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

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

Kim Jong-un’s letter to participants in the National Conference of Agricultural Subworkteam Leaders

Friday, February 7th, 2014

UPDATE (2014-2-26): 38 North has posted an article on Kim’s agriculture speech here.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-2-7): You can download an English-language PDF of the letter here (copied directly from Rodong Sinmun). The bold/underlining was added by me as I read the article. Here is coverage by KCNA.

The speech does not really refer to any “paradigm-changes” in agricultural policy. As usual the emphasis is on raising output by increasing technology inputs and fortifying ideological strength. That being said, the letter does refer to a new policy intended to improve land management:

The subworkteam management system created by the President is an excellent form of production organization and a superior method of management, in that it encourages farmers to take part in production and management as befitting masters with the feeling of attachment to the collective economy. Its advantages have clearly been proved through practice.

By operating the system efficiently as required by the developing reality, the agricultural sector should bring the sense of responsibility and creative zeal of farmers into full play. It should give farmers clear-cut tasks related with soil management, farming operations and production plan and review their results in time and in a substantial way, thus encouraging them all to work in a responsible manner with consciousness and high enthusiasm as befitting masters. Recently a measure has been taken to introduce a field-responsibility-system within the framework of the subworkteam management system so as to inspire farmers with enthusiasm for production. By applying the system correctly in conformity with their actual conditions, cooperative farms should make it prove effective in agricultural production.

I am not the most qualified person to divine meaning from official pronouncements (particularly from the English translation) but this does seem to indicate that efforts have been made to introduce a new “field-responsibility-system”. This appears to be a change in the measurements by which members if a work team are evaluated. Rather than being rewarded for simple output quotas, there are now measurements for soil management and farming operations–coupled with timely and accurate measurement by work team leaders. There is no specific mention of reducing the number of individuals in a work team or other supposed policies associated with the nebulous 6.28 measures.

Interestingly in the very next paragraph, Kim Jong-un highlights one of the most persistent problems in socialist economics: poor labor incentives. He correctly notes that equal distributions to the workers irrespective of effort and quality will create unmotivated workers and production will fall. He notes that hard/effective work should be rewarded:

What is important in operating the subworkteam management system is to strictly abide by the socialist principle of distribution. Equalitarianism in distribution has nothing to do with the socialist principle of distribution and has a harmful effect of diminishing farmers’ enthusiasm for production. Subworkteams should assess the daily work-points of their members accurately and in good time according to the quantity and quality of the work they have done. And they should, as required by the socialist principle of distribution, share out their grain yields to their members mainly in kind according to their work-points after counting out the amounts set by the state. The state should define reasonable amounts of grains for compulsory delivery on the basis of accurate calculation of the country’s demand for grains, interests of farmers and their demands for living, thereby ensuring that they make redoubled efforts with confidence.

This, however, is basically a restatement of official policy. The state gets first claim on the output, the farmers fight for the leftovers….

Here is coverage in the Daily NK.

Addendum: Here is KCNA (2014-2-11) on the origins of subworkteam units:

Subworkteam Management System in DPRK

Pyongyang, February 11 (KCNA) — The national conference of subworkteam leaders in the agricultural sector was held successfully in the DPRK.

The conference underscored the need for the subworkteam leaders to bring into full play the advantages of the subworkteam management system, in order to carry out the theses on the socialist rural question in the country.

The subworkteam management system created by President Kim Il Sung is an excellent form of production organization and a good method of management which encourages farmers to take part in production and management in a responsible manner, attaching themselves to the collective economy.

One day in May Juche 54 (1965), Kim Il Sung went to Phochon-ri, Hoeyang County, Kangwon Province.

There he acquainted himself with farming, living conditions and management situation of workteams and subworkteams of the farm.

As workteam leaders had many people to deal with and many things to do, they were unable to properly manage manpower and production of their workteams.

Evaluation on labor was mostly done in an equal way, failing to enhance farmers’ production zeal.

That was the reason for low grain yield in the farm.

The same was true for other farms.

On the basis of deep analysis of the farm’s situation, he found out that the subworkteam management system was suitable for group’s working, instead of the workteam management system.

He saw to it that the subworkteam management system was introduced first in some co-op farms in Kangwon and other provinces.

Then, at the 12th Plenary Meeting of the 4th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea held in November Juche 54 (1965), he took measures to apply it to all other co-op farms throughout the country.

