korea’s mineral exports after the fourth nuclear test.

An article titled “Choson from the Geological Perspective,” written by Dr. Choe Won Jong, researcher at the Institute of Geology of the National Academy of Sciences, was posted on the DPRK Today website on February 18.

According to Dr. Choe, North Korea has rich mineral reserves with over 500 types of minerals including billions of tons of iron ore, coal, bituminous coal, silver, copper, lead, zinc, tungsten, magnesite, graphite, and limestone. Reportedly six rare minerals including holdongsok, suansok, and sangpaldongsok were first detected in North Korea and aptly named after the regions where the discoveries were made.

Dr. Choe commented, “The reason that the Republic [DPRK] has a wealth of natural resources is likely to be influenced by the long history and diversity of crustal movement over time. . . . the earth of our country has a long history of more than 3.6 billion years.”

It was said that most of the graphite deposits were formed about 2.5 billion years ago and Ryongyang and Taehung magnesite deposits, Komdok lead-zinc deposits, and Tanchon-Hochon region non-ferrous metal deposits were formed 2 billion years ago. It reported that there are high quality diatomite deposits in Taehongdan County, formed when the pumice of Mount Paektu erupted about 1,000 years ago.

According to Choe, in geological terms, these underground resources were formed as the crust structure of the Korean peninsula is positioned in the eastern outskirts of the Eurasian continental crust as it abuts against the Pacific oceanic crust in the west.

He further explained that there were at least ten big crustal movements surrounding the Korean peninsula, and over 16 periods of magmatism that occurred in North Korea which led to massive granite formation over the years and at this occurrence, non-ferrous metals such as gold, copper, tungsten, and molybdenum, as well as rare metals and rare earth metal deposits were formed.

Non-metallic deposits and copper, iron metal deposits such as graphite, muscovite, feldspar were formed during over seven periods of metamorphism, which reportedly also improved the quality of already existing iron ore and magnesite deposits. From the northeast region that stretches from Mount Paektu to Kilju-gun, all the way to Pukchong-gun to Samsu-gun in the northwest of Machonryong Range, a famous deposit formation region can be found that is said to be rich in magnesite, lead, zinc, copper, gold, iron, and other minerals.

Dr. Choe boasted, “Truly, Machonryong Range can be seen as a great treasure chest in the Korean peninsula . . . . our country has become more and more abundant in underground resources as we are surrounded by the sea on three sides. However, gems must be polished to shine,” and thus he emphasized the need for the development and utilization of these resources.

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Trade between North Korea and China fell 1.2 percent in January

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Note that the cause given here is not a fall in trade volume — trade in minerals jumped 35 percent in volume terms — but falling commodity prices.

BEIJING, Feb. 25 (Yonhap) — Trade between North Korea and its economic lifeline, China, fell 1.2 percent on-year in January, data showed Thursday, indicating that their trade was largely unaffected by the North’s latest nuclear test.

Bilateral trade volume declined to US$388 million last month, compared with $398 million for the same period last year, the Beijing unit of South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency said, citing Chinese customs data.

China’s imports of North Korean goods slipped 3.96 percent in January to $177 million, the data showed.

North Korea’s exports of mineral resources, including coal, to China fell 3.94 percent last month to $76.9 million, but the volume of mineral exports jumped 35 percent to 1.66 million tons for the month.

The figures showed that North Korea also felt the pinch of lower commodity prices.

Full article here:
N. Korea’s trade with China falls 1.2 pct in January 
Yonhap News
2016-02-25

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Types of businesses expanding among North Korean cabinet-directed enterprises

Friday, October 30th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

Business enterprises under the direct supervision of the DPRK Cabinet appear eager to expand business operations, from mine development to the sale of gochujang (red pepper paste), in order to procure funds necessary for state-level development projects and running the government.

The North Korean cabinet-supervised Korea Taeyang Corporation* revealed on its homepage on October 18, 2015, “We are actively pushing forward joint ventures in the selling and manufacturing of molybdenum products with major companies in China, Switzerland, and Brazil.”

“The molybdenum mine located in Changjin County in South Hamgyong Province produces hundreds of tons of molybdenum concentrate every year, so we are manufacturing molybdenum steel at the molybdenum steel refinery and exporting it,” the company explained.

Their work is not restricted to mining, but extends to transportation and distribution, as well as the restaurant business. The subsidiary Korea Taeyang Transportation Co. owns twenty container wagons, thirty freight cars over 20 tons, fifty 10-ton freight cars, and fifty freight cars under 10 tons.

The Taeyang electrics store, located in Pongnam-dong of Pyongyang’s Pyongchon District, specializes in the selling and repair of electrical appliances and electronics like computers. It was also involved in the vitamin C factory built in 2013 in accordance with Kim Jong Il’s dying injunctions.

In addition, there are ostrich ranches and tourist souvenir shops, as well as restaurants that sell ostrich meat and other North Korean and Chinese cuisines in Pyongyang’s Yonpung Restaurant.

Furthermore, it also operates fertilizer and feed factories, duck ranch, pig factory, instant noodle factory, tobacco factory among others. It also has overseas offices in Beijing, Dalian, Shenyang and Africa.

The corporation expressed, “We are hopeful to make connections with buyers interested in ostrich leather, ostrich crafts, agricultural machineries, teak wood manufactured goods, and red pepper and bean pastes.

The president of Taeyang, Pak Sun Chol, is a delegate to the Supreme People’s Assembly and deputy director of Cabinet affiliated General Bureau of State Development.

On Naenara, the official web portal of the DPRK (targeted toward an international audience), the corporation expressed its intention to “meet the continuous challenges in new areas under the direct guidance of the Republic and develop into a technology-focused company that will strengthen cooperation and exchanges with companies from around the world.”

While some of the profits earned by the company are used by the Cabinet for its operating funds, most of the profits are reportedly used for state construction projects.

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Russia offers electricity for copper

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

According to RBTH:

North Korea has offered to allow Russian participation in the development of the Onsong copper deposit, in exchange for Russia providing electricity to the entire east coast of the country.

“The Korean side proposed that Russia consider supplying electricity to the areas of Rason, Chongjin and Tanchon as well as the Wonsan-Mount Kumgang international tourism zone, with the costs of electricity supply covered with copper ore from the Onsong deposit in North Hamgyong Province,” the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East said in a press release.

The press note, which summed up the results of the meeting of the Russia-North Korea intergovernmental commission that was held in Pyongyang in late April, did not specify which companies would be involved in the project.

Russia and North Korea are expected to create a special working group to study the feasibility of electricity supply to the Korean peninsula. North Korea is one of the most power deficient countries in Asia with cuts in supply and load shedding being a regular occurrence even in Pyongyang.

Read the full story here:
North Korea offers Russia copper ore in exchange for electricity
RBTH
2105-5-6

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