Archive for the ‘Iron Ore’ Category

Recent DPRK wage increases / economic management changes

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

UPDATE 3 (2013-11-14): North Korea accelerating economic reforms? Wages and prices to be self-regulated (IFES):

North Korea appears to be pushing for internal economic improvement measures. Chosun Sinbo, the pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan, released an article on November 6 that discussed various performance-enhancing management and operational changes that took place at the Pyongyang Essential Foodstuff Factory this year.

Chosun Sinbo referred to Kim Jong Un’s speech made last March at the plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party about improving economic management and named the recent changes at the food factory as a pilot project for this purpose. The news article added that “There are studies to bring fundamental changes in economic management and specific measures are being made to turn this into a reality.”

The main systemic changes made at the Pyongyang Essential Foodstuff Factory were the increase in autonomy of the company and the enforcement of wage differential based on performance. Based on the principle of cost compensation, prices of products produced with raw materials at the factory may be freely adjusted after consulting with the state.

The news article further explained that “The principle of socialist distribution is a simple system of distributing as much as you earn and the cost of living is determined by labor productivity.”  It also reported that some of the employees’ wages increased. Such news is likely intended to advertise to the outside world about North Korea’s changing domestic economic policies.

The North Korean economic journal Kyongje Yongu has also been increasingly reporting on the principle of distribution based on economic performance. In the recent issue published on October 30, 2013 (issue No. 4), an article titled “The Principle Problem of Properly Implementing the Socialist Labor Wage System” criticized the equalization of product distribution as it decreases the enthusiasm of workers toward production: “The strength and life used during the process of labor must be compensated through the principle of earning the amount of your labor.” The article stressed that wages must increase with production and rationalized the need for such wage increase.

Chosun Sinbo and Kyongje Yongu articles reveal the long-term efforts by the North Korean government in enhancing research about economic improvement measures and expanding projects in various factories, companies, and cooperative farms to implement these measures.

Recently, North Korea launched the State Economic Development Commission and organized a number of international forums on special economic zones.  These can be construed as possible signals toward economic reform, as North Korea continues to make various changes in its internal economic policies.

UPDATE 2 (2013-11-7): Another story of note in the Daily NK ties factory wage increases to the ability of enterprises to negotiate prices with the state:

Choson Sinbo, the regular publication of the pro-North Korea General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), has published news of a Pyongyang-based food factory being used as a testing ground for independent economic management. The enterprise fixes prices semi-independently in discussion with the state and pays increased wages, the piece, published yesterday, explained.

The publication conveyed, “Pyongyang Essential Foodstuff Factory became a test unit and conducted research in order to enact changes to overall economic management. They are currently implementing these.”

It continued, “Of particular note is the organization of production and economic management based on cost compensation principles and the socialist rules of division. Pyongyang Essential Foodstuff Factory has enacted the measures for themselves and prepared the collateral to allow for expansion and reproduction.”

“This factory has shed the state planning model and sources its own materials, and in discussion with the state it has been able to set its own prices as it sees fit. There is also a measure currently being adopted that provides monthly allowances in consideration of the labor of the employees,” it further emphasized.

However, a high-ranking defector was skeptical when asked about the piece, telling Daily NK, “These factories produce things like soybean paste, soy sauce, salt and side dishes. They have always played the role of distributor to the people, so there is no way that they would be able to just set prices how they wish on these products. It’s likely that the measures focus on work teams making apple and pear beverages, liquor and beer; things that do not relate to improving the lives of the people.”

UPDATE 1 (2013-11-7): The Daily NK follows up on the DPRK’s strategy to bring official wages in line with the price level:

North Korea’s decision to drastically increase the wages of workers in parts of the heavy industrial sector is designed to boost morale and improve productivity, the better to expand the country’s capacity to generate foreign currency income from investments in the exploitation of its mineral resources.

As exclusively reported yesterday by Daily NK, major industrial concerns in North Hamkyung Province such as Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex have raised wages by a factor of approximately one hundred, from a derisory 3,000 won per month, around half the market price of a kilo of rice, to 300,000 won. Thus far, 100,000 won of the total has been paid in cash and the remainder in kind in an attempt to head off the very real danger of dramatic price inflation that would result from 100% cash payments.

That such a substantial wage rise was only deemed feasible in enterprises with the potential to export primary or secondary resources for foreign exchange should not come as a surprise. Smaller domestic enterprises don’t have the liquid resources to take such a step. As with the Kaesong Industrial Complex, wages in cash and kind have always been more generous for workers in joint venture enterprises than elsewhere. The latest move reflects an extension of that reality.

At this early stage, experts believe that the measure is designed to create a business model for North Korea not unlike that on show at Kaesong, under which each province can improve its economic performance and attract greater quantities of foreign capital. By actively nurturing those rare businesses that are competitive in the regional environment, the country hopes to raise productivity overall.

A researcher with Industrial Bank of Korea, Cho Bong Hyun told Daily NK, “Raising salaries for enterprises in the minerals sector looks like an inevitable choice, since productivity couldn’t have been expected from light industrial enterprises when the operational level of most of those factories is so low.

Cho continued, “The Kim Jong Eun regime, which is currently concentrating on producing results in the economic sphere, made this decision based on the fact that for some time it has been earning foreign currency quite easily by exporting its mineral resources. They also hope that by raising salaries they can induce greater productive effort, since workers have not wanted to work properly since the public distribution system collapsed [in the 1990s].”

Yoon Deok Ryong, a senior research fellow with the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy added, “Kim Jong Eun has granted this autonomy to firms and raised wages in order to earn foreign currency and firm up his system. He wants to right the economy by discriminating in favor of businesses that are somewhat competitive.”

