Archive for the ‘Korea Business Consultants’ Category

Korea Business Consultants Bulletin: June 2008

Monday, July 7th, 2008

Korea Business Consultants publishes a monthly newsletter.  The June issue has languished in my “inbox,” but I have finally gotten around to posting the PDF.

The articles are on the following subjects:

Bush Responds to DPRK Nuclear Gesture
China Urges ROK to Loosen US Military Ties
“NK Orchestra May Play in US”
Foreign Funds Boosting NK Schools
Russia Donates Flour to DPRK
China Surges Ahead of ROK in DPRK Trade, Aid
DPRK Wants Japanese Funds for Gas Plant
DPRK, ROK, Russia to Build Power Project
“Lack of Fertilizer NK Farmers’ Biggest Headache”
N, S Educators Meet
Low–Key Celebrations of June 15 Summit
ROK Eyeing DPRK Iron Ore
ROK Offers Corn Aid to DPRK
“N-S Trade Surging”
“Solar Energy Park for DMZ”
China’s VP Xi Jinping Visits DPRK
NK Women Defend Boxing Titles
NK Bans Tobacco Ads
Golf Course Opens at Mt Kumgang
Striker Jong Dubbed “NK Wayne Rooney”
NK Women Win Asian Soccer Cup
Kumsusan Memorial Palace

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Doing Business in NK Easier Than Thought

Friday, October 5th, 2007

Korea Times
Jane Han
10/3/2007

A Stalinist regime, erratic regulations and language barriers may be topping a long list of reasons why business should not be done in Pyongyang, but a longtime advisor to companies operating in North Korea dismissed those concerns, as he welcomed the ongoing inter-Korean summit as a positive sign for investors all over the world.

“The summit offers encouragement to investors everywhere because it’s reassuring to see that the two Koreas are talking to each other with a long term vision in mind,” Roger Barrett, the British founder of Beijing-based Korea Business Consultants, said in a Korea Times interview Wednesday. “The summit and sustainability go together.”

Although the ongoing summit that began Tuesday will make a positive impact toward Pyongyang investment, Barrett _ currently working with about 15 to 20 companies actively in business in the North _ said the economic outcome is being underestimated and the Western media failed to link the summit with a business boost and investor confidence.

“Imagine President Bush took the heads of GE and Microsoft to Iraq _ that would show strong signs,” he said, implying that President Roh’s special entourage of 18 local CEOs wasn’t given adequate attention.

The managing director of the non-political, non-partisan business consultancy servicing clients mainly from Europe, Southeast Asia, South America and South Africa said the summit and the recent six-party talks can robustly trigger investment in North Korea’s wide-ranging businesses.

“The country needs demystification because there are so many misconceptions,” he said, explaining that perceptions and sanctions are the biggest problems companies must overcome at first.

Barrett admitted that North Korea’s nuclear test last October brought financial sanctions that scared many companies away and the number of inquiries generally dropped, but said a lot of the situations can be worked around _ as it goes in any other country.

“It’s easier than people think to do legitimate business in North Korea. It’s not as tough as China,” he said, referring to the fact that many investors worldwide still jump into China’s economy. “When it comes to North Korea, people continue to speculate and guess.”

Barrett, who frequently travels to Pyongyang with investors, said the central government’s support is strong.

“Is there any country in the world that doesn’t want foreign investment?” he said, emphasizing that the obvious answer goes the same for North Korea. “Many people think that the government regulations keep changing because it does change _ it’s constantly improving.”

Better communication, expanded infrastructure and stable energy and power supplies are some of the factors that need improvement, said Barrett, who has specialized in foreign investors entering the Pyongyang market for the past decade.

Among the some 200 foreign-invested companies operating in the Stalinist state, he said mining, mineral, metals and manufacturing are the most popular business sectors.

“A majority of the investors who start a business end up staying, as they enjoy the benefits of being one of the first starters in Pyongyang,” Barrett said, adding that cost-effective labor and natural resources are two of the biggest plusses.

“Come spring and autumn, flights going out from Beijing to North Korea are full,” he said. “The country and business environment are definitely more normal than people think,”

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Daedong fights U.S.-imposed sanctions on North Korea banks

Thursday, March 8th, 2007

International Herald Tribune
Donald Greenlees
3/8/2007

Last August, Colin McAskill, a British businessman, agreed to buy a small bank in North Korea. On the face of it, Daedong Credit Bank was not a brilliant investment.