With the introduction of the system, the guidance and management system over the socialist rural communities was orderly established from grassroots units to state-level organs, which served as an impetus to bringing about upsurge in agricultural production.

Share

North Korea’s ‘New Economic Management System’: Main Features and Problems

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Korea Focus
Park Hyeong-jung
Senior Research Fellow
Korea Institute for National Unification

Here is the summary/assessment:

The objective of the New Economic Management System in North Korea is the building of an “unplanned socialist economy,” or something similar to the “socialist commodity economy” China implemented between 1984 and 1992. Agricultural, industrial and financial measures that North Korea is trying to introduce along with the installation and expansion of special development zones under the New Economic Management System are mutually connected and therefore need to be simultaneously implemented.

North Korea has the conceptual blueprints for each economic measure and its leadership includes individuals who are interested in promoting the areas where they are specialized. However, the country apparently lacks the capabilities to create the proper economic and political conditions for these measures. Against this backdrop, production increase and overall economic growth cannot be expected and confusion would intensify.

North Korea had not made sufficient preparations economically and politically before the introduction of the New Economic Management System. Introduction of new measures inevitably affects the interests of those who had been active under the old system. Transitional imbalance may arise in the process of putting the new system into practice. Reserve resources are necessary to address such problems.

The sub-unit management system in the agricultural sector showed how the reform effort can be stymied. This new system spurs independent efforts of farmers and stimulates their motivation for production increase but it invited the resistance of agricultural bureaucrats. When the state and farmers begin to share products by a ratio of 7:3 instead of the previous ratio of 9:1, imbalance will emerge somewhere in the distribution of farm products. Reserve resources are necessary for such a sudden change. The same is expected of the industrial management system. Factory enterprises were given autonomous operation rights but the new system did not result in production increase. Reserve resources are needed here, too.

The new policy under the Kim Jong-un rule lacked consistency and often exposed zigzagging directions. Officials responsible for the implementation of the new policy were unable to win over dissenters and failed to secure reserve resources needed to overcome the material imbalance in the transition period.

Eventually, the management reform at factory enterprises and experiments with sub-units in farming areas were virtually abandoned. The sub-unit management failed because of resistance from agricultural bureaucrats, the authorities` unease about relaxation of peasant control and uncertainty about the food security for the privileged class. The sub-unit management system most seriously threatened the stockpiling of food grain for the military and the power elite. It is certain that the military was the biggest opponent to the new agricultural management system.

The New Economic Management System accompanied policies that reduced the privileged role of the military in the economy. Similar problems were certainly exposed in the reform of industrial and financial management, such as non-cooperation from the privileged group, concerns about loosening control of workers and managers, and lack of guarantees for special interests.

Yet, the sub-unit management in farms and increased autonomy of factory enterprises were not entirely meaningless. Interestingly, some in North Korea`s leadership believed that the sub-unit system with incentives to individual farmers was necessary despite many problems attached to the farmers` self-interests. Although it was not successfully implemented, it did help farmers gain more independence from state control.

The unavoidable trend of changes in the North calls for systemic reforms like the sub-unit management just as youths grow up to become adults and then to the middle age. The problem is how to operate the changed system to achieve production increase. To be successful, those in the North Korean leadership who advocate the New Economic Management System should be able to politically suppress those opposing it or win them over economically by assuring them of the distribution of surplus. What has happened to date shows that the new system has failed to make much progress in that direction.

Concerning the projects of building special economic development zones, similar problems have been detected. The Workers` Party Central Committee decided in a plenary meeting in March 2013 to take measures to diversify foreign trade, develop new tourist zones, and build special economic zones suitable for the specific conditions of each province. The Economic Zones Development Act was enacted in May and, as of October 2013, each province is boosting efforts to attract foreign investment and create new economic development zones.

The concept of special economic development zone can be defined as conforming to the “unplanned socialist economy” or the “socialist commodity economy.” But the success of special economic zones needs the three steps that were required to tackle the problems faced by the sub-unit farm management and the autonomous operations of factory enterprises as observed above.

MY NOTES:

This paper is the most comprehensive assessment of the origination and implementation of the DPRK’s “June 28” policies.

The author classifies the June 28 policies as an attempt to transform the DPRK from a system composed of KWP rule + decentralized reform + state ownership of production means to KWP rule + coexistence of market and planned economies + state ownership of production means. This state is called “socialist commodity economy” or “unplanned socialist economy”. The transition involves moving management to enterprises and farms where production is carried out on the basis of contract and state planning.