However, despite cautious enthusiasm for the latest step, the two experts cautioned that unless North Korea moves further in the direction of a market economic system, the measure might not prove effective.

Cho explained, “No matter how tightly the North Korean authorities seek to control economic activity, they will find it almost impossible to stop these wage rises inciting inflation and causing the value of the North Korean Won to nosedive even more. There is also the danger of conflict with between military and Party-Cabinet elements over the management of mineral resource enterprises that can be used to produce military goods.”

Yoon added that workers in enterprises excluded from the latest wage rises will not see the bigger economic picture, and will simply be aggrieved at there being no improvement in their own conditions. “Conflict is unavoidable,” he concluded.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-11-6): According to the Daily NK:

Wage levels for workers in some larger industrial enterprises have risen by a factor of approximately one hundred times, Daily NK has learned. The move, which was put forward as part of the “June 28th Policy” in mid-2012 and is designed to bring wages more into line with market price levels, appears designed to improve the productivity and competitiveness of major industrial concerns.

According to a source from North Hamkyung Province, the monthly wage of people working at Musan Iron Mine, Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex and Sungjin Steel Mill rose from an average of just 3000-4000 won up to 300,000 won in September and October. In an attempt to forestall the inflation that such a step would otherwise guarantee, 200,000 won of the payment is issued in goods, with just 100,000 won provided in cash.

The source explained to Daily NK on the 5th, “In September the order was handed down in the name of the State Economic Development Commission to Musan, Kim Chaek and Sungjin; it was about guaranteeing independence in terms of production and the authority to set salary levels. At the time most workers did not believe that they were going to be given a wage of 300,000 won, and are really surprised now that they are actually getting it.”

The source went on to assert that the same instructions have been handed down to all provinces, not only North Hamkyung. “Relatively more competitive” industrial enterprises in each province have been selected, he said, and are resetting wages at a higher level.

Explaining the system of payments in kind, the source said, “Because they are concerned about the danger of inflation being created by the wage rises, they give 200,000 won of it in rice, vegetables, side dishes, other necessities, and electronics. Only the remaining 100,000 won is given in cash.” Workers have been told “not to make purchases in public markets since the state is now providing for your daily needs,” although the instruction is not likely to be adhered to.

Predictably, the source revealed that the move has attracted attention from surrounding enterprises. “Workers who had been ‘off sick’ are coming back,” he said, “and workers from other enterprises have been descending on us after hearing that we are getting a lot of wages and other stuff.”

The move appears designed to increase the competitiveness of major industrial enterprises in North Korea, and to improve the attractiveness of joint ventures to companies in China.

At the time of writing, the dramatic wage increase has not generated rice price inflation in public markets in the North Hamkyung Province region. For example, the price of rice in Musan is currently stable at around 5,800 won/kg.

On this, the source concluded, “Because some of the wages have been given in kind, demand in markets will not rise for the time being.” However, he cautioned that later, when workers attempt to buy and sell the products they have received, instability and inflation could result.

Read the full story here:
Wages Rise 100x in Heavy Industry
Daily NK
Lee Sang Yong
2013-11-6

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DPRK mining investment woes (Musan)

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

UPDATE 2 (2013-1-17):  The latest issue of Digital Globe’s World View magazine contains information on the Musan Mine (page 7):

[…]In a New Year’s message, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, urged North Korea to become an economic powerhouse by improving productivity. He specifically mentioned the Musan Mine, as it is one of the largest iron ore mines in the region with a reserve of approximately three billion tonnes of ore.  This announcement comes after a Chinese investment firm, Tianchi Industry and Trade, pulled out of the mine in the early fall of 2012.  North Korea demanded a price increase of 20%, on top of the 50-year lease that had been in place since 2005.  With the price increase, Tianchi did not feel the location could remain profitable, and North Korea refused to renegotiate.  As a result, the associated smelter in China was shut down in September 2012.  The presents a loss for the Jilin provincial government in China, which had extended a rail line 42 kilometers to the border to transport ore north after it was processed at the smelter.  With the departure of the Chinese investment firm, the Musan Iron Ore Mine is currently operated by North Korea’s Ministry of Mines. The mine has the potential to produce 1.5 million tonnes of ore a year if the North Koreans can operate it at its former capacity under Tainchi.

UPDATE 1 (2012-10-17):  The Choson Ilbo has picked up on this story first reported in the Hankyoreh last month, yet they have a different English name for the Chinese company. According to the  article:

The Chinese apparently baulked at a price increase of more than 20 percent demanded by the North, although international iron ore prices are plummeting in the wake of the global recession. They won 50-year extraction rights for the mine in 2005.

A smelter in the Chinese province of Jilin near the border with North Korea and operated by Tianchi Industry and Trade, the Chinese partner to the Musan Mine, closed down in September, according to a source in Yanbian on Tuesday. The smelter used to process iron ore extracted at the mine.

The source added, “There’s been no progress in the implementation of plans to lay a railway line and a slurry pipeline between Nanping and Musan.”

Tianchi Industry and Trade turned down the North’s demand, saying it makes hardly any profit as is given wages for North Korean workers and transportation costs.

Tianchi, a private trading company based in Yanbian, has served as a conduit for iron ore produced at the Musan Mine to the Chinese market since the early 1990s. It obtained the extraction rights to the mine in 2005 after concluding a trilateral joint-venture contract with Tonghua Iron and Steel, a Chinese state-run iron and steel mill, and [North] Korea Ferrous Metals Export and Import Corporation.

Tianchi hired North Korean workers and extracted 1 to 1.5 million tons of iron ore at Musan every year, which it supplied to Tonghua and other companies.

But the first cracks in the deal appeared in 2009, and iron ore production had been intermittent since then and stopped completely this year.