The agreement that McAskill signed with the management of Daedong Credit at a hotel in Seoul came as the bank was caught in the grip of financial sanctions that had virtually cut off North Korea from the global financial system.

Financial institutions around the world were shunning any links to North Korean banks, making it almost impossible to transact business.

Daedong Credit was using couriers to carry cash in and out of the country in amounts as high as $2.6 million because it could not make electronic transfers to other banks.

Since September 2005, Daedong Credit had also been fighting to recover $7 million that had been frozen in a Macao bank as part of efforts by the United States to put a financial squeeze on North Korea over alleged illicit financial transactions. This was a big sum for Daedong Credit. When McAskill had examined the bank’s books, its total assets were just $10 million.

None of this has deterred him. He said during an interview in Hong Kong that he planned to execute the sale agreement within the next two weeks and take full control of the only foreign-managed bank in North Korea. The Hong Kong- based Koryo Asia, chaired by McAskill, will take control of the banking license and a 70 percent stake owned by British investors through a Virgin Islands company. The remaining 30 percent is held by the state-owned Daesong Bank. “I think it’s a magnificent deal,” McAskill said, although he would not disclose the purchase price. “The bank has been running for 12 years. It is trusted and it has been profitable since day one.”

Despite McAskill’s optimism, the future of Daedong Credit has been under a cloud since the imposition of the U.S.- orchestrated banking embargo on North Korea 18 months ago and the viability of the business remains precarious.

Even amid signs of a thaw in relations between Pyongyang and Washington, the start of a bilateral dialogue that began in New York on Monday and an agreement in six-nation talks in Beijing on Feb. 13 to start to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, analysts say banks in North Korea will struggle to restore contacts with the global financial system.

The trigger for the financial embargo of North Korea was a declaration by the U.S. Treasury Department under section 311 of the Patriot Act that the Banco Delta Asia, based in Macao, was a “primary money laundering concern” because of its links to a number of North Korean banks, individuals and companies alleged to have engaged in product and currency counterfeiting, drug trafficking and weapons proliferation.

The U.S. and Macanese authorities began separate investigations into Banco Delta Asia and the bank was placed under Macao government supervision.

Along with about 50 North Korean banks, trading companies and individuals, Daedong Credit had its account frozen. The total amount put into “suspense accounts,” according to Banco Delta Asia, was about $25 million, with Daedong Credit accounting for the largest share. Since then, almost all foreign banks that had correspondent relations with Daedong Credit have severed contact for fear of being excluded from the U.S. financial system.

Jack Pritchard, president of the Korea Economic Institute in Washington, said it was unlikely that the United States would send an explicit signal to the financial community to resume trading with North Korea, regardless of whether Pyongyang starts to address concerns about its foreign financial transactions.

He said that although a portion of the frozen money was likely to be released soon, there would not be a “100 percent reversal” of the American stance on financial transactions with North Korea.

Daedong Credit is likely to be one of the first North Korean account holders in Banco Delta Asia to get its money back from the Macao Monetary Authority where it has been earning no interest.

In recent months, McAskill has circled the globe from his home in London acting under a mandate from Daedong Credit to persuade officials in Washington and Macao to release the account. At 66, McAskill has spent 28 years doing business with North Korea, including as a consultant to North Korean banks on debt negotiations and helping to operate North Korean foreign gold sales. He said that at no stage in his meetings with officials from either the U.S. or Macao governments had he seen any specific reason for freezing the Daedong Credit money or been told of any specific allegation about its origins.

McAskill has produced what he calls a “dossier of proof” to establish the identity of all the customers whose money is frozen and the sources of the money. Since it was founded by the failed Hong Kong finance group Peregrine in 1995, Daedong Credit has filled a valuable niche serving the foreign community in Pyongyang. It has about 200 customers among foreign-invested joint ventures, foreign relief organizations and foreign individuals, according to McAskill. The biggest single amount frozen in Macao is $2.6 million belonging to British American Tobacco, which owns a cigarette plant in North Korea.

