Archive for the ‘Statistics’ Category

Regime takes two thirds of worker’s salaries for ‘loyalty funds’

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Daily NK:

As the North Korean authorities shift the financial burden of preparing for the anniversary of North Korea’s establishment on September 9 and the development of the Wonsan-Kalma Marine Tourist Zone, residents are increasingly voicing their complaints over the inherent unfairness of the situation.

“Employees at a joint Sino-North Korean enterprise [name redacted for the safety of the source] located in Rason usually receive 300 yuan (around 50,000 South Korean won) per month, but this month they were only paid 100 yuan,” said a source in North Hamgyong Province on August 6. “Without any prior notice, 200 yuan was taken out of their salaries to be used as funding for regime projects.”

The North Korean authorities have placed great importance on the development of the Wonsan area along with events surrounding the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the nation on September 9. State officials are forcibly taking money from the pockets of ordinary citizens to pay for these projects, according to the source.

“In the past, the state took some money from people’s salaries but never a full two-thirds,” he said. “It’s difficult enough surviving on 200 yuan, so people are very worried about how to survive off a measly 100 yuan.”

One family working at the enterprise typically earns 400 yuan a month but received just 200 yuan this month, he said, explaining that “it’s not enough to even get them through the month […] They have no money saved up and are worried that more money will be taken out of their salaries next month as well.”

Overseas workers are also being forced to contribute part of their salaries to what is referred to as a “loyalty fund.”

“There is money that we have traditionally given to the state each month, but now they have told us we need to give them 2,000 yuan more per month […] Business is difficult these days, which forces us to take money out of our employees’ salaries to pay state officials,” the manager of a North Korean restaurant in China’s Liaoning Province said.

The manager also noted that the authorities were asking for more money to be paid at ever more frequent intervals of time. “Our employees are usually forced to give money [to the loyalty fund] each month, but our employees are up in arms about the amount taken out by the state this month,” the manager said, expressing concern that feelings of discontent among their employees could lead to them running away or even defecting to South Korea.

Full article and source:
Regime takes up to two-thirds of salaries from workers for ‘loyalty funds’
Ha Yoon-ah
Daily NK
2018-08-08

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The economics of coal trade, sanctions, and rice prices in North Korea

Monday, August 6th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

This may just be one piece of anecdotal evidence, but it’s interesting to note that sanctions haven’t necessarily leading to coal exports stopping – as we know from the multitude of evidence that North Korean coal ships have still been making their transport rounds – but primarily to drastically slashed prices, and surely to significantly smaller volumes being shipped as well. This reinforces the point that even if trade continues, sanctions put a large premium on trading with North Korea. Importers of North Korean coals, simply put, have to get charged less because of the risk they’re taking, and those exporting North Korea need to be paid more for the endeavor to be worth it.

(UPDATE on August 12th): I realized I may have read the article – the source that Daily NK spoke with appears to be referring to domestic prices for coal, not export prices. Still, since we know that coal is in fact being exported through various evasion methods (albeit in fairly small quantities, perhaps), the point stands.

The article also makes an interesting point about the market prices for rice. It is remarkable how little prices have changed through the past year, when sanctions have been in place and enforced by China to a much greater extent than before. Still, according to this piece, prices aren’t dropping even though people’s incomes in fact are going down significantly, at least in parts of the country. So it may be that prices were already at or close to the “reservation price” for suppliers, i.e., the lowest point at which they’re willing to sell at all. Hard to confirm or check, but it is a plausible partial explanation for the strange dynamics of market prices in North Korea over the past year.

Daily NK:

As coal exports have slowed to a crawl due to international sanctions, North Korea’s coal country of Kaechon, South Pyongan Province, and Kujang County, North Pyongan Province, have been suffering under intense economic difficulties. Most residents in these areas were dependent on the export of coal and are directly feeling the effects of the trade stagnation.

“When coal was being exported, it went for up to 130,000 won (16 US dollars) a ton, but now due to the sanctions the price has fallen to 50,000 won (around 6 US dollars) a ton […] The coal must be sold for workers to get paid. The halt in  exports has even led to someone starving to death,” said Kim Woo Chul (alias, male resident of Kujang County), who was traveling in China on August 1.

“In April or May this year a fifty-year-old man died of starvation,” he said, nothing that while corn is provided by the government in July and August, “it lasts for less than two months.”

Kim also said that rice is being sold in the market but most people in the region can’t afford it. “Food is not scarce in the Kim Jong Un era, but people have no money so they can’t buy it,” he emphasized. Kim also noted that there were many empty food stands at the markets because demand has fallen due to the lack of money.