The Jilin provincial government has also been hit because it already laid a 41.68 km railway line leading to the border town of Nanping since November last year.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-9-13): We have already heard about Xiyang. Today the Hankyoreh tells us about problems with the Musan Mine…

Pictured Above (Google Earth): Musan Mine

According to the article:

However, not all business between North Korea and China is rosy. An iron-smelting factory in Helong City, Jilin, that was visited on Sept. 5, had to close its doors. It used to be a place where iron from across the Yalu River was brought from North Korea‘s Musan iron mine and processed. A railroad was expected to run from the two cities by October of last year in order to increase the amount of iron brought into China. But the construction was never completed. A Chinese company called the Yanbian Cheon-ji Industry Trading Company had rights to the Musan mine for fifty years starting in 2005.

There are many guesses as to why this happened: “North Korea was asking for a price increase of 20% while the price of iron has declined in the rest of the world;” “There was trouble between the Chinese government and the new Kim Jong-un regime on negotiating development rights;” “There was a downfall of development due to differences with foreign investors about investing in electrical power.” No one knows clearly what the reason was, and there are still busy trying to figure out what is the real situation.

Here is the original story:
China adjusts to influx of cheap North Korean labor
Hankyoreh
Song Kyung-hwa
2012-9-13

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DPRK mining investment woes (Xiyang – 西洋集團)

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Pictured above: the signing of the contract between Xiyang Group and Ri Seong-kyu (리성교). Image source here.

UPDATE 6 (2012-9-17): Andrei Lankov writes a good summary of events.

UPDATE 5 (2012-9-7): The Global Times (PR China) reports on the Xiyang affair:

Wu Xisheng, vice general manager of the Xiyang Group, told the Global Times Thursday that the company’s partner in North Korea was an enterprise affiliated with the Korean Workers’ Party, instead of what the country called a private entity.

Wu also said Xiyang is one of dozens of Chinese companies who have been cheated by North Korea.

Hu Chenpei, a diplomat with the business section of the Chinese embassy in Pyongyang, told the Global Times that it is “an isolated case of business disputes,” adding that both sides of the story are true.

“We have been in contact with related departments in North Korea, hoping the two sides could iron out their disputes through rational discussions,” said Hu.

However, Wu insisted that the North should repay their losses or the group will reveal further details about “how Pyongyang cheated it.”

When contacted by the Global Times, a diplomat with North Korea’s embassy in Beijing said he had never heard of the Xiyang Group and refused to comment.

The North Korean spokesperson also said his government will continue improving its investment environment to further draw international investment, and protect the legitimate rights and interests of international investors who follow the principles of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit as well as observing laws.

Liu Ming, a researcher with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said the disputes have dealt a blow to Chinese enterprises’ confidence in North Korea.

UPDATE 4 (2012-9-5): In a Reuters article, Xiyang responds to the KCNA statement:

Xiyang told Reuters in an interview after the North’s statement that it had been “cheated” and it lambasted Beijing’s policy of propping up North Korea’s unreformed regime which it said that it was done for geo-political reasons.

“It (Xiyang) has carried out only 50 percent of its investment obligations though almost four years have passed since the contract took effect,” KCNA quoted a spokesman for North Korea’s Commission for Joint Venture and Investment as saying.

Xiyang refused to curb its criticism of North Korea when it spoke to Reuters, suggesting that Beijing was doing little to help companies that ran afoul of what it viewed as arbitrary rulings by North Korean officials.

“This isn’t just about us – it is about all companies investing in North Korea,” Wu Xisheng, vice general manager of Xiyang told Reuters.

“They just don’t have the conditions for foreigners to invest. They say they welcome investment but they don’t have the legal or social foundations.”

UPDATE 3 (2012-9-5): KCNA has issued an official comment on the xian affair:

Media Should Maintain Impartiality in Report about DPRK

Pyongyang, September 5 (KCNA) — A spokesman for the DPRK Commission for Joint Venture and Investment on September 5 issued the following statement:

The Xiyang Group of the Haicheng City, Liaoning Province of China on August 2 posted on its Internet website an article criticizing the DPRK over the disputes that cropped up between the Group and the Korean Ryongbong Corporation in the course of implementing a joint venture contract for the development of magnetite concentrated ore.

After the article was published, some media echoed it before and after the report about the results of the third meeting of the DPRK-China Guidance Committee for developing two economic zones was made public.

They added their own analyses to the article posted by the Group. They even aired what the anti-DPRK hostile forces reported in the past to malignantly slander the inviolable social system and policy of the DPRK.

Generally, it is international usage and commercial ethics to settle disputes that occurred in the course of economic relations in line with the relevant arbitration item of the contract.

But the media have kicked off massive propaganda campaign, defying international usage and commercial order. This cannot be interpreted otherwise than an act of fanning up the dishonest forces in their moves to drive a wedge between the two countries in their economic cooperation and chill the atmosphere for investment.

As far as the procedures for the signing and implementation of the contract between the DPRK Ryongbong Corporation and the Steel Co. Ltd., of the Group and the bilateral disputes are concerned, the Group is also to blame for the abrogation of the contract. In the light of the process of implementing the obligations under the contract, the Group is chiefly to blame from the legal point of view.

It has carried out only 50 percent of its investment obligations though almost four years have past since the contract took effect.

So the two contracting parties again sat together only in vain over the timeline for the completion of the first-phase investment and commissioning.

As for 16 provisions which the Group set forth as the major issue of the disputes, it is the legal obligation of the Group related to the contract to implement them according to the mutual contract in which both sides agreed on the article that “two sides sign it on the basis of the DPRK Law on Joint Venture”.

As regards the dealing of sales price of trial products, the Group insisted on its self-opinionated proposal for settling its debts within the boundary of China, in disregard of the procedures in price dealing pursuant to the relevant financial management norms.