“We irrefutably established that the money was legal,” McAskill said. “The U.S. Treasury have been going around the world saying to banks ‘close this account, close that account’ but not offering any proof of wrongdoing.” He said his due diligence of Daedong Credit had convinced him that it was a “fully legal, legitimate operation” that did not manage state accounts or had ever been connected to illicit practices.

One of the Treasury’s main allegations against Banco Delta Asia is that it facilitated the spread of counterfeit $100 bills. But McAskill said Daedong Credit had put $49 million into Banco Delta Asia in 2005 and all that money had been forwarded to HSBC for verification.

Only three of the $100 notes belonging to Daedong Credit were confiscated because they were “suspect,” he said.

McAskill has charged the Treasury with harassment after two correspondent banks — one in Vietnam and the other in Mongolia — informed Daedong Credit late last year that they would immediately close accounts because of pressure from the United States.

But it is likely to prove difficult to persuade banks, nervous about the effect on Banco Delta Asia of the long- running Treasury investigation, to take the risk of dealing with a North Korean counterpart, regardless of the pedigree of its shareholders and board.

Last week, at a meeting in Macao, McAskill was finally told by the head of a government-appointed committee supervising Banco Delta Asia, Herculano de Sousa, that it was likely that the money in Daedong Credit would be returned by the end of March.

In the meeting, McAskill told de Sousa that once the funds were freed, Daedong Credit intended to leave the money in Banco Delta Asia and resume operating its old account.

But Banco Delta Asia has informed the U.S. Treasury that as part of its cleanup both the administrative committee and the shareholders were adamant that they no longer would do business with any North Korea entities. In doing so, the bank hopes to avoid the United States making good on a threat to ban Banco Delta Asia from having any correspondent relationships with U.S. banks.

Still, McAskill insisted that Daedong Credit has not broken any law in Macao or elsewhere and that there were no grounds for it to be forced to close its account.

“I am not going to take my money back and cut and run,” he said.

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North Korea bites a golden bullet

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

Korea Times
Donald Kirk
1/24/2007

Gold fever is rampaging through the ruling elite of North Korea in the quest for relief from seemingly incurable economic malaise exacerbated by more than a year as a total outcast from the international financial community.

Word from Pyongyang is that trading companies and even individuals are offering payments in gold for imports from across the border with China and also in barter deals for products imported from elsewhere. Gold also has become a form of currency in the internal reward system of payoffs and bribes manipulated by Dear Leader Kim Jong-il to guarantee the loyalty of high-ranking officials.

The rush to sell gold – and, to a lesser extent, silver – has sharply escalated in the 16 months since the US Treasury Department blacklisted Banco Delta Asia (BDA) in Macau, banning all firms doing business with US firms from dealings with that bank. The Treasury Department charged that the BDA had been the principal conduit through which North Korea was shipping counterfeit US$100 “supernotes” printed on a highly sophisticated Swiss-made press in Pyongyang.

It’s well known that the US ban forced the BDA to impose a freeze on North Korean accounts totaling $24 million, but less well known that the bank also stopped purchasing gold produced by North Korea’s historic gold mines, in operation, sporadically, since the late 19th century.

Output of the mines, in mountains about 160 kilometers north of Pyongyang, fell sharply in the late 1990s as a result of flood and famine but, with foreign expertise, has begun to pick up in the past few years.

The impact of the ban, moreover, goes far beyond a single bank in Macau. Although North Korea last spring sold $38 million in gold and silver in Thailand, Pyongyang has been frustrated in reviving its presence on the London bullion market, the world’s largest marketplace for precious metals, amid increased US pressure on the large international banks that are the major buyers of gold.

It was in the aftermath of the ban on the BDA that North Korea’s Chosun Central Bank coughed up the information required by the London Bullion Markets Association (LBMA) for listing as a “good deliverer” of gold. North Korea from 1983 to 1993 had been in the LBMA’s good graces, averaging a ton a month in sales to London buyers that included some of the world’s leading banks, but had slipped off the list after failing to keep up deliveries.

The fact that the Chosun Central Bank again is listed with the LBMA, however, is no guarantee North Korea will be able to sell its gold. The US Treasury ban on dealings with the BDA – as well as sanctions unanimously imposed by the United Nations Security Council after North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test in October – has spooked buyers in London.