Another resident from Kaechon, South Pyongan Province, named Ri Sung Rim (alias) added, “There is a lot of rice at the markets, and people would buy it if they had money, but they don’t have money because coal is not being sold anymore […] People who ran private businesses selling coal are having a particularly bad time and are starving because they can’t even make corn porridge.”

She explained that a small amount of corn is given to those actually producing coal by the state, but teams that are not producing anything receive no food rations. “They have nothing to eat so there are even people who are taking their children and leaving the region,” she said.

The two interviewees also talked about the chronic electricity shortages in North Korea. While Pyongyang and other major cities are supplied with a relatively steady supply, the rural areas receive very little. People cannot watch television because of the lack of electricity, which means that many in these areas only recently found out that Kim Jong Un had met with the leaders of South Korea and the US.

“Electricity is only supplied for an hour or less in Pyongsong, while those who are wealthy siphon off electricity from factories or use car batteries,” said Kim. “Some of the wealthier people use car batteries to watch KCNA on television sets, but most cannot afford that.”

“Production teams get electricity, but residents don’t get electricity in their homes […] Car batteries need to be recharged to supply electricity at home, but there are no places to recharge them. People get them recharged if they know someone at the factories, but they are out of luck otherwise,” Ri said.

“I only found out about Chairman Kim Jong Un visiting China when I visited the country […] People need electricity to see the news and, since they can’t, they don’t know what’s going on.”

Article source:
Export sanctions lead to hard times for those in coal-producing regions
Ha Yoon-ah
Daily NK
2018-08-06

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North Korea warns of humanitarian disaster following heat wave

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reuters:

North Korea on Thursday called for an “all-out battle” against record temperatures that threaten crops in a country already grappling with tough international sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.

North Korea on Thursday called for an “all-out battle” against record temperatures that threaten crops in a country already grappling with tough international sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.

Similar past warnings in state media have served to drum up foreign assistance and boost domestic unity.

“I think the message was a precautionary one to minimize any impact on daily life,” said Dong Yong-seung, who runs Good Farmers, a group based in Seoul, capital of neighboring South Korea, that explores farm projects with the North.

But the mention of unprecedented weather, and a series of related articles, suggest the heat wave could further strain its capacity to respond to natural disasters, said Kim Young-hee, a defector from North Korea and an expert on its economy at Korea Finance Corp in Seoul.

The warning comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced in April a shift in focus from nuclear programs to the economy, and held an unprecedented June summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore.

Since then, the young leader has toured industrial facilities and special economic zones near the North’s border with China, a move experts saw as a bid to spur economic development nationwide.

“He has been highlighting his people-loving image and priority on the economy but the reality is he doesn’t have the institutions to take a proper response to heat, other than opening underground shelters,” added Kim, the economist.

GOOD CROP CONDITIONS

Drought and floods have long been a seasonal threat in North Korea, which lacks irrigation systems and other infrastructure to ward off natural disasters.

Last year, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation warned of the North’s worst drought in 16 years, but late summer rains and privately produced crops helped avert acute shortages.

There appear to be no immediate signs of major suffering in the North, with rice prices stable around 62 U.S. cents per kg through the year to Tuesday, a Reuters analysis of data compiled by the Daily NK website showed.

The website is run by defectors who gather prices through telephone calls to traders in the North, gaining a rare glimpse into the lives of ordinary citizens.

Crops are good this year because there was little flooding to disrupt the early spring planting season, said Kang Mi-jin of the Daily NK, based in Seoul.

“They say nothing remains where water flowed away, but there is something to harvest after the heat,” Kang said, citing defectors. “Market prices are mainly determined by Chinese supplies and private produce, rather than crop conditions.”

The October harvest would reveal any havoc wreaked by the weather, Kim Young-hee added.

Full article and source:
Sanctions-hit North Korea warns of natural disaster brought by heat wave
Hyonhee Shin
Reuters
2018-08-02

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North Korea’s negative growth in 2017: things look bad, unsurprisingly, but take the numbers with a grain of salt

Friday, July 20th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Bank of Korea (BOK) has put out their yearly estimate of North Korea’s GDP trends. This year, they estimate that the country’s GDP decreased by 3.5 percent. Off the top of my head, this seems a fairly reasonable estimate, particularly since sanctions were only in force for a minor part of the year (late fall and onward). Some quick thoughts below:

As always, remember: estimate GDP in North Korea is very, very hard. How do you evaluate, for example, the market sector versus the state sector? Given how complicated and partially opaque North Korea’s system for pricing it, how can a GDP figure even be reasonably estimated? That said, BOK has been doing this for many years, and their figures are, for all their faults and flaws, some of the most reasonable estimates among the few that exist. Still, as one of the leading experts in the field once told a class of grad students studying the Korean economy: if someone gives you a figure on the North Korean economy with a specific decimal number, you can be sure that it’s wrong.