Media should comply with the standards for fairness and objectivity, create an atmosphere helpful to settling the disputes between the two contracting parties and refrain from an act that can be misused by the hostile forces for their vicious propaganda.

We will in the future, too, improve and round off the investment environment to further expand the international investment relations to meet the demand of the developing times and the lawful requirement of the international investment relations under the condition that the security of the country is guaranteed by dint of Songun. We will also ensure the legitimate rights and interests of all investors willing to develop international investment relations on the principles of mutual respects, equality, reciprocity and law-observance.

UPDATE 2 (2012-8-17): Michael Rank sent over the photos below which the Xiyang Group published (source here). I had a Korean friend (thx Angela) look over these and give me an idea of what they say:

This appears to be the DPRK business license or registration. It claims that the Korea Ryongbong Ryonhap Company (조선령봉련합회사) and the Chinese Soyang Jipdan Corporation (중국서양집단공사사) “merged” to form the Yangbong Hapyong Company (양봉합영회사). The new firm is made up of 1,000 local employees and two foreigners. The investment terms also appear to be denominated in Euros.

This image appears to be the cover sheet to the agreement between the two firms.  The cover sheet states that this agreement has been approved at the highest levels and that both firms agree to be bound by its terms.

UPDATE 1 (2012-8-15): Michael Rank has followed up on the Xiyang Group story in the Asia Times:

China likes to claim that its relations with North Korea are “as close and lips and teeth” but those teeth are infected with a poisonous abscess so far as one Chinese company is concerned.

In an extraordinary attack, a Chinese mining company has accused the North Koreans of tearing up a multi-million-dollar deal, intimidating its staff, imposing outrageous extra charges and cutting off its power and water, as well as of corruption and demanding prostitutes whenever their North Korean counterparts visited China.

“Xiyang Group’s investment in North Korea was a nightmare, and we were taking our lives in our hands when we entered the tiger’s lair,” the company says.

Xiyang Group, based in the northeastern province of Liaoning, says it was the biggest single Chinese investor in North Korea, having in 2011 signed a 240 million yuan (US$38 million) deal to form a joint venture iron mine that was to produce 500,000 tonnes of iron powder a year.

A few months after the contract was signed, the North Koreans made a series of extraordinary demands that led to the Chinese walking out in fury and to launching what must surely be the fiercest public attack they have ever made on their supposed close ally. [1]

The company aims much of its invective at a particular North Korean official, who, it says, is “the leader of the criminal gang who deceived Xiyang, this great plotter and fraudster …” The official, Ri Seong-kyu, was the North Korean side’s faren, or legal representative, in the deal and he is blamed for everything that went wrong.

When negotiations began in 2006 the plan was for the Chinese company to take a 75% stake in the venture, but it turned out that North Korean policy stipulated that a foreign firm could own no more than a 70% stake in a natural resources company such as a mine.

Xiyang says Ri, “violating the North Korean national investment law”, nevertheless signed a joint venture contract in which the Chinese side took a 75% stake, “forging an investment certification document in order to gain Xiyang’s confidence”.

He later told the Chinese company that the document was null and void because of the stipulation that the North Korean side must have at least a 30% stake, but Xiyang did not realise his deception until September 2011.

Xiyang says it first became interested in investing in North Korea in 2005 in response to the Chinese government’s call for Chinese companies to “venture out” and invest abroad, “but we had heard that North Koreans do not keep to their word, national laws are not strong and it is easy to be cheated, so we were extremely cautious in our investigations.”

It also notes the secrecy that pervades business dealings in North Korea, which prevented Xiyang from sending ore samples back to China for testing, but despite all this the company “took the great risk of investing”.

“North Korea’s system of doing business is [based on] government departments’ secrecy in relation to foreigners, and they do not allow foreigners to visit government departments to do business,” the online report complains.

It says there were “all kinds of unimaginable serious problems” in reaching an agreement, but after years of negotiations production finally began in April 2011. However, the North Koreans unilaterally annulled the agreement last February, when they “used violent methods” against Xiyang staff, cutting off their water, electricity and communications and smashing the windows of their living quarters.

At 2am on March 3, a group of 20 armed police and security officials led by a North Korean company official woke up the sleeping Chinese and told them the North Korean premier had annulled the deal and they were to leave the country immediately.

Ten senior Xiyang employees, who seem to have been the only ones remaining in North Korea out of over 100 originally sent, were “treated as enemies”, put on a bus and deported via the border city of Sinuiju.

The statement includes a highly personal attack on Ri, who, it says, has a huge paunch and is “North Korea’s number one fat man”, weighing 108 kilograms. “Everybody knows North Korea is suffering grain shortages and ordinary people do not have enough to eat, so North Koreans are quite thin but Ri Seong-kyu’s unusual fatness fully reveals what a luxurious life he leads … When people like Ri Seong-kyu go to China they let down their country and themselves and make all kinds of demands, for money, gifts, food, drink, girls …”

Xiyang said it had paid over US$800,000 in kickbacks to corrupt North Korean officials, including $80,0000 for a Hummer for Ri in 2008 and $100,000 in 2009 for a construction project in which he was involved in South Hwanghae province. In addition, Ri and his cronies would demand gifts of laptops, cellphones and vast amounts of booze, and to be provided with masseuses.

“Sometimes the Chinese would not provide any girls, so they would get them themselves and put it on their room bill,” expecting Xiyang to pay for all their personal expenses, bringing the bill to over 200,000 yuan per person.

This was not all – they would demand a receipt for their expenses that had been paid for by Xiyang, so they could claim the same costs when they returned to North Korea, according to the Xiyang statement.