While the LBMA disavows “political criteria” in deciding on eligibility for its “good delivery list”, an LBMA memorandum leaves no doubt how buyers are likely to respond to overtures from a country or company on an international blacklist. None of them, according to Stewart Murray, the LBMA’s chief executive, is willing to take delivery from a company or country that is subject to sanctions.

Or, as the LBMA memorandum puts it, “If, for instance, a bullion custodian considered that it was bound by national or international sanctions that were in force against a particular country, it would have to refuse to accept bars from a refiner in that country.”

The memorandum, moreover, does not mince words when it comes to stating the importance of a “good deliverer” rating. “Given the status of London as the world’s leading center for bullion trading,” it says, “the LBMA List has become the de facto world list of quality refiners and Good Delivery accreditation is a highly sought-after accolade.”

In recent years, “the List” – capitalized in the memo – “has grown primarily due to the listing of refiners in China and Russia” and now totals 77 refiners in 31 countries.

Investors see North Korea as competing on a world stage once sanctions are lifted. “What we’re doing is normal business,” said Roger Barrett, whose firm, Korea Business Consultants, operates in North Korea from headquarters in Beijing. By reviving old minesand developing new ones, he argued, “We’re creating jobs for people, in line with the UN basic charter, in line with economic growth.”

Barrett also believes North Korea may somehow get around the sanctions by finding new markets. “Why would you go to the trouble of going to London?” he asked. “They’re totally entitled to sell their gold.” The fact is, however, that London remains the place to sell gold in significant quantities on a regular basis.

Under the circumstances, Colin McAskill, chairman of Hong Kong’s Koryo Asia Ltd and the guiding light of the Chosun Development and Investment Fund, dedicated to investing in North Korea, accused top US Treasury officials of waging a campaign to make sure the ban on banks dealing with the BDA extends to gold and silver.

McAskill accused US officials, led by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Stuart Levey, under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, of “using coercion, innuendo and sheer force to intimidate banks from dealing with North Korea”.

Among the victims of the US campaign is one of Koryo Asia’s projects, the Daedong Credit Bank, the only foreign bank based in North Korea, set up primarily to deal with accounts of foreign firms and embassies in Pyongyang. The freeze of North Korean accounts in the BDA, according to McAskill, includes about $7 million funds of Daedong Bank customers.

McAskill avidly supports North Korean demands for the US to lift the ban on the BDA – a move that would not only open up the frozen North Korean accounts but would provide the opening needed for Pyongyang to trade in a wide range of products around the world.

The financial issue is assumed to have ranked at the top of an agenda discussed in meetings in Berlin between the chief US envoy, Christopher Hill, and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye-gwan. Hill, reporting on the Berlin talks in stop-offs in Seoul, in Tokyo and Beijing, seemed hopeful about “progress” in the next round of six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons, expected to open in Beijing next month, after the failure of negotiators to get anywhere in the last round before Christmas.

South Korean media said North Korea had agreed to shut down its five-megawatt reactor at its nuclear complex Yongbyon in return for the US promise of massive aid, the crux of the 1994 Geneva Framework Agreement that blew up in 2002 amid US charges of a separate, secret North Korean program for developing warheads from enriched uranium.

There was no assurance, however, that the US is ready to relent on the BDA or that the UN Security Council will consider lifting its own sanction – enough to dissuade banks in London from buying North Korean gold regardless of the US ban on the BDA.

McAskill believes the rationale for the crackdown on the BDA is flawed. He questions the validity of the counterfeit charge and, in any case, says most of the frozen funds are not those of the North Korean government, even though they’re tired up in North Korean accounts. “We want to get a breakthrough on the six-party talks by getting the sanctions eased or lifted entirely,” he said. “We’re at a very delicate stage.”

Whatever happens, McAskill sees North Korea as ripe for investment, with precious metals high on the list of potential exports. “North Korea wants to move back into legitimate business,” he said. “They have a wealth of minerals – gold, silver, zinc, magnesite, copper, uranium, platinum – that needs investment to extract.”

