Archive for the ‘6.28 Policy on Agriculture (June 28)’ Category

Is North Korea’s food situation really getting worse? The markets don’t think so.

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Since early 2016, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) has been sounding the alarm bells on North Korea’s food situation. In an interview a few weeks ago with Voice of America’s Korean-language edition, FAO-official Christina Cosiet said that this years’ harvest would be the worst one in four years. One question, dealt with before by this blog, is how bad this really is. After all, the past few years seem to have been abnormally good in a long-run perspective.

But another obvious question is: why do market prices in North Korea tell the opposite story about food supply?

Prices for both rice and foreign currency (US-dollars) have remained remarkably stable for a situation where people should be expecting a worse-than-usual harvest. It is important to bear in mind that prices are largely seasonal and tend to increase in September and October. But unless prices somehow skyrocket in a couple of months, things do not look that bad.

There seem to be two possibilities here: either official production and food supply through the public distribution system simply does not matter that much, because shortages are easily offset by private production and/or imports. Or, the FAO projections simply do not capture North Korean food production as a whole.

For an overview of food prices in the last few years, consider the following graph (click here for larger version):

graph1

Graph 1: Prices for rice and foreign currency, in North Korean won. Prices are expressed in averages of local prices in Pyongyang, Sinuiju and Hyesan. Data source: DailyNK market prices.

As this graph shows, both the exchange rate and rice prices have remained relatively stabile over the past few years. Thus far, this summer has been no exception. The following graph shows exchange rates and rice prices from the spring of 2015 till July 2016 (click here for larger version):

graph2

Graph 2: Prices for rice and foreign currency, April 2015–July 2016, in North Korean won. Prices are expressed in averages of local prices in Pyongyang, Sinuiju and Hyesan. Data source: DailyNK market prices

This does not look like the behavior of a nervous market where supply is declining at a drastic rate. Of course, a number of caveats are in order: again, prices are likely to rise through September and October, as they have in the past. Moreover, markets may react to any harvest declines at a later point in time, as they become more apparent.

Even so, it seems inconceivable that market prices would remain so stable if North Korea was experiencing a steep dive in food production. After all, farmers would be able to see signs fairly early on, and their information would presumably spread through the market as a whole. In short, it is logically unthinkable that markets simply would not react to an unusually poor harvest.

This all begs the question of how much market prices tend to correlate with the FAO:s harvest figures overall. The short answer appears to be: not much. The graph below (click here for larger version) shows the average prices for rice and foreign exchange per year on the North Korean market since 2011, and harvest figures drawn from reports by the FAO and the World Food Program (WFP). (See the end of this post for a more detailed explanation of the underlying calculations.)*

graph3

Graph 3: Yearly average market prices for rice and US-dollar (in North Korean won), and FAO food production figures. Data source: DailyNK market prices

As this graph shows, there is generally fairly little correlation between market prices and harvests as calculated by the FAO. Harvests climbed between 2009 and 2015, while market prices climbed and and flattened out from 2012, around the time of Kim Jong-il’s death. Exchange rates and rice prices unsurprisingly move in tandem, but appear little impacted by production figures as reported by the FAO.

It is possible that prices react in a delayed manner to harvests, and that the price stabilization on the market is a result of increased harvests over time. But the consistent trend over several years, with prices going up as harvest figures do, is an unlikely one. Again, it is also difficult to imagine market prices not reacting relatively quickly to noticeable decreases in food production.

So what does all this mean?

It is difficult to draw any certain conclusions. But at the very least, these numbers suggest that the FAO food production projections are not telling the full story about overall food supply in North Korea. Moreover, market signals are telling us that food supply right now is far from as bad as the FAO’s latest claims of lowered production would have it. Rather, prices seem normal and even slightly more stabile than in some previous years with better harvests. In short, the narrative that this year’s harvest is exceptionally poor seems an unlikely one.

 

*A note on graph 3:

 For market prices per year, I calculated an average price from all observations in a given year. The DailyNK price data is reported for three cities separately: Pyongyang, Sinuiju and Hyesan. I have used an average of these three cities for each data observation as the base for calculating yearly averages. This is a somewhat tricky way of measuring, as the amount of data observations, as well as their timing, sometimes varies from year to year. The steep decline in 2009–2010 is primarily caused by the currency denomination, and should not be taken for a real increase in supply.

The FAO food production figures are not reported by calendar year, but published in the fall and projected for the following year. Since these figures best indicate available supply for the year after they are reported, I have assigned them to the year following the reporting year. That is, the figure for 2014 comes from the WFP-estimate for 2013/2014, and so on and so forth.

Share

Friday fun with North Korea’s new slogans

Friday, February 19th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

What better way to start off the weekend than to go through North Korea’s latest batch of political slogans (“Joint calls/공동구호”)? These were issued collectively by the Central Committee and the Central Military Commission on Wednesday February 17th, and printed on the frontpage of Rodong Sinmunas part of the run-up to the 7th Party Congress to be held later this year.

Below I have gathered those that relate to the economy, and a few other interesting ones, with brief annotation:

The calls underlined the need to make hurrah for the WPK and socialism resound far more loudly this year when the Seventh Congress of the WPK is to be held by staging an all-out death-defying struggle for building a thriving nation and improving the people’s living standard.

The Byungjin line is alive and well.

Let’s dynamically wage this year’s general advance in the same spirit as shown in succeeding in the H-bomb test!

Let’s build an economic giant as early as possible with the strength and the spirit of Korea and at the Korean speed!

Send more satellites of Juche Korea into space!

As often before, the satellite launch and the hydrogen bomb test are tied into the theme of economic development: both are technological advancements, showing the overall progress of the economy.

Produce more new-generation electric locomotives and passenger cars!

A shout-out to the domestic car industry?

Put the manufacture of Korean-style world-class underground trains on a serial basis!

The domestically manufactured subway cars haven’t been forgotten. One wonders if people living outside Pyongyang feel as strongly about them.

Step up the modernization of the mining industry and keep the production of nonferrous metal and non-metallic minerals going at a high rate!

Provide more resources for building an economic giant by channeling effort into prospecting underground resources!

At least now Jang Song-taek can’t touch them anymore.

Make the foreign trade multilateral and diverse!

This is interesting, and a clear statement about an important rationale for the SEZs: North Korea will remain politically and economically vulnerable as long as China continues to be its single largest trading partner by a large margin.

Let’s greet the 7th Party Congress with proud achievements in the improvement of the people’s living standard!

The people “will never have to tighten their belts again”, as Kim Jong-un said in his first public speech in 2012.

Achieve a great victory on the front of agriculture this year!

Which the regime has already claimed it did last year. The UN doesn’t agree.

Let’s give a decisive solution to the problem of consumer goods!

Let’s produce more world-competitive famous products and goods!

North Korean media has highlighted strides in consumer goods production several times this year.

Make Wonsan area an icon of city layout and build it into a world-level tourist city!

A shout-out to the Wonsan tourist zone, presumably.

Establish Korean-style economic management method guided by the Juche idea in a comprehensive manner!

Sounds like the management reforms, with greater autonomy for enterprises, are still on the table.

Let the entire party and army and all the people turn out in the forest restoration campaign!

And make sure they “properly conduct fertilizer management“. This is the only reference among the slogans to the forestry campaign, where the regime has publically acknowledged some crucial and systemic problems, but is yet to find a credible solution.

Put an end to proclivity to import!

Does this tell us something about North Korea’s trade balance that the numbers aren’t showing?

The Korean People’s Internal Security Forces should sharpen the sword for defending their leader, system and people!

Note that “people” comes after both “leader” and “system”.

Let us thoroughly implement our Party’s policy of putting all the people under arms and turning the whole country into a fortress!

Enhance the fighting capacity of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards by intensifying their drills as the anti-Japanese guerillas did in Mt. Paektu!

Develop and produce a greater number of various means of military strike of our own style that are capable of overwhelming the enemy!

Enhance the fighting capacity of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards by intensifying their drills as the anti-Japanese guerillas did in Mt. Paektu!

These four slogans seem to be saying that the Four Military Guidelines, adopted in 1962 by the Central Committee, are still very much in play: 1) arming the population, 2) fortifying the country, 3) establishing a cadre-based army, and 4) modernizing military equipment. Mao would probably have been happy to know that his People’s War Doctrine lives on in North Korea.

The whole list of slogans is very long, and saying that policy areas need to improve, or that production in a certain area needs to go up, isn’t much of a policy line. Still, it’s interesting to see what areas are highlighted.