Xiyang officials, on the other hand, had to pay all their own expenses in North Korea, were only allowed to eat in certain restaurants and were followed 24 hours a day by security officials. Even when Ri invited the president of Xiyang to his home, his host charged $2,000 for the privilege.

The report says the crunch came in September 2011 when the North Koreans made 16 demands that violated the terms of the contract, including a 4-10% sales levy, a one euro (US$0.17) per square metre per year rent charge, a hike in electricity prices and a charge of one euro per cubic metre of sea water consumed.

They also banned the company from releasing waste water, or even clean water, into the sea, which “amounted to the North Koreans forcibly halting production”.

The most serious act by the North Koreans was a ban on sales, the document states, which was clearly aimed at ensuring an end to the joint venture. “Ri Seong-kyu claimed all these [regulations] were included in North Korea’s national joint venture law, and we could not sell the 30,000 tonnes of iron powder that had been produced. In these circumstances, if Xiyang had carried on investing and manufacturing [in North Korea], we would have been the biggest fools in the world.”

Many of Xiyang’s complaints will sound all too familiar to anyone who has visited North Korea. The document tells how Xiyang staff were at first banned from buying food in so-called free markets. After much pleading the authorities finally agreed to this, but each person had to be accompanied by two minders and the route had to be approved by the security police.

Although the mine was only 500 meters from the sea, staff were banned from taking strolls along the shore.

Quite why the North Koreans acted with such prejudice against Xiyang isn’t clear, but part of the reason may lie in the location of the mine. It is in Ongjin county on the west coast, a highly sensitive area ever since this small peninsula ended up in North Korea after the Korean war even though it lies below the 38th Parallel. (It is also close to the port of Haeju, from where the iron was to have been exported).

The Chinese government may wish to dismiss this as a spat between a little known Chinese company and a single corrupt North Korean official, but it has brought into the open the deep suspicion that exists between the two countries.

The Chinese have long felt unable to trust the North Koreans with their xenophobic, quasi-Maoist personality cult, while the North Koreans are equally suspicious of the emerging superpower on their doorstep eagerly eyeing the smaller country’s natural resources.

Change may now be in the air, and the more open leadership style of North Korea’s young Kim Jong-eun has sparked speculation of economic reform and a fresh approach to foreign investment in his country, but horror stories such as this may indicate Kim’s style may be just that – all style and no substance.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-8-10): JVIC is the DPRK’s Joint Venture Investment Committee. You can read previous posts about the JVIC here.

According to Yonhap:

North Korea has recently signed a deal with China to jointly develop three mines in the North, a North Korean investment firm said Thursday, as the cash-strapped country steps up attempts to earn hard currency from overseas.

A Beijing unit of North Korea’s Committee of Investment and Joint Venture struck the joint development deal with a Chinese international trading company in Beijing on June 9, according to the unit’s Chinese-language Web site.

“The China firm’s president and his parties conducted field inspections into one (North Korean) gold mine and two iron ore mines and confirmed the investment and development scheme,” the Web site said. “Facility building is now well underway for the project,” it said.

Details on the terms of the deal were not provided.

Experts said the deal is the first foreign investment deal announced by the Beijing unit, which is run by the Committee of Investment and Joint Venture in charge of luring overseas capital and investment into the North.

The joint North-China mining venture also illustrates growing exports of underground resources from the North to China, its closest ally and a major source of foreign currency.

Exports of mineral resources to China reached 8,420,000 tons during the first nine months of 2011, growing sharply from the annual volume of 4,799,000 tons in 2010 and 2,480,000 tons for the whole of 2008.

Although Yonhap does not report the Chinese company’s identity, the IBTimes reports that it is named “Baoyuanhengchang”. According to the article:

Baoyuanhengchang confirmed the plans to develop the mines, as per its pronouncement, noting both parties had conducted field inspections.

“Facility building is already underway and everything is going as planned,” it said. No details of the terms, however, were provided.

The pronouncement has been considered a milestone as this was the first time that North Korea publicly announced its efforts in enlisting foreign investors to help develop its potentially vast mineral wealth, Arirang News reported.

I have yet to determine in which specific projects Baoyuanhengchang is investing.

The two most high-profile Chinese mining investments in the DPRK remain the Hyesan Youth Copper Mine (US$860 million, it now holds a 51% ownership) and the Musan Mine (50year lease). The original Musan deal may have fallen through, however, and could possibly be one of the deals included in the Baoyuanhengchang agreement.

However, a warning to the Chinese investors can be found below. According to the Donga Ilbo:

A Chinese conglomerate that tried to advance into the North Korean mining industry has been forced out of the Stalinist country due to contract cancellations.

Calling its past five-year investment in the North “a nightmare,” Xiyang Group has filed for arbitration with the Chinese government.

Based in Liaoning, China, the group said Wednesday that it had set up a joint venture with North Korea in March 2007 to build a plant there that extracts iron from ore. Of the paid-in capital of 47.52 million U.S. dollars, the company put up 75 percent of the amount in cash and North Korea 25 percent for land and mine exploration and also managerial rights for 30 years.

Xiyang company invested 37.14 million dollars, the biggest investment for a Chinese private company in North Korea. Pyongyang approved the incorporation in April 2007.

With a target of 500,000 tons of ore dressing per year, Xiyang sent about 100 workers to North Korea and produced 30,000 tons in April last year. In September last year, however, Pyongyang requested modification of 16 items on the contract including a demand of 4-10 percent of sales of products for using raw materials; 1.24 dollars for every square meter of land leased, and 17 cents per cubic meter of sea water for industrial use.

Xiyang said the demands were not included in the original contract, which was ratified by the North Korean parliament in October 2009.