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Under bank sanctions, North Korea looks to gold exports

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

Christian Science monitor
Donald Kirk
1/22/2007

More than a century after American mining engineers first opened up North Korea’s gold mines, a fortune in gold and other metals and minerals offers the prospect for North Korea to ease the pressures of financial sanctions.

The question, however, is whether North Korea can navigate around a US Treasury order that forbids institutions doing business in the United States from dealing with Banco Delta Asia in Macao, the main avenue for North Korean financial dealings.

The Treasury ban, first promulgated in 2002, has effectively frozen the North’s efforts to conduct international business. While it doesn’t extend to gold, market experts say that US officials have made it clear that banks should not buy North Korean gold.

“The US has been using coercion, innuendo, and sheer force to intimidate banks from dealing with North Korea,” says Colin McAskill, chairman of Koryo Asia Ltd., which invests in North Korea through the Chosun Development & Investment Fund. “We want to get a breakthrough on the six-party talks by getting the sanctions eased or lifted entirely. We’re at a very delicate stage.”

North Korea, says Mr. McAskill, “wants to move back into legitimate business.” Selling gold on the London market – the world’s largest – “is one way they can prove that,” he adds. “They have a wealth of minerals – gold, silver, zinc, magnesite, copper, uranium, platinum – that needs investment to extract.”

One indication of North Korea’s need to sell gold was its decision to provide information needed by the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) to list the North’s central bank as a “good deliverer” of gold and silver. Listing with the LBMA is essential for refiners who want to sell their products in London. The bank’s listing was suspended 2-1/2 years ago when it failed to respond to LBMA requests for “proactive monitoring.”

The LBMA said it does not “take into account any political criteria,” and will keep the bank on its rolls for another three years without monitoring.

Despite the listing, market experts say the big banks that are major buyers of gold – and form the LBMA’s core membership – are not likely to flout the spirit of the US Treasury order against Banco Delta Asia, through which North Korea exported gold prior to the ban.

“The fact that they’re on the list does not mean they can deliver to the London market,” says Stewart Murray, the LBMA’s chief executive. “When we have sanctions, none of the facilities will accept delivery from a company or a country that is subject to these sanctions,”

Trying to build momentum for talks

The reluctance of buyers in London to deal in North Korean gold, widely seen as the likeliest legal way to mitigate the impact of the banking ban, adds urgency to another effort at six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

The chief US negotiator, Christopher Hill, has been traveling through northeast Asia, stopping off here, in Tokyo, and in Beijing after talks in Berlin last week with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye-Gwan. The Chinese are expected to set a date for renewing the talks, which broke off before Christmas amid North Korean demands for the US to lift the ban on Banco Delta Asia.

North Korea raised hopes for renewed six-party talks, saying “a certain agreement” was reached in Berlin last week. Neither Mr. Kim nor Mr. Hill have provided details, but analysts suspect that the two discussed the financial issue and its relationship to the ultimate purpose of six-party talks: getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

North Korea has been renewing its drive to sell gold for the past year since submitting to the LBMA’s monitoring requirements. At the same time, the North has sold relatively small amounts of gold in Thailand, with which it has developed a strong trading relationship in recent years. Last spring, North Korea exported 1.3 tons of gold to Thailand for nearly $30 million while also looking for markets elsewhere in the region.

“Why would you go to the trouble of going to London,” asks Roger Barrett, whose firm, Korea Business Consultants in Beijing, is helping to develop gold mining in North Korea. “They’re totally entitled to sell their gold.”

No reports of exports since July

Yet there have been no reports that North Korea has exported any gold since testing seven long-range missiles in July. Since the North conducted an underground nuclear test in October, which resulted in deeper sanctions from the UN Security Council, dealers have reportedly been even more reluctant to buy North Korean gold.

Estimates of North Korea’s gold reserves range as high as 2,000 tons, but mining has been sporadic since British, American, and then Japanese interests mined for gold beginning in the 19th century. With foreign expertise, North Korean mining may return to the period between 1983 to 1993, when its central bank sold an average of one ton a month on the London market.

“What we’re doing is normal business,” says Mr. Barrett in Beijing, explaining the efforts at reviving the mining industry. “We’re creating jobs for people, in line with the UN basic charter, in line with economic growth.”