Share

The limits of agriculture reform in North Korea

Friday, December 18th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

Agricultural reforms in North Korea became a hot topic of discussion almost right away when Kim Jong-un took power in 2011. Only a number of months into his tenure, news began to come out of the country about attempts at agricultural reforms. It is unclear when (or even if) the June 28th Measures were finally extended to the whole country.

At the very least, three years in, it seems beyond reasonable doubt that North Korean agriculture has undergone major changes. These have been aimed at boosting production by creating better incentives for farmers to produce and sell more of their output to the state rather than diverting it to the market. The most important aspects of these reforms are the decreased size of work teams and new rules that let farmers keep 30 percent of their production plus any surplus above production targets, while the state takes the remaining 70.

These changes have been met with optimism among some. However, no one really knows exactly what impact these reforms have had. North Korean agriculture may be faring better than it used to – although this is also doubtful – but even so, it is too simplistic to assume that government reforms in agricultural management are doing all the work. As long as North Korea’s agriculture continues to be centrally planned by the state, there will be limits to how much better it can get no matter what reforms the state implements.

To see why, consider some of the news that have been coming out of North Korea in the past few months, as reported by Daily NK. In late November, the online daily reported that in despite by multilateral aid organizations, North Korea had seen relatively good harvests this year. However, the increased harvests, according to people inside the country, were not caused by changes in the agricultural management system of state-operated collective farms.

Rather, the North Koreans interviewed for the story claimed that private plot farmers had been better able to protect their crops from adverse weather impacts by using water pumps and other equipment. Even though trends like these alone probably have a limited impact, this shows that many circumstances other than state management matter.

A few weeks later, Daily NK published another interview carrying a similar message. According to sources inside the country, harvests from collective farms have declined, while private plot production has gone up (author’s emphasis added):

The amount of food harvested this year from the collective farms has “once again fallen short of expectations,” he said, adding that the farmers who work on them have criticized the orders coming down from the authorities, saying that “if we do things the way they want us to, it’s not going to work.”

Although the regime has forced people to mobilize, the source asserted that farm yields are not increasing. So, then, “the best thing to do would be to further divide the land up among individuals,” he posited.

Our source wondered if individual farms were not more successful because each person tending them personally grew and watered their plants. Currently, farmers must follow directives regarding the amount of water they can use on collective farms. He warned that if the system is not completely overhauled, crop yields will fail to improve.

In other words: as is so often the case, management orders from above often do not align with the reality on the ground.

One should be careful not to draw too many general conclusions based on individual interviews, but this is a well known general problem in all planned economies. Even with the best intentions, the state can never be fully informed about conditions and resources on the ground in an entire society.

This is one of the many reasons why economic central planning falters. We have seen this, too, with Kim Jong-un’s forestry policies. The state gives orders that have unintended consequences on the ground, because information is lacking. No central planning team can be fully informed about the reality prevailing throughout the system. The information problem becomes particularly dire in authoritarian dictatorships like North Korea, where people at the lower end of hierarchies often have strong incentives not to speak up about implementation problems when orders come from the top.

Ultimately, no matter what management reforms the North Korean regime implements, the country’s economic system remains the basic stumbling block. As long as central planning continues to be the ambition of economic and agricultural policies, there will be a limit to the success that agricultural policies can reach. We may expect to see agricultural reforms continuing, but as long as the system remains, they can hardly be revolutionary.

Share

The (Market) Forces of History in North Korea

Friday, October 30th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The market is a common topic for debate in history. How did it impact the rise of the anti-slavery movement in the US and the UK? What impact did economic conditions have in the French Revolution? These questions are, and should be, asked in the current debate about North Korea’s socioeconomic development as well.

But despite the hope of many, the market might not simply be a story of growing individualism and disconnect from the power of the state. While such a trend may well be at work, it could also be the other way around.

This was recently illuminated through an interesting story by Reuters. In a visit to Pyongyang, they took a look at how markets and everyday business transaction function in North Korea at the moment. As they note, it is telling that a reporter from an international news agency can make transactions in the open, with a government minder by his side, at the black market rate. Business that previously had to be done in the shadows now happens in the open:

Shoppers openly slapped down large stacks of U.S. dollars at the cashier’s counter. They received change in dollars, Chinese yuan or North Korean won – at the black market rate. The same was true elsewhere in the capital: taxi drivers offered change for fares at black market rates, as did other shops and street stalls that Reuters visited.

The most obvious conclusion is that the state is adapting itself to the bottom-up development of the market. Indeed, this is the way the story is often told. In this narrative, the government is only reacting to developments and has long lost the economic policy initiative.

But one could also see a government that is confident enough to relax the rules. It just isn’t a certain fact that the state and the market are two opposing entities.

First, connections to the state still seem to be good for those wanting to trade on the market. For example, according to the surveys conducted by Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland that laid the foundation for Witness to Transformation (2011)party membership is still considered one of the best ways to get ahead in North Korea (or at least it was at the time when the surveys were conducted). A somewhat similar trend can be discerned in survey results presented by Byung-Yeon Kim of Seoul National University at a conference at Johns Hopkins SAIS in late September this year. Kim’s results also indicate that there is a strong positive correlation between party membership and participation in both the formal and informal economy.

Second, the government is making money off of the market. DailyNK recently reported that the fees charged by state authorities for market stalls was raised. They also noted that regulations of the markets seemed to have gotten more detailed over the years. As noted in this report published by the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS, the space that the government allocates to markets has consistently increased in the past few years. Not only have official markets grown, many of them have also been renovated and given better building structures.

All in all, this paints a picture of a government that controls markets while allowing them more space to function. It is not clear that formerly black market activity happening in the open means that the market is gaining ground at the expense of the state. They may well be moving together. That is good news for those hoping for stability, but bad news for those banking on a market-induced revolution. Despite the hope of many that the market will cause the demise of the regime, the role of the market force in North Korea’s history is far from clear.

Share

The Political Prestige of North Korea’s Economic Reforms, and why it may be a Problem

Monday, September 28th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

This certainly has been the season of contradictory information on North Korea’s food supply. The North Korean government is celebrating and claiming success of their agricultural reforms, while the FAO reports that things have gotten worse. Let us recap what has happened:

First there was the drought. North Korean state media described it as the worst one in 100 years. UN agencies predicted large-scale crop failures and appealed for food aid, warning that large shares of the population would be at great risk if aid did not come. The UN’s emergency response fund (CERF) allocated $6.3 million to counter the impacts of the drought. The rains came, however, and the drought alarms seemed to have been exaggerated.

Next, the North Korean media – assuming you can even talk about it as a single, coordinated entity – went the other direction. In July, the weekly Tongil Sinbo claimed that thanks to agricultural reforms, this year’s harvest had actually increased “despite adverse weather conditions”.

And recently, reports turned the other way again. In early September, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN declared that the cereal production forecast for the main season of 2015 had declined drastically from last year due to a “prolonged dry spell”.

The rain that eventually came in July and August, causing flooding in the northern parts of the country and leading to an estimated loss of one percent of all planted areas. The FAO rice production forecast for 2015 is 12 percent below that of last year. State food rations, the importance of which can be debated, declined drastically, according to the agency.

In the midst of all of this, North Korean propaganda is still claiming success for the reforms. Earlier this month, the state news agency KCNA reported that a “dance party” had been held in South Hwanghae, part of the country’s rice bowl, celebrating improving conditions on the countryside:

The performers presented cheerful dances depicting the happy agricultural workers who work and live in the rural areas now turning into a good place to work and live thanks to the successful embodiment of the socialist rural theses under the leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

The picture gets even more complicated if one assigns meaning to the fact that cereal imports from China were reportedly lower in July this year compared to 2014. Figures from just one month might not indicate a trend, but given that July was a particularly dire month, these figures are still significant. If imports are being decreased because the official line is that agricultural conditions have improved, no matter the reality, that might be bad news for those in the North Korean public that rely on the public distribution system for any significant part of their consumption.

Either the FAO is right and the North Korean government wrong, or the other way around. Harvests this season cannot have been improving and getting worse at the same time. The FAO is probably far more likely than the North Korean government to have made a correct assessment here. Even if North Korean authorities aren’t claiming success of the reforms for propaganda reasons – which they may well be doing – it is hard to see why their statistical and monitoring capabilities would be better than those of the FAO.