The conglomerate refused modification of the contract, prompting Pyongyang to suspend the effectuation of the contract and cancel corporate establishment Feb. 7. North Korea also suspended power, water and communication supply at the plant.

Xiyang said that on March 3, North Korean police and 20 security guards went to where the Chinese workers were staying and forced them to ride a bus to deport them outside the Chinese border.

The group said the North requested modification of the contract to steal the ore dressing facility that the country lacked in capital and technology to introduce.

A Xiyang source said, “When our company was established in 2007, North Korea had a law restricting a foreign company`s stake in a joint venture to now more than 70 percent. But the North said the law will be revised soon and requested a 75-percent stake. Eventually, this was a drag.”

“Not only North Korean authorities but also the North Korean company we established ties with had a high-end attitude, including a request for money in U.S. dollars.”

Xiyang Group explained the violation of the contract and put it on the Internet to complain of the injustice. Its complaint is titled “Nightmare in North Korea Investment.”

So the North Koreans are violating a contract which was ratified by the Supreme Peoples’ Assembly? That does not inspire confidence.

Via Choson Exchange, here is a link to Xiyang’s official statement. You can read it in English via Google Translate here.  In case the web site is taken down, I have created a PDF of it which you can see here.

It is not really worth the time speculating on the politics behind the scenes. The Daily NK, however, points out that the KPA’s privileges with respect to mineral exports are being curtailed.

In 2007 Xiyang set up the Sohae Joint Venture Company to work the Ongjin Iron Mine (Google Earth coordinates:  37.960294°, 125.368651°)  and the Xiyang Paekgumsan Joint Venture (aka Soyang Paekgumsan Joint Venture Co.) to work in haevy industry and construction. Although the story does not mention it, I believe the problems are at the Ongjin Mine. I am unsure of the status of the Paekgumsan Joint Venture.

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2012 trade with China up in 1st half of 2012

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s trade with China jumped nearly 25 percent in the first six months of this year, China’s customs office said Thursday, indicating that the North’s reliance on its neighboring ally on the economic front is growing.

According to the data released by the Chinese General Administration of Customs, the two allies’ trade came to US$3.14 billion during the January-June period, up 24.7 percent from the same period a year earlier.

The two countries signed the Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty in 1961, whereby China pledged to immediately render military and other assistance to its secretive ally.

The North’s exports to China totaled $1.3 billion during the first half of this year, up 22.2 percent from a year earlier.

Its imports from China grew 26.5 percent on-year to $1.84 billion over the cited period.

This resulted in a trade deficit of about $540 million for the North, the data showed.

Iron ore was North Korea’s leading export item, while China exported to North Korea crude oil and construction machinery, the customs office said.

With international sanctions in place amid the North’s nuclear ambitions, China has emerged as the communist state’s key supplier of economic goods.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s first-half trade with China jumps 25 pct
Yonhap
2012-8-9

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North-South Korea and Chinese trade

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

The Joongang Ilbo reports some recent statistics from, the Kaesong Industrial Zone and some trade statistics between the two Koreas and China.

Inter-Korean and China trade (Joongang Ilbo):

Exactly two years ago, on May 24, 2010, in the aftermath of the deadly sinking of the Cheonan warship, the Lee Myung-bak administration imposed sanctions against North Korea that forbade all inter-Korean trade and South Korean investments in the North.

[…]

Statistics from the Korea International Trade Association show that the volume of inter-Korea trade in 2011 dropped by 10.4 percent, falling to about $1.7 billion from $1.9 billion in 2010. The Kaesong Industrial Complex, which was exempted from the sanctions, accounted for most of the inter-Korean trade.

In contrast, the volume of trade between North Korea and China surged by 62.4 percent in 2011, from $3.4 billion in 2010 to $5.6 billion.

“After stopping trade with South Korea, factories in Pyongyang and Nampo cities turned to Chinese companies and now work for them,” a South Korean businessman said on condition of anonymity. “It took so much time and money for us to teach North Korean employees and now Chinese companies enjoy the fruits of our labor.”

The North Korean government responded to the South Korean sanctions:

As talks between the two authorities have been halted, North Korea has unilaterally decided to raise taxes on income and management of the complex.

In fact, the North Korean regime earns significant money from the complex. South Korean firms pay the North Korean government an average of $126.4 per month for each North Korean worker. The government then distributes 5,000 won of North Korean currency and some food coupons to each employee per month. This wage is desirable compared to other worker payments in the North.

Analysts calculate that the regime is holding at least $50 million from the $77.8 million of the North Korean employees’ annual income.

At current black market rates, there are appx 4,450 DPRK won to for US$1.

The article notes, however, that the Kaesong Industrial Zone continues to grow:

Located only three kilometers away from the Military Demarcation Line, the inter-Korean complex has 123 South Korean companies and about 51,000 North Korean employees.

Currently, the South Korean government is implementing a scheme to build more roads and infrastructure for South Koreans crossing the border to commute to the complex (see here and here).

“Although Kim Yong-chol, former head of the policy planning office of the North’s powerful National Defense Commission, who has exerted a huge influence on operating the Kaesong complex, repeatedly threatened to shut down the complex since the May 24 sanctions, he’s recently been more cooperative, saying ‘Let’s make it better,’” a high-ranking government source told the JoongAng Ilbo.

Unlike the frosty inter-Korean relations, the sales performance of the joint industrial complex is positive. For the past three years, 55 South Korean firms additionally moved into the complex and the annual output value surpassed $400 million in 2011, jumping from $180 million in 2007.

Last year’s volume is 30 times that of the $14.91 million in 2005, when the complex made its first yearly outputs. The total output value since 2005 has accumulated to $1.5 billion.