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North Korea’s Profession: Entrepreneur

Sunday, November 5th, 2006

From Businessweek:
Joe McDonald
11/5/2006

In the midst of tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program, a Western company is there searching for oil. Another just bought a bank.

“North Korea is hungry for business,” said Roger Barrett, the British founder of Beijing-based Korea Business Consultants, who recently took 11 Asian and European clients to Pyongyang to play golf and make contacts.

A small group of Westerners are taking on the challenge of doing business in the isolated North, hoping to get in on the ground floor as its communist rulers experiment with economic reform.

The obstacles are daunting. A Stalinist dictatorship, bureaucracy and language barriers. Foreign sanctions that block most financial transfers, making it hard to get paid and to get supplies. And now worries that United Nations sanctions imposed after North Korea’s Oct. 9 nuclear test could be expanded to a general clampdown on trade.

But the Westerners talk positively about the North as a business environment, with skilled workers and leaders who they say welcome foreign investment.

“They are very skillful and hardworking,” said Felix Abt, a Swiss businessman who oversees two ventures in Pyongyang, one that makes business and game software for sale in Europe and another that makes antibiotics and painkillers for the domestic market. “It’s sometimes faster to get licenses and necessary approvals here than it is in China or Vietnam.”

Barrett said that even as the U.N. Security Council debated the latest sanctions on the North, he got inquiries from investors interested in its rich mineral resources and low-cost manufacturing work force.

“Investors are rushing into China, but labor costs there are escalating, and companies are looking for an alternative,” Barrett said. North Korea “has absolutely the capabilities to take off like South Korea.”

So far the largest foreign business community in North Korea is from China, its main source of trade and aid.

South Korea accounts for most of the North’s foreign investment, with stakes totaling $620 million in an export-manufacturing zone and a resort for foreigners. China’s investments total just $31 million, according to the Chinese Commerce Ministry.

U.S. regulations allow American companies to trade with North Korea under limited conditions, though tensions between the governments and lack of diplomatic relations raises the risk of doing business. Britain, Germany, Sweden and other Western governments, meanwhile, have official relations with Pyongyang.

North Korea’s foreign trade has risen sharply, though the total was less than $4 billion last year, according to South Korean and Chinese government figures. Trade with the South soared by more than 50 percent in 2005 to just over $1 billion.

Most trade is carried out by North Korean state companies, not private entrepreneurs. And some partners are shying away. Trade with Japan, once the North’s No. 1 trading partner, tumbled from $1.3 billion in 2001 to just $200 million last year amid tensions with Tokyo over North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and ’80s.

The Europeans’ chamber of commerce in Pyongyang had 12 members when it was launched last year. They include delivery company DHL Express, an Italian law firm and a German venture founded in 2003 to provide Internet access to foreign businesses in Pyongyang.

This tentative foothold follows the slow pace of economic reform in North Korea. Only in 2002 did North Korean leader Kim Jong Il allow limited free enterprise to revive a decrepit economy, which teetered in the 1990s following the loss of Soviet aid and then collapsed amid widespread food shortages. Still, foreign observers say officials are reluctant to give up control, despite prodding from Beijing, which wants faster reforms to reduce its ally’s dependence on aid.

Abt, the Swiss businessman, moved to Pyongyang in 2002 after seven years working in Vietnam, another Asian communist economy in the throes of reform.

“I heard that some economic reforms were in the pipeline, and I was quite thrilled to experience the beginning,” said Abt.

Now his Vietnamese wife takes their 14-month-old daughter to play at an international school. After work, he goes out to sing karaoke with North Korean co-workers.

But Abt has felt the bite of efforts to pressure the North.

Foreign banks have been leery since Washington last year sanctioned Macau’s Banco Delta Asia, which the U.S. said helped the North launder money. China told its banks this month to curtail financial transfers to or from the North.

“It’s getting difficult to make bank transfers to suppliers or to get money from customers,” Abt said.

He worries that the factory might have to shut down if U.N. sanctions block imports of required chemicals on the grounds that they also could have military uses.

Barrett said his clients have lost access to $11 million in Banco Delta Asia accounts that were frozen by the U.S. sanctions.

Colin McAskill, a British businessman who has done business with the North since the 1970s, is lobbying Washington to fine-tune its sanctions so the bank’s customers can withdraw money that was made legally.