Some news outlets have made a big number of the fact that this contraction is the largest for over two decades, according to the BOK numbers. While that is true, the proportions are very different: in 1997, BOK estimates that the economy contracted by 6.5 percent, that is, almost double the contraction of 2017. So we’re not talking about any crisis nearly as significant as the famine of the 1990s.

BOK estimates a drop by 1.3 percent in agricultural and fisheries production. Notably, still, market prices for food have looked completely normal throughout the year, as this blog has noted several times before. It’s unclear how exactly agricultural production is estimated, and what the “sector” here really means – only what goes into the state-side of agricultural production and supply, or the sale of surplus production on the semi-private markets? The latter may very well be underestimated given how tricky it is to asses what share of agricultural production still lies firmly and solely within the state system.

It’s unclear how much of the shortfall in electricity production is compensated for by items like solar panels and other forms of electricity generation increasingly prevalent on the ground. Many have noted the various creative ways in which much of the North Korean population already adapts to the shortfall and unreliability of public supply of electricity.

The estimated trade numbers are very dire but also probably approximately realistic. Though the 37 percent shortfall in exports may be an overestimate given that they (presumably) don’t account for smuggling, it is undeniable that the economy is taking a very large hit from sanctions. People who recently visited the Chinese border speak of very low levels of activity in goods transports and the like. This gives cause for some skepticism toward the reports claiming that Chinese sanctions enforcement has gone much more lax lately: it may well have, but that hardly means the doors are flung open. At the same time, imports went up 1.8 percent. Either China is letting North Korea run a trade deficit which they assume they’ll get back once sanctions are eased, or the regime has much more currency stashed away to pay with the goods for than many have thought. The truth may lie somewhere in the middle there.

 

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Kim Jong-un and deforestation

Monday, July 16th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Kim Jong-un is clearly aware of, and engaged in, the forestry issue, which not least his visits in July show. North Korea’s forestry situation is dire and has vast environmental and economic consequences. He gave an interesting speech on it in 2015. Here’s a recent article by Daily NK on the role of the forestry issue, and what can reasonably be done:

Citizens of poorer countries typically focus their energy on subsistence agriculture in order to survive. In North Korea, this focus has widely occurred at the expense of environmental issues, with many in the country viewing environmentalism as a “luxury.”

However, there will likely be an increase in environmental awareness when the economy improves through reforms and opening. Increases in personal income levels will allow the population to pay more attention to and seek ways to address environmental issues.

North Korea has experienced severe environmental destruction over the past 70 years. Widespread logging has left barren vistas throughout the country, exemplifying the poor state of North Korea’s natural environment and serving as a stark reminder of the economic, technological and societal factors at play.

The Korea Forest Research Institute (KFRI) in South Korea has published satellite images showing the extent of North Korea’s environmental destruction. According to the data, forests once covered 9,160,000 hectares of North Korean territory, with 2,840,000 hectares of this forest area now destroyed. This means that 32% of North Korea’s total forest area has been wiped out, an area 46 times the size of the city of Seoul.

The regime has paid very little attention to environmental conservation and as a result the country frequently suffers massive loss of human life due to landslides and other natural disasters.

Recently, however, there are signs that the North Korean government is paying more attention to the fate of its forests. In early July, Kim Jong Un, during an on-site visit to a reed branch farm in North Pyongan Province and the Sinuiju Chemical Textile Factory, which produces paper and textiles with reeds, located around Sinuiju, commented on the insufficient supply of paper and called for support for paper companies making paper out of reeds (as opposed to wood).

North Korea’s paper industry is almost completely dependent on using pulp, which is made out of wood. Pulp is made by mixing water with wood sourced from coniferous trees. Pulp contains lignin and other elements which makes it relatively practical during the manufacturing process, but because it can easily change color it cannot be used for high-quality paper. Instead, it is commonly used for newspapers.

The Rodong Sinmun and other state propaganda materials are almost all made out of paper produced from pulp.