[…]

Currently, roughly 160,000 people are living in Kaesong city and approximately one out of three are working in the complex

The article also reports on additional DPRK-China projects that are not necessarily a result of higher barriers to commerce between the two Koreas (dredging, mining, labor mobility, and SEZs):

“A Chinese firm based in Yanji is now implementing a 60-kilometer-long (37-mile) dredging project in the Tumen river bed,” a government-affiliated research official said.

“It’s not simple dredging work, but a plan to mine the iron ore buried nearby.”

“In the river bed, about 30 percent of the sand contains iron ore,” the official said.

The regime also exports their labor forces to their closest ally.

“Most of the local people left for South Korea to get a decent job and the average wage for a Chinese worker is increasing,” a Chinese factory manager in Yanji said. “So we are planning to hire North Korean workers instead.”

Pyongyang and Beijing are also focusing on developing the two special economic zones, Rason and Hwanggumpyong in northeastern North Korea.

When Chen Deming, the Minister of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce of China, and South Korean Trade Minister Park Tae-ho had a bilateral meeting on May 2 to start negotiations on the Korea-China free trade deal, they included a provision stating the two countries will allow preferential tariffs on goods produced in designated zones.

“Hwanggumpyong is like a Kaesong Industrial Complex to China,” a South Korean authority said. “The Hwanggumpyong zone has the same function as Kaesong, composed of China’s capital and technology and North Korea’s land and labor forces.”

In the Rason Economic Zone, China has finished construction paving the 53-kilometer-long road connecting the Rason zone and a local tax office in Wonjong-ri, a North Korean village close to China.

The Chinese government also arranged a harbor near the Rason area, constructing a pier that can accept a three million-ton ship and building a bus route between an express bus terminal in China and the zone.

“If China uses the Rason harbor, they can save $10 per metric ton,” Jo Bong-hyeon, a senior official at the Industrial Bank of Korea, said. “It’s really good business for China, enough to invest money on building infrastructure in the zone.”

Read the full story here:
Kaesong complex running well despite sanctions
JoongAng Ilbo
2012-05-23

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DPRK mineral exports to China increase

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

UPDATE 1 (2014-1-21): See more recent data here and here.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-11-6): According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s mineral exports to China have tripled this year compared to a year ago, a study showed Sunday.

A joint study of Chinese data by Yonhap News Agency and Seoul-based IBK Economic Research Institute showed that China imported 8.42 million tons of minerals from North Korea from January to September this year, worth US$852 million.

Over the first nine months of last year, China brought in 3.04 million tons of minerals from the North for $245 million.

Most of the minerals were anthracite coals, the data showed. This year, of 8.42 million tons, 8.19 tons were anthracites.

China is the sole major ally and the biggest economic benefactor for North Korea, a reclusive regime under international economic sanctions following its nuclear and long-range missile tests.

Cho Bong-hyun, an analyst at the IBK institute, said North Korea may be trying to earn much-needed hard currency as it aims to become a powerful and prosperous country by 2012.

“Last year, North Korea ordered its institutions to meet their goals in foreign currency income by this year,” Cho said. “Since exporting minerals is a military business, we can see that the military is trying to meet its target. In addition, the steep mineral export growth was attributable to the lifting of the cap on the amount of mineral exports, as ordered by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.”

China appears to be trying to stockpile mineral resources at affordable prices, Cho added. North Korean anthracites were traded at an average of $101 per ton, whereas the international standard for quality anthracites is $200 per ton.

“Given that North Korean coals are of very good quality, trade with China must have been made at a fairly low price,” Cho said.

Meanwhile, sources said North Korean authorities last month entirely halted its coal exports, as the impoverished country fears a shortage of energy resources during the upcoming winter.

From January to September this year, China exported 732,000 tons of minerals to North Korea, most of them crude oil.

Here is the IBK web page.  If anyone can find a copy of this report and send it to me to post, I would appreciate it.

Additional information:
1. The economics lessons: A. The more isolated the DPRK’s economy from the global trade and financial system, the greater monopsony power Chinese firms can exert on their North Korean trading partners. B. The rents earned in the current DPRK-China trade regime are visible and have organized constituencies.  Unfortunately the much greater gains that could be reaped if the North Korean economy was more open, integrated, and dynamic remain unseen and their potential beneficiaries remain unknown and unorganized.

2. The Nautilus Institute published a very interesting paper by Nathaniel Aden on China DPRK trade back in June. See it here.

3.  Here is the most recent US Geological Survey report on the DPRK’s mineral sector.

Read the Yonhap story here:
N. Korea’s mineral exports to China tripled from last year: study
Yonhap
2011-11-6

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The mining industry of the DPRK

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

Last week the Nautilus Institute posted a paper on the DPRK mining industry written by Choi Kyung-soo.  You can see the full report here.  A couple of the mine locations were incorrectly reported, so I thought I would correct the record (as I understand it), as well as offer coordinates and satellite imagery of all the facilities mentioned in the paper:

Sangnong Mine (상농광산)
40°36’0.38″N, 128°43’35.40″E
Sangnong Worker’s District, Hochon County, South Hamgyong Province. According to the paper, the mine is located in the “Dancheon district of Hamgyeongnam-do”.