McAskill is chairman of Hong Kong-based Koryo Asia Ltd., which said in September it was buying a 70 percent controlling stake in Daedong Credit Bank, North Korea’s first foreign-owned financial institution. The bank, which is 30 percent owned by a North Korean bank, serves foreign companies and has accounts at Banco Delta Asia.

North Korea also has turned to Western investors in hopes of developing oil resources and reducing its near-total reliance on China for fuel. It awarded a 20-year exploration concession last year to Aminex plc, a London firm.

Aminex is helping the North Korean government deal with other foreign companies, and in exchange gets to pick where it will drill for oil, its chief executive, Brian Hall, said by phone from London.

Aminex hasn’t felt any effects from the nuclear tumult, Hall said.

“We have good relations and no problems with the agreements but are closely watching the political situation,” he said.

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Korea Business Consultants

Friday, June 30th, 2006

Their web page is here, but it looks like they have not updated it in a while.

According to their website,

[KBC is]  among the first to identify the opportunities that North Korea could offer to enterprising companies. As a result, KBC clients benefit from our considerable experience and well-established contacts with this hard-working and largely industrial nation which finds itself on the threshold of fuller integration with the world economy. We believe the significant economic changes that have started to unfold will create major business opportunities for foreign companies with the right strategy.

In the DPRK market, we work with (and for) our customers to secure business and investment opportunities, manage relations, provide effective business solutions and oversee the process of entering the North Korean market.

Specifically, they offer a newsletter.  The sample issue they have displayed is quite old, so I am not sure if it is still published.

They also promote business delegations (with golf) and trade exhibitions, such as the Pyongyang International Trade Fair (PITF),  and the International Technology and Infrastructure Exhibition in Pyongyang

And on the implementation side, Korea Business Consultants offers a full range of financial, legal and transportation services, including:

  • Project finance, legal advice and analysis of tax and investment laws of the DPRK.
    Investment seminars to attract inward investment: planned for 2002 – with DPRK support and involvement.
  • Participation in DPRK’s expanding and regular Trade Fairs and Exhibitions.
    Trading partners to facilitate the trade of commodities/metals and a full range of other DPRK goods.
  • Network of partners in London, Luxembourg, Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Switzerland, Seattle and Toronto.
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Foreign investors brave North Korea

Tuesday, April 13th, 2004

BBC
Lucy Jones
4/13/2004

“Got any nuclear weapons for sale?” is the response Briton Roger Barrett usually gets when he tells people at Beijing cocktail parties that he invests in North Korea.
The country’s admission to a nuclear weapons programme and its listing on George W Bush’s “axis of evil” means most people are staying well away.

But Mr Barrett, 49, a former troop commander in the British army who has 10 years experience of doing business in North Korea, recently opened a branch of his consultancy firm, Korea Business Consultants, in Pyongyang.

A self-confessed “business adventurer”, he says there is growing interest in the country after Chairman Kim Jong-il introduced economic reforms in 2002.

It’s like China in the eighties… The market reforms are very evident. It’s an exciting time to join the market.

Robert Barrett, Korea Business Consultants 
He is also the enthusiastic publisher of what must be North Korea’s only business publication – the DPRK Business News Bulletin – which features some of the 250 companies he advises.

“It’s like China in the eighties… The market reforms are very evident. It’s an exciting time to join the market,” he says.

Mr Barrett is not alone.

Even in the middle of a nuclear crisis there are foreign investors in the country, and their numbers are increasing.

They say North Korea is a mineral rich country that needs everything and insist they have to get there first.

They also believe the 2002 economic reform is for real and that the country is gradually moving towards becoming a market economy.

Poverty

The little data there is on the country’s economy is hardly encouraging, though.

There has been a devastating famine and the UN says malnutrition is still widespread.

There are chronic heating and water shortages, and most North Koreans are paid less than £5 a month.

The country also has an appalling human rights record.

A BBC documentary on the country’s gulags this year contained allegations that chemical experiments are being carried out on political prisoners.

Meanwhile, the US says it is “highly likely” that North Korea is involved in state-sponsored trafficking of heroin.