The plan was carried out by a group under the cabinet led by Ro Tu-chol.

ENTERPRISE SECTOR:
* No more production quotas/Enterprises make own plans and profit distribution
* Raw materials are traded firm to firm via “direct supply centers” (intended to provide nominal state oversight of firm-to-firm transactions)
* Enterprise officials appointed/fired by KWP
*30% profit tax

AGRICULTURE SECTOR
*70/30 split of output (previously state took fixed share regardless of output)
*Smaller collective farm sub ubits
*Smaller private plots and kitchen gardens.

FOOD MANAGEMENT:
*PDS do be abolished but increased control of markets
*Government employees (teachers/doctors) to buy food at “food supply centers” (where all food producers sell supplies).
*military personnel are to buy food at subsidized/fixed price
*”Independent accounting enterprises” (August 3rd?) employees are to be paid in cash and buy food. Enterprises still controlled by state to get rations.

Stephan Haggard wrote about the paper here and here.

All posts on the June 28 policy can be found here.

Share

North Korea’s evaluation of its 2013 economic policy

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

Institute for far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2014-1-3

North Korea concluded that despite international economic sanctions, its economic revitalization policy of 2013 was delivered as planned.

A report on the comprehensive evaluation of North Korean economy was featured in the Choson Sinbo, pro-North Korean newspaper based in Japan, on December 24. It pointed out that although DPRK-US relations worsened and resulted in tougher measures, “it provided the opportunity to mobilize the potential of the national economy.”

It reported that to be ready for a potential war, the farming process at cooperative farms was carried out early from the beginning of the year. In light industry and food industry, “stabilization of people’s lives” was championed as the main slogan in the drive to normalize raw material acquisition and production.

The news also reported, “factories, enterprises and cooperative farms are provided with conditions to conduct independent business activities,” and “economic management method was improved based on the principles that firmly adhere to the socialist economic system and the working mass as the owners of production activities to ensure the roles and responsibilities.”

In other words, the reinforcement of self-supporting system and introduction of a new method of operating a separate garden as a component of cooperative farms resulted in improved production and a 5 to 10 percent increase in the grain harvest per unit against the previous year.

In particular, the news emphasized that “this year is considered as the year of construction,” and boasted the construction of high-rise apartments and various cultural and sports facilities including horse riding tracks and water parks. Especially, Masikryong Ski Resort in Gangwon Province was announced to have gathered national and international attention.

Furthermore, the news recaptured the new policy of parallel “economic construction and nuclear arms development” announced in March 2013 and reported that “despite the hostile forces that concluded that the policy of parallel development was ‘infeasible’, the people are witnessing and feeling the changes taking place in the capital city through the new policy of parallel development that strengthened national defense with reduced cost to fully exert all efforts to rehabilitate the economy.”

In addition, the news also reported on the 13 economic development zones (EDZs) and analyzed that the EDZ policy “laid the foundation for foreign economic development that incorporated the changes in the international situation.”

Meanwhile, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on December 28 that an enlarged meeting for the plenary of the Cabinet was recently opened to discuss the issues of resolving the food crisis through improved agricultural production and new agricultural sector tasks for 2014. This is rare for a Cabinet plenary meeting to be held exclusively to discuss the agricultural issue, as all economic issues are normally handles at this meeting.

Share

DPRK harvest up 5% for third year, but chronic malnutrition persists

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

“Speical Report: FAO/WFP crop and food security assessment mission to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korean”
Read the full report here (PDF)Previous reports here.

According to the UN WFP/FAO Press Release (on Thanksgiving day!):

ROME/PYONGYANG – A nationwide assessment by two United Nations agencies shows an increase in staple food production in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) for the third year running.

The report, however, notes that although rates of child malnutrition have steadily declined over the past 10 years, rates of stunting caused by malnutrition during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life remain high and micronutrient deficiencies are of particular concern.

The joint Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission to the DPRK by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) visited all nine agricultural provinces in late September and early October around the main annual cereal harvest.

Total food production is estimated at about 5.03 million metric tons (including milled rice) in 2013, which is about a 5 percent increase over the previous year. Despite the improved harvest, the food security situation is still unsatisfactory with 84 percent of households having borderline or poor food consumption.