Holdong Mine (홀동광산)
38°52’18.15″N, 126°26’21.98″E
Holdong Worker’s District, Yonsan County, North Hwanghae

Hyesan Youth Mine (해산청년광산)
41°21’52.36″N, 128° 9’28.35″E
Hyesan City, Ryanggang Province

Komdok (Geumdeok) Mine (검덕광산)
40°55’9.41″N, 128°49’13.76″E
Kumgol-dong, Tanchon, South Hamgyong Province

Taehung (Daeheung) Mine (대흥청년영웅광산)
41° 4’24.63″N, 128°51’4.68″E
Taehung-dong, Tancheon City, South Hamgyong

Musan Mine Complex (무산광산련합기업소)
42°14’16.22″N, 129°15’59.70″E
Musan, North Hamgyong

Oryong Mine (어룡광산?)
42°18’13.59″N, 129°22’51.70″E (estimated)
According to the paper, the Oryong Mine is near Ryungchon-ri (42°20’18.19″N, 129°24’39.48″E) in Hoeryong and opened in 2007. The satellite imagery of the area is from 2006 and shows an area under construction near the village. Another source claims this mine is located in Obong-dong, closer to the city of Hoeryong and is a uranium mine.

Jongchon Graphite Mine (정촌광산)
37°55’7.23″N, 126° 6’49.34″E
Jongchon-ri, Yonan County, South Hwanghae.  The paper claims the mine is located in “Jeongchon-gun”, which does not exist.

2.8 Jiktong Youth Coal Mine (2.8직동 청년 탄광)
39°29’42.68″N, 126° 2’3.50″E
Jiktong, Sunchon, South Pyongan

Kogonwon (Gogeonwon) Mine (고건원탄광)
42°40’25.03″N, 130°12’47.28″E
Kogonwon Worker’s District, Saepyol County, North Hamgyong Province

Apdong Mine (압동광산)
38°25’6.96″N, 127°21’8.17″E
Apdong-ri, Phyonggang County, Kangwon Province

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Recent DPRK publications

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

Imports from North Korea: Existing Rules,Implications of the KORUS FTA, and the Kaesong Industrial Complex
Mark E. Manyin, Coordinator, Jeanne J. Grimmett, Vivian C. Jones, Dick K. Nanto, Michaela D. Platzer, Dianne E. Rennack
Congressional Research Service (CRS)
June 2, 2011

Download the PDF here.  This publication has been added to the list of previous CRS reports on the DPRK here.

________

Trade with China 1995-2009
Nathaniel Aden
Nautilus Institute
June 7, 2011

View the paper here.  A link to this paper has been added to the DPRK Economic Statistics Page. The Nautilus Insitute has also posted links to some very interesting presentations from the 2010 DPRK Energy and Minerals Working Group.

________

[Book] The Contemporary North Korean Politics: History, Ideology, and Power System (현대 북한의 정치: 역사, 이념, 권력체계)
Jong Song-Jang (정성장)
More information TBA, but see here and here (Korean).

________

[Book] Architekturführer Pjöngjang (German: Pyongyang Architecture Guide)
Philipp Meuser
Order here at Amazon. More here and here.

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DPRK mineral exports top US$860m last year

Saturday, May 7th, 2011

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s exports of mineral resources jumped 17-fold in a decade with its outbound shipment of coals and iron ores leading the growth, a U.S. report showed on Saturday.
According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), the communist state’s exports of mineral resources reached US$860 million last year, compared with some $50 million in 2002.

Citing data compiled by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency [KOTRA], the RFA said exports of such minerals as coal and iron ore accounted for 63 percent of its total exports to its strongest ally China.

In the first quarter of the year, the North earned around $154 million by exporting coal to the neighboring country, compared with $9.68 million seen a year earlier.

North Korea’s mineral reserves are believed to be among the largest in the world, worth some 7,000 trillion won, based on 2008 prices, according to an earlier report by the Unification Ministry.

I am unable to locate either the RFA story or the KOTRA report so I don’t have much to say on this.  If you have a link please send it to me.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s exports of mineral resources top US$860 mln last year
Yonhap
2011-5-7

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DPRK-Chinese mining deal

Monday, February 7th, 2011

According to Yonhap:

North Korea and China are expected to sign an agreement on joint development of the North’s underground resources in the middle of this month in Beijing, a source here said Sunday.

“It has been learned that Pyongyang and Beijing are expected to conclude a deal to jointly develop North Korea’s underground resources on Feb. 15, one day before the birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il,” said the source, noting the accord will be signed in Beijing between China’s Commerce Ministry and the North’s Joint Venture Investment Committee.

“Specifically, the two sides may agree to jointly develop natural resources such as gold, anthracites and rare earths under the bilateral deal. Following the agreement, the two countries are likely to establish a joint venture company in Hong Kong,” said the source, asking to remain anonymous.

Trade between North Korea and China reached US$3.06 billion in the first 11 months of last year, which marked a rise of 9.6 percent from the 2008 annual volume of $2.7 billion. Mineral resources like coals and iron ores account for over 30 percent of the North’s exports to China.

Chinese mining investors have had mixed results in the DPRK despite geographical proximity and monopsony purchasing power (the Chinese can offer lower prices because in many cases they are the only purchaser/investor).

At one point, a Chinese firm had a controlling share of the DPRK’s Hyesan Youth Copper mine (Satellite image here).  As best I can tell, the mine is no longer operable because of flooding from nearby dam construction.

A Chinese firm had also invested in the Musan Mine, the DPRK’s largest, conveniently located on the Chinese border (Satellite image here). This deal also fell trough (see here).

I have heard informally that Chinese mining investors do not particularly like doing business in the DPRK because their North Korean business partners routinely violate contract terms and local officials need to be bribed repeatedly.  Today Chinese mining firms operate across the world in both developing and developed countries, so why bother with the DPRK?

The particular deal mentioned in this Yonhap article is interesting because it hints that the Chinese and North Korean central governments are setting the terms for mining investment in the DPRK for the first time.  This will give local officials less room for post-contractual rent-seeking behavior and could smooth the way for regular/predictable business operations in the DPRK.

Again, centralized corruption is preferable to decentralized corruption for investors.

Read the full Yonhap story here:
N. Korea, China likely to ink deal on joint resource development
Yonhap
2/6/2011

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