So, the North Korean government is claiming that agricultural reforms are leading to better harvests and food conditions, even when they probably aren’t. Why would they do that? There are lots of possible reasons and one can only speculate.

One possible reason is that the agricultural reforms have become a prestige project. North Korean propaganda channels and news outlets have publically claimed that reforms are being implemented and leading to good results, even though some adjustment problems have been admitted. The same pattern, by the way, can be seen with regards to forestry policies – state media has publicized them with a bang and claimed that they just aren’t being implemented well enough by people on the ground when they don’t seem to be working as intended.

This could be an indication that agricultural reforms are indeed, like many have assumed, a major policy project of Kim Jong-un and the top strata.

That could be good news. After all, North Korea is in dire need of changes in agricultural structures, production methods, ownership and responsibility.

But it could also be bad news. When policies are strongly sanctioned and pushed by the top, their flexibility is likely to be inhibited. In other words, if the top leadership says that something should get done, it has to get done regardless of whether it works well or not.

Again, look at the forestry policies. According to reports from inside the country, those tasked with putting the new policies into practice on the ground say that doing what the central government asks isn’t smart or possible. Nevertheless, such orders are hard and risky to question.

At this stage it is only speculation, which is always a risky endeavor when it comes to North Korea. It may well later turn out to be wrong.

But if the state is placing enough prestige in the agricultural reforms to claim that conditions are improving even if they aren’t, that may lead to limited flexibility in how they are implemented and changed in the future. In other words, if the leadership thinks they are important enough to claim success even when things are getting worse, they may not be prone to changing their orders to fix what isn’t working.

Share

Lankov issues warning on North Korea’s economic reforms

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s reformatory policy is highly likely to spark political instability in the country, a Russian professor said Thursday, stressing the need to prepare for a potential volatile situation there.

“Kim Jong-un’s policy has a high possibility to destabilize North Korea’s local situation, therefore preparations are necessary for a sudden change there,” Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University, said during a forum co-hosted by Yonhap News Agency and the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation.

Under the reform-seeking young leader, North Korea is less secure than under the previous Kim Jong-il era when the country had experienced no changes, the professor said.

Under the new leadership, North Korea has shown signs of adopting a developmental dictatorship, the professor noted.

Kim is aware that he cannot hold on to his power for the next several decades without a reform.

Kim’s predecessor and father Kim Jong-il was different. In his 60s, he knew that even without the reform, which has the potential of thwarting the regime, his power grip could be sustained until his death, Lankov added.

Even though the North chooses to follow the footsteps of the Chinese economic reform, the reclusive country may have to be careful about opening up the country to the outside world, because after seeing South Korea’s incomparable affluence, North Koreans may become very discontented with the North Korean system, the professor said.

“It will be something tantamount to an act of political suicide,” he noted.

If North Korea happens to succeed in the reform drive, the result will better help the two Koreas peacefully coexist over the long term, he said, adding that it will cut down the costs of unification.

Touching on North Korea’s nuclear ambition, he said the communist country will never even dream of giving up its nuclear arsenal.

“Any reward, any pressure will be of no avail,” because nuclear weapons are irreplaceable means of deterrence and threats for the Kim regime.

The North Korean government knows that Gaddafi is the only leader who gave up nuclear arms in international political history and he was killed, according to the professor.

Read the full story here:
Preparations needed for potential volatile situation in N. Korea: Lankov
Yonhap
2015-8-13

Share

The drought that didn’t matter, North Korea says – thanks to agricultural reform?

Monday, August 10th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

During the past few months, the World Food Program (WFP) has made reoccurring pleas for increased food assistance to North Korea to alleviate the food shortages expected from a severe summer drought. The North Korean government made similar statements and claimed that the drought was the worst one to occur in 100 years. Aid to the country was subsequently increased from the originally planned level, due to the drought. But now, one North Korean official is saying that food production ended up increasing, after all, thanks to agricultural reforms.

A recent brief by the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University (IFES) cites a July issue of Tongil Sinbo, a North Korean state-run weekly newspaper. There, Chi Myong Su, director of the Agricultural Research Institute of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences in the country, says that

“the effectiveness of field management system (pojon) from cooperative farm production unit system (bunjo) is noticeable and succeeded in increasing grain production despite the adverse weather conditions.”

The article cited by IFES highlights the smaller work-team structure as key to the success of the reforms. Also, it almost outright states that greater economic incentives were the main factor (although they call it “enthusiasm” and “patriotism”):

“Despite the adverse weather conditions last year, the high grain yield was possible due to implementation of scientific farming methods and field management system to increase enthusiasm of farmers,” and “based on this experience, many cooperative farms across the country will expand subworkteam management system to field management system.”

This is interesting for several reasons.

First, the agricultural reforms seem increasingly pronounced. Though other reforms were reportedly backtracked earlier this year, the government seems eager to claim success for the road travelled in agriculture.

I have written elsewhere that the data doesn’t necessarily support a claim that reforms are working. There is still reason to be skeptical – after all, a North Korean government official claiming that his government’s policies are working is not surprising – but even the claim itself is interesting.

Second, the statement raises questions about monitoring and data gathering capacities, both of the regime and relief organizations in Pyongyang. Again, just a few months ago, alarm bells were ringing about a potential food shortage, and now, a regime official claims that food production has increased. What was the basis of the WFP and regime claims that a food shortage was imminent a few months ago, and what has changed since those claims were made?

Another recent IFES brief also deals with North Korean press reports about the agricultural reforms. It quotes a Rodong Sinmun article from earlier in the summer that brings up some adjustment problems that farmers have had, such as learning how to properly use fertilizers. The most interesting part in my opinion is the following:

The newspaper stressed that “when all farmers claim ownership of their field and subworkteam, one can create innovation in the farming operations.”

Thus, it seems like Pyongyang wants to encourage experimentation and diversity in production methods. This would be a potentially important step towards more efficient agriculture. Perhaps it is part of a pattern. Provinces have reportedly gotten significant leeway in setting up their respective special economic development zones, which could also be a way to encourage experimentation in policies and management methods.

According to the Tongil Sinbo article, reforms are set to expand further in the country given the alleged success. Perhaps it won’t be too long before we can learn more about them through assessments by multilateral organizations like WFP.

Share

May 30 Measures (5.30 Measures) [UPDATED]

Monday, June 1st, 2015

UPDATE 13 (2015-7-16): A new report by the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) indicated that the DPRK has made progress in reducing sub-workteam units, however it is experiencing secondary problems related to the transition.

North Korea Seeks Supplementary Measures for the Field Responsibility System

North Korea has been promoting the “field management system” as a part of its agricultural reform. Nevertheless, drawbacks exist, and it is trying to overcome shortcomings in the process by blending the new system with the advantages of collectivism.

In the past, farmers were able to follow the technical guidance of skilled workers. But since the implementation of the “field management system,” many are struggling to keep up with the advanced modern technology and agricultural methods.

As a result, North Korea is engaging in training and education programs for farmers to raise their skill level to that of skilled workers by encouraging the collective farming method of communal sharing of labor.

North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun reported on July 10 that, “in the current reality with the implementation of the ‘field management system’, it is impossible to farm with limited technical capabilities.”

The field management system under the bunjo management system (or the subworkteam management system) divides the work unit consisting of 10–25 people into smaller units of 3–5 people, responsible for farming a smaller field. This is virtually a preliminary stage which could lead toward private farm ownership.

The field management system expanded countrywide after Kim Jong Un’s rise to power. It is considered to have contributed in part to the increase of agricultural production.

The newspaper cited pesticide as one example of the problem. In the past, spraying pesticides were for skilled workers; but in recent years, ordinary farmers are responsible for spraying pesticides on their own. However, from lack of experience, many farmers struggled with proper handling of pesticides and ended up wasting them or damaging their crops.

The newspaper, however, also introduced the story of jujube cooperative farms in Anak County of Hwanghae Province, praising one farm’s success in planting rice seven days earlier than planned, despite the adverse weather conditions.

Reportedly, the farmers at this cooperative farm underwent training in modern agricultural technology for 30 minutes every morning.

Another problem pointed out is that because the skill level of every farmer differs, some farmers may mistime rice planting during the planting season. In the past, task teams were formed based on skill level and could eliminate the discrepancies between farms; under the new system, problems are inevitable. Accordingly, it is reported that Anak County jujube cooperative farms are collectively helping each other to overcome this shortcoming.