In the political arena, the second round of six-nation talks aimed at resolving the nuclear crisis ended in Beijing in February without agreement, which means US and Japanese sanctions will remain in place.
‘Communism’ tourism

But the foreign entrepreneurs in North Korea are not put off.

Some are helped by UN employees who have worked in Pyongyang (among the few people to have had contact with the regime there) and many have a track record in China.

Pack a torch, conduct business meetings on the street to avoid big brother listening in and have plenty of “Asian patience” for the endless red-tape, they advise.

An Austrian company is reportedly buying pianos from the North Koreans, a French television station uses North Korean artists to produce cartoons, while a Singapore-based firm is developing forestry and tourism.

The Singaporeans intend to offer “adventure” stays on their North Korean forestry plantations.

Meanwhile, Western tourist agencies are gearing up to offer the last chance to see communism in action, and Fila and Heineken have reportedly entered into sponsorship deals with the North Korean regime.

North Korean labour

A German, Jan Holtermann owner of the computer firm KCC Europe, is putting North Korea online.

He hopes that by being there first he will be able to eventually tap into North Korean computer talent.

The country’s small number of internet users currently dial-up to Chinese providers, a costly process at about £1 a minute.

Mr Holtermann’s customers, who he hopes will number 2,000 by the end of the year, will have unlimited access for £400 a month.

As only a few North Koreans are permitted to have telephones, and as the internet service is costly, Mr Holtermann expects his customers to be government ministries, news agencies and aid organisations.

He has invested £530,000 in the venture, intending to get first pick when North Korean software programmers come onto the market.

“They are very talented,” he says.

“It’s this capacity we want to sell in Europe.”

The parcel delivery company DHL has operated in Pyongyang since 1997, when it was invited there by the government, and now has North Korean light manufacturing, textile and beverage companies on its books.

It sees itself as contributing to the country’s “slow but increasingly visible” economic reform programme.

British consultants

Former bank employee Mr Barrett is convinced North Korea is opening up much quicker than people think.

There are opportunities in banking, minerals, agriculture and telecommunications, he insists.

“There is the odd story of something going wrong,” he says.

“But when you walk around you notice construction going on.

“The people are feeling a change.”

High level contacts

But how to do business with one of the most isolationist regimes on earth?

Contacts are essential, say businessmen.

Though even knowing a North Korean minister is not enough, says Gerald Khor of Singapore-based forestry company Maxgro Holdings.

“You have to go above the ministers to the cabinet. You don’t have to know a member but you need to know people who can influence them,” he says.

“It is very important to get the favour of the dear leader (Kim Jong-il). Because when he says something, it gets done.”

Through a former UN employee, Maxgro got Kim Jong-il’s attention and has invested $2m in forestry, agreeing the state gets 30% of the profits.

“Kim Jong-il is an environmentalist,” Mr Khor says.

“We are confident we’ll get a return.

“We have dwindling supplies and this is high quality wood.”

To locate the forests elsewhere would cost much more, he adds.

Forced to change

Economic reforms introduced by the government in 2002 are seen as the first move away from central planning since the country adopted communism in 1945.

The government has been forced to change in order to survive, especially now it can no longer barter with Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, experts say.

“There is no real option not to carry out these reforms,” says UK-based Keith Bennett, who has taken trade missions to Pyongyang.

“But people don’t know where they will lead.

Chinese leaders have impressed on Kim Jong-il that there can be economic reform without fundamental political change.”

Way up on North Korea’s border with Russia and China is the Tumen economic zone, which was established in 1991 with UN help to lure investors.

The project has only had limited success and may indicate the type of problems those investing elsewhere in North Korea may face.

The North Korean section of the zone, Rajin-Songbong, hosts foreign-run hotels, telecommunications and restaurants, but that is about all.

“The North Koreans have sometimes been very co-operative and sometimes not, maybe because of policy change,” says Tsogtsaikhan Gombo, from the UN’s development agency.

“They were also disappointed when they didn’t see the investment.”

Vibrant Chinese economic zones nearby have put up fierce competition.

But even opening the door just slightly to let in capitalism has greatly improved the lives of the 150,000 people living in the zone, says Mr Gombo.

And many foreigners insist that small investments elsewhere in the country may have similar results.

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An affiliate of 38 North