North Korea created the 121 Cooperative Enterprise under the management of the Korean Workers’ Party’s Financial Administration Department to produce paper for the Rodong Sinmun. This enterprise operates a network of tree harvesting companies based throughout the country that fell thousands of trees each year.

The trees are then transported from forests near the Amnok River, Chongchun River and Duman River to Kilju, Sinuiju and Anju where they are made into pulp and finally turned into paper for newspapers at the 121 Paper Factory in Anju, South Pyongan Province. Most of the wood harvested each year in North Korea is used for newspapers or other government projects and amounts to significant volumes.

The destruction of the country’s forests has increased annually and most of it is due to the activities of the North Korean government.

North Korea has recently paid more attention to the preservation of its natural environment, and a welcome sign is that the country is making more paper out of reeds than wood. However, the country lacks the technical ability to assess its own environmental issues and has not put in place the proper systems to take advantage of production methods that are cleaner and more efficient.

North Korea has long had notional policies to protect its environment. The country’s environmental protection agency was made independent from the Ministry of Security in the late 1980s and became the “Ministry of Land and Environment Protection.” In April 1998, as the rest of the government shrank in size due to the economic crisis, this ministry was expanded and turned into a full government ministry. The ministry was instrumental in helping environmental protection and management practices become more systematic through the establishment of forestry administration offices, nurseries, and forest monitoring centers under each of the country’s provincial governments.

These organizations designated a period of mass mobilization each spring and fall for citizens to plant trees and conduct activities related to the prevention of landslides and mudslides. Ironically, however, North Korea’s forests have been degraded even further despite these efforts. This is largely due to the fact that the government still relies heavily on wood products.

North Korea’s policy of self-sufficiency in the economic sphere has continued to raise the country’s dependence on wood and led to accelerating deforestation throughout the country, which in turn leads to greater destruction arising from natural disasters.

Mountainous areas and those near rivers suffer the most from deforestation. Areas without trees can experience massive mudslides, even after only receiving light rainfall.

Daily NK sources recently reported that significant loss of human life and destruction of property occurred during a landslide following rainfall near a dam construction site in North Pyongan Province. The sources said that deforestation that had occurred near the construction site was to blame.

The construction of power plants and roads typically leads to the complete deforestation of mountains nearby. The state is unable to provide the wood required for construction, and so construction workers must find a way to handle the lack of materials themselves. They have little choice but to cut down trees near the construction site.

North Korea is now focusing on the construction of massive dams as a way to increase its energy supply. This construction is leading to the deforestation of nearby forest areas.

Deforestation enacts a heavy toll on North Korea’s economy and its population is becoming more concerned about its effects. Many complain that the deforestation is damaging their own ability to lead happy lives.

North Korea is faced with a whole slew of issues: lack of energy for its citizens; the lack of economic power to deal with its environmental problems; and a planned economy that has only hampered economic development. The country must, however, implement more environmentally-friendly economic policies before further damage occurs.

The North Korean government must address the social, technological, economic and market-related factors that drive deforestation. They must also be open to assistance from abroad so that their attempts to prevent further deforestation and protect existing forests are successful.

Article source:
Kim Jong Un wants to stop deforestation, but can he?
Jo Hyon
Daily NK
2018-07-16

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Fuel prices are dropping in North Korea, and that’s a little odd

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

As in the rest of the country, gas prices continue to fall in Pyongyang, data from NK Pro shows, but remains much higher than the closest available month of 2017.

At the same time, recent figures from China state that its exports of refined fuel products to North Korea continues to remain well below the ceiling mandated by UN sanctions. Asia Press reports a slight increase of diesel prices in Yanggang and North Hamgyong provinces, but it’s a fairly minor one and the data by NK Pro and Daily NK still represents more data points. So what’s a plausible explanation here?

My best guess is that it’s a combination of increased smuggling, perhaps aided by China’s declining vigilance in enforcing sanctions and restrictions against illicit trade across the border. Gas prices shot up last spring when China decided to drastically cut sales of fuel products to North Korea, citing financial reasons (that North Korea wouldn’t be able to pay), but the decision was very likely influenced by political considerations as well. Now with the multitude of summits between Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping, and Kim and Trump, China’s willingness to enforce sanctions with the same vigor as it did through the second half of 2017 and the first half of 2018 has likely waned, impacting matters like fuel prices as well. It also seems plausible that fairly small changes in supply could change prices quite drastically, since North Korea already consumes a relatively small amount of gasoline and diesel on the whole.