The newspaper stressed that “when all farmers claim ownership of their field and subworkteam, one can create innovation in the farming operations.” Thus, the North Korean authorities are encouraging “collectivism” to overcome the limitations of the “field management system.”

UPDATE 12 (2015-7-10): The Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) reports on the DPRK’s effort’s to reduce sub-workteam units and increase food production:

Despite Drought Last Year, Food Production Increased Due to Field Responsibility System

North Korea experienced its biggest drought in 100 years last year. However, North Korea claims that this did not affect its food production. North Korean authorities are claiming the main factor behind the increased food production is the will of farmers to produce more after the expansion of the “field management system,” or pojon tamdangje.

In an interview with the weekly newspaper, Tongil Sinbo, Chi Myong Su, director of the Agricultural Research Institute of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences of the DPRK commented, “the effectiveness of field management system (pojon) from cooperative farm production unit system (bunjo) is noticeable and succeeded in increasing grain production despite the adverse weather conditions.”

The field management system under the bunjo management system or the subworkteam management system divides the work unit consisting of 10-25 people into smaller units of 3-5 people, responsible for farming a smaller unit of a field. This is a measure to increase the “responsibility and ownership of farmers.”

From the July 1st Economic Management Improvement Measures enforced in 2002, the autonomy of cooperative farms and enterprises expanded. The “field management system” was piloted from early 2004 in Suan, North Hwanghae Province and Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province, but was suspended soon afterward. However, this system is reported to have been implemented widely after the first National Conference of Subworkteam Leaders in the Agricultural Sector was held in Pyongyang in February 2014.

Economic principles behind the field responsibility system are stated as, “under the sub-work team structure, a smaller subworkteam consisting of 2 to 3 families or 3 to 4 people depending on the scale and means of production, is responsible for a specific field or plot (pojon) from planting to harvest stage to inspire farmers with enthusiasm for production by distributing the shares of production in accordance with the output of production planning.”

The newspaper added, “Despite the adverse weather conditions last year, the high grain yield was possible due to implementation of scientific farming methods and field management system to increase enthusiasm of farmers,” and “based on this experience, many cooperative farms across the country will expand subworkteam management system to field management system.”

Director Chi stated, “Since the field management system was implemented, farmers’ labor capacity increased to 95 percent. The planting time for corn and rice that took 20 to 30 days in the past is shortened to 10 to 15 days. In the autumn season, grain threshing that took 50 days is now only taking 10 days. This is changing the farming landscape.”

In addition, the distribution shares for farmers increased as well as the state’s procurement last year. This is attributed to “socialist distribution principles that distributed grains produced to farmers in-kind based on their efforts after excluding a specified amount of grain procured by the state.”

He added, “There are quite a number of farming households that received several decades worth of distribution after a year of farming. There is an increasing number of families with growing patriotism to increase the amount of grain procurement to the state.”

UPDATE 11 (2015-6-1): Andrei Lankov reports in Radio Free Asia that the DPRK has slowed down recently announced economic adjustment measures:

If we are talking about the economy, the last two or three years have been a time when hitherto unheard of stories began coming out of North Korea with ever greater frequency. Indeed, from late 2012, the North Korean government began to quietly implement reform policies highly reminiscent of what China did back in the late 1970s. Such reformist policies largely centred around two important documents, namely, the so-called ‘June 28th Instructions’ of 2012 and the so-called ‘May 30th Measures’ of 2014.

The most important part of these sets of policies was a far reaching change to North Korea’s incentive mechanism in agriculture. The ‘June 28th Instructions’ envisioned that farmers would be permitted to work in family-based teams and allowed to retain 30% of the harvest. As economists often say, incentives work, and sometimes even work wonders. Working under the new system, North Korean farmers have produced more food than at any time in the last 25 years, bringing the country quite close to the goal of food self-sufficiency.

The ‘May 30th Measures’ were even more ambitious in their scope. The measures allowed factory managers to buy industrial supplies and produce at market, while also being permitted to sell what their factories were to produce to whomsoever they pleased. They were also given the right to hire and fire personnel at will, as well as setting wages at levels they choose. This system was first implemented in early 2013 in some experimental enterprises. Such enterprises were easy to spot because workers there were paid what can be described as exorbitant wages by North Korean standards. Musan Iron Mine, for instance, being one such experimental enterprise, pays its workers 300,000-400,000 won a month (roughly 100 times what workers would get paid under the old system).

Slowdown but no reversal

The ‘May 30th Measures’ envisioned that the new system would be expanded to include all North Korean enterprises, but this is not what has happened. Reports emanating from North Korea in the last two months leave little doubt that the expected transformation has at best been postponed, at worst, cancelled entirely. Right now, only a minority of North Korean industrial enterprises have been allowed to implement the new model.

What happened? Frankly, it is unlikely we will receive a definite answer to this question any time soon. Of course, it is quite possible that Kim Jong Un suddenly changed his mind and decided to stop reformist activities that he found to be politically dangerous and ideologically suspicious. It is also possible that the reforms faced determined opposition from conservative members of the bureaucracy and military. Last, but not least, it is also possible that North Korean leaders have come to understand the problems that such reforms would face without prior and proper changes to the financial system.

Whatever the reasons, it is clear that the North Korean government has decided to slow down the reform process. At the same time, there has as yet been no reversal.

One can only hope that the North Korean government will not spend too much time in such oscillations between reformism and conservativism. Time is running out for Kim Jong Un, and this is largely because of popular political psychology.

Kim Jong Un, contrary to what many might believe, is quite popular in North Korea. According to many inside and outside the country, the ordinary North Koreans have pinned their hopes on Kim Jong Un for improving their lot. If he wants to succeed, he should not waste the potential that such popular support gives him. Many changes are potentially controversial and painful, and popularity can help smooth the process.

However, reservoirs of good will are depleted unless leaders live up to expectations. Painful reforms need to be implemented quickly, if he waits too long such reforms could prove to be dangerous.

Unlike his father and grandfather, Kim Jong Un cannot afford to ignore the popular will. His father and grandfather had a great deal of control over society and they could always count on the North Korean people’s docility and obedience. However, the surveillance network is not what it was twenty years ago. People are increasingly aware about how poor their country is and how prosperous China and South Korea are. They can also make a living outside government structures, making them potentially less easy to control.

Thus, in such circumstances, it is crucial that Kim Jong Un does not waste time. Let us hope that reforms will get back on track because they may otherwise be grave for Kim Jong Un and the North Korean people alike.

Lankov wrote in a follow-up piece in Al Jazeera on June 11:

The new management system was supposed to be implemented across the entire country starting in 2015, with nearly all industrial enterprises switching to the new model. But it did not happen.

The information emerging from North Korea through different and unconnected sources leave little doubt that the expected switch to the new managerial system has not happened.

As usual, official media is silent, but foreign investors and businessmen, as well as Chinese nationals who visited their relatives in North Korea, and some trusted North Korean contacts, all tell the same story: Reforms are not being implemented as expected.

The new rules

As was the case last year, there are a number of industrial enterprises which operate in accordance with the new rules. However, such enterprises are few and far between, and are still officially considered “experimental”. Most plants and factories still ostensibly follow the ossified rules of a Leninist command economy.

Simultaneously, foreign investors began to feel increasing pressure. They began to face arbitrary changes of rules, demand for additional payments, and other similar actions.

An acute observer described the current situation to the author: “For a couple of years, the North Korean economy resembled a car climbing a steep slope at a good speed. But a few months ago, they switched off the engine, and the car has just begun to slide down the slope.”

Given the highly secretive nature of the North Korean government, one can only guess what made Kim and his advisers change their minds. The decision to stop reforms might reflect some internal governmental turmoil, but also may be a result of a sudden change of Kim’s mind-set – indeed, the North Korean dictator is remarkably moody at times, and reforms are wrought with political risk.

It is even possible that the reforms were slowed down in order to better prepare the wider economic landscape for their full-scale implementation: This full switch to the new system could potentially trigger severe inflation, so some kind of preparatory “groundwork” is advisable and possibly even necessary.

Experimental enterprises

Whatever the reason, the reforms appear to have been stopped, albeit not rolled back. The farmers still receive their share of produce, and some factories work according to the new system, often paying exorbitant salaries to the employees. A miner at the Musan iron mine, where the “experimental enterprise” system is functional, can now easily earn $70 a month, almost 100 times the average nationwide salary of less than a dollar a month.