The mission observed immense logistical challenges for the public food distribution system and expressed concerns about the timeliness and consistency of distributions. Markets and informal mechanisms of bartering and other forms of exchange are believed to be of increasing importance for access to food by families, particularly in urban areas.

“Despite continued improvement in agricultural production, the food system in the DPRK remains highly vulnerable to shocks and serious shortages exist particularly in the production of protein-rich foods,” said Kisan Gunjal, FAO economist and co-leader of the mission. “In the interest of increased protein consumption and to reverse the downward trend of soybean production, the price paid to farmers for soybean should be increased.”

Since 1998, WFP in partnership with the government has produced blended fortified foods and nutritious biscuits for children and pregnant or nursing women. WFP has recommended a shift to a new product – Rice Soya Milk Blend – for children in nurseries to reduce stunting and wasting.

“Improving the diversity and quality of food provided through the child institution system is essential to improving children’s nutrition,” said WFP DPRK Country Director Dierk Stegen. “We want to produce Rice Soya Milk Blend but can only do so if we receive sufficient donor support.”

Despite a small reduction in the area planted, overall crop production in 2013/14 is estimated to increase due to generally favourable weather conditions that resulted in a higher rice crop.

The aggregate production from cooperative farms, plots on sloping land and household gardens estimated by the mission includes the 2013 main season harvest and the forecast for 2014 early season crops. Unusually early and heavy rains in July and early August compromised maize and soybean yields but had little effect on paddy.

The report estimated cereal import requirements at 340,000 metric tons for the 2013/14 marketing year (November/October). Assuming the official import target of 300,000 metric tons of cereals is met, there remains an uncovered food deficit of 40,000 metric tons for the current marketing year.

While this food gap is the narrowest in many years, it needs to be bridged either through additional purchases by the government and/or international support to avoid increased undernourishment during the current marketing year.

To improve food security and nutrition, the report recommends national and international support for sustainable farming practices, better price and market incentives for farmers and improvements in farm mechanization.

In nutrition, the report recommends that efforts should go toward improving dietary diversity and feeding practices for young children and women through strategies such as behavioural change, market reform and encouraging livestock and fish production; strengthening treatment of severe and moderate acute malnutrition; and better hygiene and sanitation practices.

ADDITIONAL INFORATION:

1. Here is a follow up report in 38 North by Randall Ireson.

2. Here is coverage in the Wall Street Journal and Assocaited Press.

3. High-Resolution photographs from DPRK can be downloaded here.

 

Share

Recent DPRK wage increases / economic management changes

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share

Report: Korean Workers’ Party sets up Economy Department

Friday, July 12th, 2013

According to Radio Free Asia:

The party has created a centralized department with branches throughout the nation to formulate and oversee policies ranging from appointment of top economic officials to approval of companies and implementation of foreign exchange controls, a source from Jagang province, near the border with China, told RFA’s Korean Service.

The Party’s Department of Economy was set up last month.

“From last June, each [Party] committee in the provinces and cities established a [a branch of the] Department of Economy,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

“It will further strengthen the control and management of the Party,” he said.

The move by the Workers’ Party Central Committee was part of a shakeup within the Party and led to several branches of existing departments being transferred to the Department of Economy, he said.

A source in Yanggang province, also along the Chinese border, told RFA that the newly-formed department would wield as much power as the Department of Organization Management, which oversees the entire Workers’ Party.

“From now on, all officials in charge of economic matters have to be approved by the Department of Economy, while all companies also require approval from the department when they are established, shut down, or merged,” the Yanggang source said.

The Department of Economy also has the power to punish and appoint officials in charge of economic matters, he said, adding that he expects it to become “the strongest department in the Party.”

Even if the North Korean military, judicial agencies, and the Cabinet—or executive branch of the government—seek to establish new units for earning foreign currency or production, they are required to obtain permission in advance from the department, he said.

“Establishing the Department of Economy is related to the so-called ‘reformed economic management system,” the source in Yanggang province said, referring to a new policy announced in June last year which grants individuals greater authority in the distribution of goods.

“It means the Party never wants to lose its control over the economy, even though the ‘reformed system’ takes place everywhere,” he added.

The source said that the lack of central control had led to situations in which bogus companies and organizations were running businesses and generating foreign currency revenue without reporting them, creating a need for the Party to more efficiently oversee these groups.

For example, he said, several companies and restaurants which were established under the guise of being welfare organizations to feed and clothe the poor are really generating foreign currency for the North Korean Cabinet.