This gives us reason to hope that sooner or later the reforms will be resumed, and that the current halt is merely provisional. After all, the introduction of household-based agriculture a few years ago followed a similar pattern: The new policies were first announced in June 2012, then shelved, but began to be fully implemented during the spring of 2013.

Nevertheless, the news remains disturbing. If North Korea rejects reforms, it will slide back into a state of stagnation. This will mean life will become even more difficult for North Koreans and will create a great deal of trouble for North Korea’s neighbours. A reforming North Korea has the possibility of survival, while a stagnant and stunted North Korea is inevitably bound to collapse.

UPDATE 10 (2015-5-27): According to Cao Shigong a member of the Korean Peninsula Research Society, Chinese Association of Asia-Pacific Studies, in the PRC’s Global Times:

A series of proactive measures to adjust economic policies and expand exchanges with foreign countries recently adopted by North Korea have drawn widespread attention. The moves aim to help the country escape the long-lasting economic woes, improve the nation’s political and social stability, and promote economic cooperation within the region. Therefore, they deserve welcome and encouragement. However, it is inappropriate to regard these measures as a signal of overall reforms or a starting point of further opening-up.

North Korea is always reluctant to label its measures for economic development as “reform and opening-up.”

To begin with, China’s implement of reform and opening-up is based on absolute disapproval of the mistaken route that deemed class struggle as the guiding principle. Yet North Korea, as a hereditary regime, does not allow any doubt or modification of its former leaders’ ideologies and political lines such as juche (“self-reliance”) and songun (“military-first”).

Besides, China’s reform has broken the traditional planned economy and set up a market-oriented socialist economy with the coexistence of other diverse forms of ownership, especially allowing the development of private business. But North Korea still cleaves to its old beliefs that planned economy and the public ownership of the means of production are the key characteristics of socialism, and that if they are changed, socialism will be lost.

In addition, as a big country, China enjoys strong tolerance and endurance. Even it is wide open to the world, under the pressure over intruding foreign cultures and values, it can still safeguard its political and social stability. North Korea, however, will find it hard to do the same if it opens up like China, against the backdrop of US hostility, the north-south divide, and fierce competition over systems.

Consequently, North Korea took the measures of “our-style (North Korea-style) socialism” and corresponding “reforms,” including the 7.1 Economic Management Improvement Measures, 6.28 Economic Reform Measures and 5.30 Measures. Though similar to the reform and opening-up of China, they have their own distinguished features.

For instance, the country initiated “land contracts,” yet did not end cooperative farms; it encourages its business to be flexible, yet without changing the way their property is held; it established special economic zones and economic development zones, but with focusing on advantageous areas and corridors.

The basic features of North Korean “reform” measures are improving the policy flexibility, introducing new management styles, and bringing the function of the market into full play, without changing its fundamental system. The country also introduces and utilizes foreign capital under the control of the government. Apparently, these practices stem from the nation’s domestic conditions.

It is generally acknowledged that North Korea’s reform measures have achieved initial success. North Korean economy has recorded positive growth for three consecutive years, with its domestic markets and consumption becoming more active and the strain on food and living supplies eased.

On the other hand, confrontation between North and South Korea is rumbling on, and the arrangements around the only industrial complex between the two sides, the Kaesong Industrial Region, is constantly encountering conflict, which has made business people skeptical about economic collaboration with North Korea. Especially as North Korea keeps conducting nuclear tests, it remains hard for it to break the sanctions and isolation from the international community.

All these factors prove the uncertainty of North Korea’s economic reforms. Hence, media and scholars should be reminded to deliver accurate and comprehensive information over North Korea to the world, in order to prevent giving misleading impression or weakening the risk awareness of investors, causing irreparable losses as a result.

Read the full story here:
North Korean economic reforms tightly tied to domestic conditions
Global Times
Cao Shigong
2015-5-27

UPDATE 9 (2015-3-4): The Associated Press reveals additional details through an interview with Ri Ki Song, professor of the economic science section at Pyongyang’s Academy of Social Science:

The measures give managers the power to set salaries and hire and fire employees, and give farmers more of a stake in out-producing quotas. Some outside observers say they are a far cry from the kind of change the North really needs, but they agree with North Korean economists who say it is starting to pay off in higher wages and increased yields.

The changes were introduced soon after Kim took over in late 2011, codified last May and, according to North Korean economists who recently spoke to The Associated Press and AP Television News, are now being expanded to cover the whole country.

The focus is on management, distribution and farming, said economist Ri Ki Song of the Economic Science Section at Pyongyang’s powerful Academy of Social Science, in an interview in February with AP Television News. Ri said the goal is to prod North Korean managers and farmers to “do business creatively, on their own initiative.”

An embrace of capitalism it is not.

Pyongyang has not formally disclosed details of the measures, believed to have been approved on May 30, 2014. But according to the North Korean economists, these are some of the major points:

–Managers can now decide on salaries without following state-set levels. Once an enterprise has paid the state and reinvested income to expand production, develop technology and pay for the “cultural welfare” of its employees, it can use the remaining funds to determine pay levels. As an example, Ri said that since instituting this system, the Sinuiju Cosmetics Factory has raised its average monthly salary from 3,000 won (less than $1 or 119.5 yen on the black market) to 80,000 won, with the highest earners collecting 110,000 won. The new salary levels are more in tune with actual living expenses and costs in the real economy.

–Factories or other enterprises can directly negotiate trade deals with foreign entities and hire or fire workers at their discretion. They can also decide what materials to buy and from whom, and negotiate prices.

–On cooperative farms, subunits of 4 or 5 people have been set up so that each farmer has a greater stake in producing a better yield from their plot. Again, after giving the state its share and covering expenses, the surplus–either in cash or produce–can be distributed on a point-based system at the cooperative itself.

If the farming measures are implemented in a way that gives families long-term responsibility for specific plots, they could go a long way toward transforming millions of North Korean peasants from serfs who merely work the land to sharecroppers who gain at least some direct benefit from their labor. Ri said it was an important reason why crop yields were comparatively good last year, despite severe droughts.

Officials, meanwhile, insist they are holding fast to North Korea’s own brand of leader-centric socialism and are only trying out “new management methods of our own style.”

“Our country admits that our economic situation is difficult,” Ri Jun Chol, director of international economic relations at the academy, said in an earlier interview in Pyongyang with the AP. “What I can say is that looking at every quarter, it has made a lot of increase compared to the last year.”

The impact of the measures is impossible to verify because North Korea doesn’t announce economic indicators, saying such data would be useful to its enemies.

Officials also are not ready to give the nod to capitalist-style markets and small enterprises that have sprung up all over the country with the breakdown of the government’s ration system in the famine years of the 1990s. This shadowy private sector is a key engine of the North’s real economy–making up as much as 30 percent of the whole pie. The Kim regime has been more lenient than his father’s, but insists it is a temporary blip.

“In the future, the marketplaces will no longer exist,” the international economy specialist Ri said in his interview with AP. “The main role of the markets is to sell things that factories and other enterprises can’t supply. We allow the markets because the country right now doesn’t have sufficient capacity to produce daily consumer goods.”

UPDATE 8 (2015-2-28): The Economist has published a good article summarizing recent economic changes int eh DPRK–including mention of the 6.28 agriculture policies and the May 30 measures.

UPDATE 7 (2015-2-24): The Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) has published a report on the “Socialist Enterprise Management System”:

“Socialist Enterprise Management System” under Full Implementation

According to the Choson Sinbo, a pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan, North Korea began to strengthen its economic reform measures by enhancing autonomy in industries from August 15, 2013.

The article entitled, “A Look to the Bright Prospects of Building a Powerful Economic Nation” was introduced. It covered a research forum held on February 11 in Japan in commemoration of the Day of the Shining Star.

The article quoted Professor Jae-Hoon Park of Choson University in Japan: “The new economic management method that was adopted into the industrial and agricultural industries from August 15, 2013 was recently formalized into the ‘Socialist Corporate Responsible Management System’ and specific measures were named to fully implement the measures.” He elaborated further on the achievements of the economic reform measures.

This is the first time to hear that a new economic reform measure went into effect in North Korea from August 15, 2013. Previously, North Korea had announced its plans to undergo new economic measures in June 28, 2012 and May 30, 2014.

The Choson Sinbo explained the ‘Socialist Corporate Responsible Management System’ is a new economic reform system in which, “business enterprises are granted certain rights to engage in business activities autonomously and elevate the will to labor through appropriately implementing the socialist distribution system.”

This measure emphasizes the autonomy of business enterprises and is seem to be an expansion of the previously mentioned June 28 and May 30 measures.

In addition, another participant at the forum, Professor Ho-il Moon, explained that “[Work Team] (pojon) responsibility system was introduced from 2013 nationwide. This system was developed to overcome the limitations of equalization of product distribution that goes against socialist distribution principles.”

This year North Korean state media is emphasizing the production in the agricultural industry, and touting the fruition of the pojon system. As a result, the Kim Jong Un regime’s agriculture reform with the pojon system at the core of the changed policy is expected to gain in strength.

According to the Rodong Sinmun, an article on February 6 introduced a successful case of pojon system in an article entitled, “Pojon Responsibility System that Produced Silver.” The article introduced the successes of a cooperative farm in Yongchon District in North Pyongan Province where it is reported to have reaped in more than one ton per chong (or 9,917 square meter) of crops from the previous year in 2013.

The pojon responsibility system reveals a reduction in size of work units working on cooperative farms (previously 10 to 15 people) to a smaller number (3 to 5 people per farm), with each group responsible for cultivating a portion of land. Speculation is that this measure by North Korea may be a precursor step before transitioning to a private farming system.

UPDATE 6 (2015-2-17): The Tongil-Ilbo claims to have a four-page document produced by the North Koreans to explain the 5.30 Measures to foreigners. They did not publish the four page document (why?), but they wrote about it on their web page. Here are some English translation notes from the article:

Could 1st Sec. Kim Jong-un become the North Korean Deng Xiaoping?

– On March 30th, 2013, North Korea adopted Byungjin (병진). Based on this strategy, for now, Kim Jong-un focuses more on economic construction. In 2015 New Year’s address, he emphasized enhancing the living standard of the people.

– Some say that Kim Il-sung tried to construct a political ideology for the nation through the Juche Idea. Kim Jong-il emphasized a “military power nation” based on nuclear power through its military first policy. Kim Jong-un is trying to be Deng Xiaoping in North Korea through economic development.

– Last year, Kim Jong-un proposed the direction of new economy policies through 5.30 Measures, and there is a strong likelihood that North Korea announces specific economic measure from the conception of policies this year marking the 70th anniversary of founding Workers’ Party.

Our Style Economic Management Methods
– 5.30 Measures (5.30담화), announced on May 30th last year with officials who are in charge of the party, state, and military organizations, are about establishing “Our Style Economic Management Methods” (우리식경제관리방법) according to the needs of the day for development.

– In these measures, Kim Jong-un said the methods should be established based on Byungjin (병진) in order to successfully realize the construction of a strong and prosperous socialist nation.

– Especially, Socialist Corporate Responsible Management System (사회주의기업책임관리제) allowed factories (공장), enterprises (기업소), and cooperative organizations (협동단제) to have practical management rights over the means of production based on socialistic ownership (사회주의적 소유), which makes laborers fulfill their responsibility for production and management and realize the principle of collectivism.

– Kim Jong-un urged in the New Year’s address this year that all the factories (공장) and enterprises (기업소) should reduce import dependence or get rid of imports (수입병: “import disease”, too much dependence on imports) and to try to localize materials and facilities [AKA import substitution].

Emphasis on Both ‘Principle’ (원칙) or ‘Actual Benefit’ (실리)? Where should we be more focused?
– As Kim Jong-un pointed out not just the socialistic principle, but also the achievement of actual economic benefits through objective economic principles and scientific logic, he practically focused on “actual benefits”.

– The 5.30 Measures also highlights scientific technology including the importance of scientification (과학화) in economic guidance (경제지도) and all the procedures and elements of production (생산) and enterprise management (기업관리).

– It urges enterprises (기업소) to actively develop new technologies (기술) and new products (신제품), and improve their quality by exercising the authority over product development (제품개발권), quality management (품질관리권) and human resource management (인재관리권), which elevate their competitiveness.

– More specifically, it recommends that factories (공장), enterprises (기업소), and cooperative farms (협동농장) implement Responsibility System (담당책임제) to use and manage national/cooperative property (국가적 협동적 소유) including machine facilities (기계설비), land (토지), and facilities (시설물).

– It is also provides that enterprises (기업소) should assess labor, and distribute in compliance with socialism so that workers receive (받다) fair/commensurate (공정한/일한것만큼) compensation.

– Kim Jong-un urged officials to learn advanced management knowledge and eventually to raise the level of management.

– In the 2015 New Year’s address he emphasized the importance of improving people’s standard of living and constructing an economically powerful and self-supporting economy (자립경제). He also proposed to diversify foreign economic relations (대외경제관계) and to actively carry on its economic special district development business (경제개발구개발사업).

Working-level Taskforce(실무 상무조) is a new generation, assembled for planning and implementation
– It seems that a taskforce (실무 상무조) that normally consists of executives (간부) of each ministry (성) and committee (위원회) was constructed around cabinet executive office (내각 사무국) and national planning committee (국가계획위원회), and it is making specific implementation plans, said Jung Chang-hyun, an adjunct professor of Kukmin University.

– It seems that the taskforce is composed of a younger generation staff, and unlike the 2002 7.1 Measures which were comprehensively implemented, the 5.30 Measures are likely to be implemented incrementally.

– This year, the 70th anniversary of independence, at the same time, for North Korea, the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Workers’ Party, there would be a great celebration on October 10th for the anniversary of founding the party in North Korea, and success or failure of the celebration would depend on economic development, especially, the improvement of living standard of the people that Kim Jong-un proposed at the New Year’s address.

UPDATE 5 (2015-2-9): A Chinese journal has published information on the May 30  Measures.

UPDATE 4 (2015-2-5): Andray Abrahamian at Choson Exchange writes about the May 30 Measures in the Wall Street Journal

UPDATE 3 (2015-2-5): A new report by the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) refers to a Choson Sinbo article and implies that financial reforms will also be part of the May 30 Measures:

New Economic Management Improvement Measures to Support Financial System Reform

North Korea has a new economic development goal with a target to draw the accumulated capital of North Korean people to promote economic development. Changes to the financial system are being introduced including development of various savings products and promotion of people’s credit card use.

The president of the Central Bank of the DPRK, Kim Chon Gyun, interviewed with Choson Sinbo (a pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan) on February 3 and explained the role of the bank — responsibility for the state’s overall monetary distribution, financial leadership and management — and the recent changes taking place in the bank.

According to President Kim, “The country is trying to better circulate domestically hoarded money to meet the demand for cash in the country’s developing economy.” In this effort, the regime is developing various financial products as well as encouraging its people to use credit cards.

This is an indication that the regime is working on various measures via the development of a variety of banking products to attract more people to deposit money in the bank and use credit cards for purchases.

With increasing international sanctions against the country, North Korea is suffering from foreign capital shortages and is attempting to attract people’s private funds to the bank to fund economic development plans.

“With the establishment of our-style economic management methods, there are plans of improving the methods of financial and economic institutions and installing financial measures in accordance with the emergence of entrepreneurial activities,” said Kim.

This shows that the spread of the market economy is expanding the autonomy of enterprises and increasing the role of the bank in lending activities to provide funds for companies.

Accordingly, speculations are that financial reform is taking place to raise capital in relation to the recent announcement by Kim Jong Un of the May 30th measures, through expansion of individual’s disposition rights, autonomy of enterprises, and decentralization of power.

Meanwhile, the Rodong Sinmun reported on February 3 that “Choson [North Korea] has steadfastly entered the road to happiness.” The newspaper vaunted the achievements of the Kim Jong Un regime, listing as successes the construction of Pyongyang Nursery, Wisong (Satellite) Scientist Street, and Munsu Water Park.

The news reiterated that major changes are underway to resolve food shortages, expressing confidence in economic measures with significantly increased autonomy of economic units. This hints at how the autonomy and decentralization granted to economic agents is acting as an important engine for economic development.

I am still trying to track down a link to the original Choson Sinbo article, but I believe this is it. Here is additional coverage in the JoongAng Ilbo and KBS.

UPDATE 2 (2015-1-26): The Choson Sinbo published an article called “Construction of economy based on the parallel pursuit of economic development and nuclear armament /병진로선에 기초한 경제건설/사회과학원 연구사가 말하는 《현장의 변화》”. A respected colleague has translated the parts related to the “May 30 Measures” and the earlier “June 28 Agriculture Measures” below:

Professor Ri Ki-song [economic research laboratory of the Academy of Social Science] also mentioned that the “Our style economic management /우리 식 경제관리방법의 확립”, which is receiving attention from other countries, also promptly meets the needs of today in terms of North Korea’s earnest strive for economic revival in a peaceful environment.