But he noted that even as the Department of Economy sought to rein in these businesses, it would inevitably generate conflict within the Party as it grew in power, leading different factions to jockey for control.

“[Some of] the functions of [the Party’s] Department of the Executives and Department of Organization Management were already taken away by the Department of Economy, and also the Department of Administration has seen interference from the department as well,” the source said.

“In the future, the scope of Department of Economy’s activity will surely conflict with other departments of the Workers’ Party.”

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s Workers’ Party Takes Economic Control
Radio Free Asia
Sung Hui Moon
2013-7-12

Share

North Korea making visible progress towards economic reforms

Friday, June 7th, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2013-6-7

Under the new leadership of Kim Jong Un, North Korea has been making gradual changes with new economic measures. Last year, task force was installed at a state level to configure new economic measures and details are being released one by one.

Details confirmed thus far include the authorities of the administrators of cooperative farms and enterprise are being expanded, which include surpluses can be disposed at the discretion of the administrators of individual organizations. This means voluntary incentives can be now paid to workers to increase production.

The North’s key industries of agricultural and industrial sectors were first to implement such change. The AP reported on April 1, the administrators of cooperative farms and factories were granted the discretionary rights for the promotion of production.

Specifically, the cooperative farms installed smaller work units and each unit of the organization are directly responsible for all the harvest. Whereas all the harvest were required to be sent to the state in the past, surpluses are now can be stored, sold, or exchanged with other goods.

In the case of factories and enterprises, worker’s wages were strictly controlled by the state but after the change, each factory and enterprise can now pay incentives to workers depending on the production results.

Professor Ri Ki Song at the North Korea’s Academy of Social Sciences stated, “individual workers are able to work more to earn more,” and “such policy decision was enforced from April 1 after a period of trial operation.”

New economic measures by the cooperative farms, factories and enterprises that granted each organizations the rights to freely dispose its surpluses is analyzed as an effort to increase production by granting incentives to workers. Increased production is expected to attract active participation of the people in the new economic measures, to achieve a ‘virtuous cycle’ in production.

The increase in goods exchanged between people is changing the existing distribution structure. North Korea is making efforts to ease the planned economy structure in commercial and distribution sectors. In other words, the number and variety of products distributed domestically is increasing and the state is intervening to amend the existing distribution system and strengthen the discretion rights of commercial and industrial institutions.

North Korea’s release of this information regarding the new economic measures to AP and other foreign media after it gained the confidence to properly manage the new economic measure from the successful pilot projects of the new economic measures. However, information released to the foreign media is still limited and changes in other areas including banking and finance sectors remain unknown.

Share

DPRK seeks to alter commercial distribution system

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

According to Yonhap:

North Korea is pushing to give greater autonomy to its distribution sector, a senior Pyongyang official said, in what is seen as another sign of the communist country loosening its tight grip on the planned economy.

In an interview with a monthly magazine published by the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), Oh Young-min, a director of the North’s Ministry of Commerce, said the ministry will overhaul the way wholesalers distribute consumer goods.

“Wholesalers will offer information on all goods — those manufactured under a government plan, surplus products and unplanned goods — and deliver them after receiving orders from unspecified retail networks,” Oh said in the June edition of the magazine obtained by Yonhap News Agency on Sunday.

The ministry is drawing up a detailed plan to revolutionize the commerce and distribution network in order to meet the needs of the new century, the official said, adding that an order system should be implemented thoroughly in order to boost the efficiency of the distribution sector.

In a planned socialist economy, an order system refers to one where goods are produced and distributed based on the amount of orders from users.

The North’s push is widely deemed a follow-up on the country’s new economic management system, which was announced in late June last year.
“In line with the June measure, North Korea appears to be seeking a change of course by granting individuals greater authority in the distribution of goods,” said Cho Bong-hyun, an analyst at the IBK Economic Research Institute.

The move to overhaul the distribution system also comes two months after North Korea reportedly gave greater leeway to managers of cooperative farms and factories in an effort to boost production.

Last year’s reform drive is seen as a step forward from the country’s similar reformist efforts in 2002, when wages and rice prices were sharply lifted to match market levels. Increased money supply following the wage and rice price hikes triggered severe inflation, causing the reform drive to fail, according to experts.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea seeks to ease state grip on distribution
Yonhap
2013-6-2

Share

An affiliate of 38 North