“At the end of 2011, our supreme leader Kim Jong Un gave guidance on the direction of North Korea. Scholars and workers of the economic field have examined the improvement proposals and broadened its implementations after demonstrative introductions in some units. Last May, our supreme leader also clarified the principle problems concerning ‘Our style economic management methods’.”

According to the professor there are three “clarified principles”. First is accomplishing government’s unified guidance and strategic administration in the economy sector. Second, properly accomplishing responsibility management system of socialist companies in factories, corporations and collective organizations and lastly guaranteeing the party’s leadership in economic business while also firmly promoting political business.

In the meantime, the parliamentary cabinet system along with the parliamentary center system of North Korea has been strengthened and a series of rights (programming rights, organization of production rights, development of products rights, labor management rights, financial rights, joint cooperation rights, etc.) that enable all enterprises to actively and emergently lead business activities, have been readjusted.

During the past 2 years, production has increased in many business entities that accordingly brought on a rise in employees’ standard of living. There were many cases that guaranteed much higher living expanses than previous also in the suburban factories that Professor Ri had visited. There was significant increase especially in units that produced exports such as the Rakwon Machine Complex Enterprise.

In collective farms, a system within the work team management, which makes the farmers take responsibility for their assigned fields, interconnected with the farmers’ enthusiasm for produce and increase in grain production was seen as a result.

Professor Ri pointed out that “there are objective conditions that enable ‘the method that makes farmers take responsibility for the farming of their assigned field’ to be effective”.

“One is establishing a financial basis for agriculture. That is, the nationwide land readjustment program and organization of the natural flowing waterway that were realized in the 20th century by the order of our supreme leader Kim Jong Un. Other is the increase of national investments in the agriculture sector following the parallel pursuit of economic development and nuclear armament of the Kim Jong Un era.

Farmers in collective farms also received increased shares of agriculture produces according to the work done.

So this article sets up the narrative that Kim Jong-un launched the process for establishing new management measures in 2011.

UPDATE 1 (2015-1-15): According to the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

In a January 8, 2015 article publish by the Choson Sinbo (a pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan), the North Korean economy was described as a “flexible collectivist system,” adding that “Choson’s (North Korea’s) socialist economy promotes the establishment of a collectivist system that can flexibly respond to the current development.”

The news article explicated that this system is “under the plan and unified guidance of the state which guarantees the socialist enterprises to achieve economic development through ensuring active and evolutionary actions.” This hints at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s plans to continually promote a somewhat relaxed socialist planned economy in the future.

Since Kim Jong Un came to power, his regime has taken action to change the management structure and expand the autonomy (and incentives) of enterprises and farms, inter alia. Such changes can be interpreted as North Korea’s moves to highlight the flexibility of the system and the independent actions of economic agents.

The Choson Sinbo article continued: “By adhering to socialist ownership and strictly following objective economic laws in economic guidance and management, rational and just economic space will be created.” It added that “the ultimate conclusion in the establishment of our-style of economic management system is the improvement of people’s living standards.”

According to the article, “Kim Jong Un announced a historic measure regarding the establishment of ‘our-style economic management method’ in May 2014.” This seems to confirm that the recent economic policy announced in North Korea was headed by Kim Jong Un. (Note that in his 2015 New Year Address, Kim Jong Un also emphasized the need for the Cabinet, state, and Party organizations to “make proactive efforts to establish the economic management method of our style,” suggesting it as an important task of 2015.)

Until now, there was only speculation that North Korea had plans to expand elements of the market economy and widen the scope of the policy target. The speculation was based on last year’s announced ‘May 30th Measures’, the details of which were vaguely known. However, this recent article by Choson Sinbo seems to support the certainty of this policy.

The newspaper further elaborated the importance of North Korea’s ‘parallel policy of nuclear and economic development’, but also emphasized the regime’s focus on improving people’s living standards through the “defense industry’s lead to develop the science and technology sector and introduce its achievements to the economic sector associated with people’s livelihoods.”

In regards to the recent US sanctions against the DPRK following the Sony Pictures hacking incident, the news article explained that North Korea was embarking on a variety of strategies — such as seeking multifarious development of foreign economic relations, realizing various trade transactions, increasing the ratio of domestic goods (versus imported goods) of raw materials and equipment — in order to minimize the impact of the US sanctions against the DPRK economy.

The news article concluded that North Korea is not likely to give up its current ‘parallel policy’, despite the foreign threats. Rather, in response to the threats, the DPRK is developing existing foundations of the self-supporting economy in order to be self-sufficient in raw materials and equipment and improve the ratio of domestic goods to imported goods.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-1-15): I was on holiday break when all of the discussion on the “May 30 Measures (5.30조치)” broke out on the internet, so I am getting a late start to this.

First there were two reports (both in Korean) that apparently discuss new “May 30 Measures”. One report is by the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) and the second is by the Hyundai Research Institute. I will see if I can get these translated (the key parts anyway).

In the meantime, here is a summary that appeared in Yonhap (2014-11-30):

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un regime may announce a new policy vision for politics and the economy next year as the country intensifies efforts to open up a new era of the new leader, a report by a local institute showed Sunday.

“There is a possibility that North Korea may propose a new set of governing norms and power structures as it opens up the era of Kim Jong-un next year, in which the three-year mourning period for (late leader) Chairman Kim Jong-il will have been ended,” said the report by the Institute for Eastern Studies at the Kyungnam University.

“(The country) could suggest a new power structure that suits the Kim Jong-un epoch as the National Defense Commission system was (introduced) for the Kim Jong-il era and the premier system for the Kim Il-sung era,” according to the report.

On the economic front, the North is expected to push to legalize a set of new economic measures the country has experimented with in recent years, the report said, adding homegrown market forces have been pressing for economic reform.

“North Korea’s efforts to lure in foreign investment to its special economic and economic development zones may continue into the (following years),” it noted.

Andrei Lankov commented on the new economic measures mentioned in the two reports–implying that these measures are built on the success of the June 28 (6.28) Measures–with management changes in store for the agricultural and enterprise sectors of the economy. Writing in Al Jazeera, he noted:

This time, the big news is indeed a decision, the so-called “May 30th Measures”, jointly issued early this year by the North Korean cabinet of ministers and the Central Committee of the Korean Worker’s Party. This decision was initially classified, but because it was supposed to be read by so many people, its contents have become public knowledge.

The contents are revolutionary. It seems that, at long last, North Korea has decided to begin Chinese-style reforms. Marshal Kim Jong-un is obviously inclined to do what his late father, Generalissimo Kim Jong Il, was too afraid to, that is, to attempt to transform his country into a developmental dictatorship, largely similar to present-day Vietnam or China.

This decision did not come out of the blue. Indeed, it agrees very well with what Kim Jong Un and his advisers have quietly been doing over the last three years – albeit the slow-motion transformation of the country has attracted little attention from outside world.

The first significant step was the introduction of the so-called “June 28th Measures”. These measures were introduced in 2012, but only became fully into force in 2013. While on paper, they did not look that ground-breaking, they represent a sweeping reform of agricultural management in the North.

The “June 28th Measures” allowed North Korean farmers to create their own production teams of five or six people. It was not explicitly stated, but it was a signal that individual households should register as “production teams”. Such teams were given a plot of land, the assumption being that they would toil the same area for several consecutive years. The land technically remained under the jurisdiction of the state-owned and state-managed “collective farm”, but the produce would henceforth be split 70:30 between the state and the production team (ie the family). Up until then, North Korean production teams had been much larger, and all produce had to be submitted to the state in exchange for a fixed daily grain ration that was allocated to every farmer.

Given the precedent in agriculture, the “May 30th Measures” are not quite as surprising as they may first appear, though they are indeed truly radical by the standards of North Korea before 2013.

According to these measures, from 2015, North Korean farming households (for ideological purposes still branded “production teams”) will be allocated not 30 percent but 60 percent of the total harvest.

Additionally, farming households will be given large plots of land – some 3,300sq m – to act as their kitchen gardens. Until now, North Korea, unlike nearly all other communist states, never tolerated private agriculture to any significant degree, and thus, for decades, kitchen gardens were limited to a meagre 100sq m.

The measures did not stop there, though. This time the North Korean leadership has set its sights on reforming the moribund and hollowed out state industrial sector. According to the reforms, directors of state factories will find themselves covered by a new “director responsibility system”. This system makes a director, hitherto state-appointed and carefully supervised representative of the party and state, into the approximate equivalent of a private businessman (factory managers in North Korea are almost always men). Under the new system, factory directors will have the freedom to decide how, when and where they purchase technologies, raw materials and spare parts necessary for their enterprises. They will also be allowed to decide who to sell to. They are also given the right to hire and fire workers, as well as to decide how much to pay for a particular job.

Under the new system, there is a tacit assumption that directors will be able to reward themselves generously for their own work – a feature that makes them virtually indistinguishable from private entrepreneurs in market economies. As a matter of fact, a few foreign delegations that recently visited North Korea were privately briefed about coming changes.

Lankov also wrote a similar article for the New York Times:

A new set of market-oriented reforms adopted by the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party and by the cabinet of ministers on May 30, 2014, appears to aim to liberalize the economy as a whole. The content of this classified economic policy document was first partially leaked to the South Korean daily Segye Ilbo in June. Later it was confirmed by many sources and is now widely discussed by Pyongyang watchers.

The “May 30 Measures,” as they’ve come to be known, envision the significant reduction of state control of the economy and a dismantling of central planning. Managers of state enterprises will be allowed to purchase items on a free market, making deals with other enterprises or even private businesses. They will be given the right to fire and hire workers, and pay them as much as they want.

At coal mines near the border with China, where the new “system of managerial responsibility” has been tested since late 2013, the best miners may now receive up to $70 a month, an exorbitant wage for the North.

Mr. Kim has also left untouched the unofficial private economy, which began to grow in the 1990s and now contributes significantly to North Korea’s tiny G.D.P., as much as 50 percent by some estimates. This economy of small businesses like food stalls, bicycle repair shops and truck deliveries, as well as larger ones like small coal mines and fishing companies, has never been explicitly accepted by the government. But since Mr. Kim’s ascension, officials have left this gray market alone.

The agricultural reforms are already bearing fruit. In 2013, the country enjoyed the best harvest in decades when — in a first since the 1980s — it produced nearly enough food to feed its population on a subsistence level.

Choson Exchange also offered some helpful comments from the Hyundai paper.

These items are probably also related:

1. Economic Management Improvement Measures – changes after one year (IFES, 2014-4-11)

2. North Korea’s ‘New Economic Management System’: Main Features and Problems (Korea Focus, Park Hyeong-jung)

3. Recent DPRK wage increases / economic management changes

4. Recent information on implementation of economic adjustment policies

5. “Securing economic profit,” fundamental to economic management (IFES 2014-10-31)

6. North Korea’s evaluation of its 2013 economic policy

7. Worker’s Party sets up Economy Department

8. North Korea making visible progress towards economic reforms

9. DPRK altering Commercial Distribution system

10. Kim Jong-un’s directions on improving economic management

11. Miners Fail to See Promised Salary Bump (Musan Mine)

Share

North Korean economic reforms tightly tied to domestic conditionsCao Shigong

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

According to Cao Shigong a member of the Korean Peninsula Research Society, Chinese Association of Asia-Pacific Studies, in the PRC’s Global Times:

A series of proactive measures to adjust economic policies and expand exchanges with foreign countries recently adopted by North Korea have drawn widespread attention. The moves aim to help the country escape the long-lasting economic woes, improve the nation’s political and social stability, and promote economic cooperation within the region. Therefore, they deserve welcome and encouragement. However, it is inappropriate to regard these measures as a signal of overall reforms or a starting point of further opening-up.

North Korea is always reluctant to label its measures for economic development as “reform and opening-up.”

To begin with, China’s implement of reform and opening-up is based on absolute disapproval of the mistaken route that deemed class struggle as the guiding principle. Yet North Korea, as a hereditary regime, does not allow any doubt or modification of its former leaders’ ideologies and political lines such as juche (“self-reliance”) and songun (“military-first”).

Besides, China’s reform has broken the traditional planned economy and set up a market-oriented socialist economy with the coexistence of other diverse forms of ownership, especially allowing the development of private business. But North Korea still cleaves to its old beliefs that planned economy and the public ownership of the means of production are the key characteristics of socialism, and that if they are changed, socialism will be lost.

In addition, as a big country, China enjoys strong tolerance and endurance. Even it is wide open to the world, under the pressure over intruding foreign cultures and values, it can still safeguard its political and social stability. North Korea, however, will find it hard to do the same if it opens up like China, against the backdrop of US hostility, the north-south divide, and fierce competition over systems.

Consequently, North Korea took the measures of “our-style (North Korea-style) socialism” and corresponding “reforms,” including the 7.1 Economic Management Improvement Measures, 6.28 Economic Reform Measures and 5.30 Measures. Though similar to the reform and opening-up of China, they have their own distinguished features.

For instance, the country initiated “land contracts,” yet did not end cooperative farms; it encourages its business to be flexible, yet without changing the way their property is held; it established special economic zones and economic development zones, but with focusing on advantageous areas and corridors.

The basic features of North Korean “reform” measures are improving the policy flexibility, introducing new management styles, and bringing the function of the market into full play, without changing its fundamental system. The country also introduces and utilizes foreign capital under the control of the government. Apparently, these practices stem from the nation’s domestic conditions.

It is generally acknowledged that North Korea’s reform measures have achieved initial success. North Korean economy has recorded positive growth for three consecutive years, with its domestic markets and consumption becoming more active and the strain on food and living supplies eased.

On the other hand, confrontation between North and South Korea is rumbling on, and the arrangements around the only industrial complex between the two sides, the Kaesong Industrial Region, is constantly encountering conflict, which has made business people skeptical about economic collaboration with North Korea. Especially as North Korea keeps conducting nuclear tests, it remains hard for it to break the sanctions and isolation from the international community.

All these factors prove the uncertainty of North Korea’s economic reforms. Hence, media and scholars should be reminded to deliver accurate and comprehensive information over North Korea to the world, in order to prevent giving misleading impression or weakening the risk awareness of investors, causing irreparable losses as a result.

Read the full story here:
North Korean economic reforms tightly tied to domestic conditions
Global Times
Cao Shigong
2015-5-27

Share

UNFAO on DPRK food supply outlook

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

On February 3, 2015, the UNFAO recently published the DPRK “Outlook for Food Supply and Demand 2014/15“.

Here are the highlights:

1. After increasing markedly for three consecutive years, food production remained stagnant in 2014 with the aggregate output put at 5.94 million tonnes (including cereals, soybeans and potatoes in cereal equivalent). This figure comprises the official estimate of the 2014 main harvest and forecast for the 2015 early crops from cooperative farms, as well as FAO projections of production from sloping land and household gardens.

2. Paddy production dropped by about 10 percent due to reduced irrigation water availability, following low precipitation in the winter and dry spells during the 2014 main season. However, this decline was compensated by a significant increase in maize output, as a result of mass mobilization of people to water maize plants.

3. Production of the 2014/15 early season potatoes and minor wheat and barley crops, to be harvested from next June, is forecast to fall considerably.

4. The total utilization needs for the 2014/15 marketing year (November/October) are set by FAO at 5.49 million tonnes of cereal equivalent and the cereal import requirement is estimated at 407 000 tonnes. The Government is expected to import 300 000 tonnes of cereals, leaving an uncovered deficit of 107 000 tonnes for the current marketing year. This gap is larger than in 2013/14 partly as a result of revised post-harvest losses.

5. With a stagnant harvest in 2014, the food security situation in 2014/15 is likely to remain similar to that of the previous marketing year, with most households estimated to have borderline and poor food consumption rates.

The report listed these statistics that I thought were worth highlighting:

The marginal increase (0.3  percent) in the 2014/15 food production follows three consecutive years of strong growth at 4.4 percent in 2011/12, 8.7 percent in 2012/13 and 3.5 percent in 2013/14. However, at the forecast level, production remains above the past five-years average.

Andrei Lankov takes an optimistic view of this report in his article for Radio Free Asia and in the Carnegie Moscow Center. He credits implementation of the 6.28 Measures.

Marcus Noland commented on technical aspects of the report (such as the fact that the assessment was made without direct access to the country).

Scott Snyder commented on some of the political economy around the reports findings in Forbes. He asks why the UNFAO was not allowed into the DPRK, and notes that Russia has become the DPRK’s largest food donor.

The Daily NK has also noted the stability of food prices in late 2014 and early 2015.

Share