Another possibility is that Chinese flows of unrefined oil through the pipeline in northwestern North Korea, through Dandong and Sinuiju, have increased. These aren’t monitored in the same way as Chinese sales of refined fuel to North Korea, and as far as I know, could be increased without the international community easily noticing. These oil flows also aren’t part of regular trade between the countries, and should be regarded more as Chinese financial support to North Korea.

My best bet would be on a combination of these two factors, but there’s obviously much we don’t know about the development.

Update 2018-07-15: NK News reports some US government data seeming to hint at what’s been going on. At least 89 hip-to-ship transfers occurred between January and May, in violation of UNSC sanctions:

North Korea likely conducted at least 89 ship-to-ship transfers to illicitly obtain refined petroleum products between January 1 and May 30, U.S. data provided to the United Nations and seen by NK News on Friday claims.

Pyongyang may have illegally imported up to 1,367,628 barrels of refined petroleum as a result of the transfers, upper-end estimates suggested, over double the 500,000 barrels authorized for export to North Korea each year by current UN sanctions.

Consequently, the U.S. recommended that the UN 1718 sanctions committee issue a “public note verbale to all UN Member States to inform them that the DPRK has breached the UNSCR 2397 OP5 refined petroleum product quota for 2018,” and that all countries should “order an immediate halt to all transfers of refined petroleum products to the DPRK.”

Since the May 30 data cut-off, the Japanese government has revealed details surrounding three extra cases of North Korean vessels caught conducting likely ship-to-ship transfers, with two on June 21 and June 22, and one on June 29.

Article source:
N. Korea likely conducted 89 illicit ship-to-ship transfers in 2018: U.S. data
Chad O’Carrol
NK News
2018-07-13

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China’s exports of fuel to North Korea below UN sanctions ceiling

Friday, July 6th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Between January and May, Chinese imports of refined oil products did not go over the ceiling mandated by UN sanctions, reports Voice of America (in Korean):

중국이 올해 1월부터 5월까지 북한에 제공한 정제유가 유엔이 정한 상한선의 한 달 허용치 수준에 그친 것으로 나타났습니다. 이 정도 수준을 유지한다면 유엔이 정한 정제유 수출 한도를 넘지 않을 것이라는 지적입니다. 김현진 기자가 보도합니다.

중국이 올해 1월부터 5월까지 북한에 정제유 5천921t을 공급한 것으로 나타났습니다.

유엔 안보리 산하 대북제재위원회 (1718 위원회) 홈페이지에 따르면 중국은 1월 201t, 2월 1천 392t, 3월 2천438t, 4월 437t, 5월 1천451t을 북한에 공급했다고 유엔에 보고했습니다.

5개월 총공급량을 배럴로 환산하면, 약 4만7천400 배럴로 유엔이 설정한 한 달 허용치를 조금 넘는 수준에 불과합니다. 연간 대북 정유공급 제한 50만 배럴을 12개월로 나누면 한 달에 4만 1천 배럴 정도입니다.

유엔 안보리는 지난해 12월 채택한 대북결의 2397호를 통해 북한으로 유입이 가능한 정제유의 상한선을 연간 50만 배럴로 정했습니다. 이전 결의가 상한선으로 정했던 200만 배럴에 비해 75%가 줄어든 것입니다.

아울러 올해 1월부터 각국이 북한에 판매하거나 제공한 원유와 정제유 양과 금액을 보고하도록 했습니다.

대북제재 전문가인 윌리엄 브라운 조지타운대학 교수는 중국이 올해 초부터 5월까지 북한에 제공한 정제유는 극히 소량으로, 유엔 결의를 잘 지키고 있는 것으로 보인다고 말했습니다.

[녹취: 브라운 교수] “The recent data provided to the UN from China suggest that they exported about 40,000 barrels to the North Korea in the first 5 months, that well below UN sanction limit…..”

또 올해 남은 기간 동안 이 정도 수준을 유지한다면 유엔이 정한 정제유 수출 한도를 넘지 않을 것으로 보인다고 말했습니다.

브라운 교수는 특히 김정은 국무위원장이 중국을 방문했던 5월 중국이 북한에 제공한 정제유도 소량에 불과했다고 지적했습니다.

[녹취: 브라운 교수] “The month after Kim’s visit to Beijing, China is still only shipping very small amount of refined products and it is still obeying the UN sanctions, according to China. But actually it’s very important that China is telling the world it is still obeying the sanctions… ”

자료에 따르면 중국은 5월 1천451t의 정제유 제품을 북한에 공급했습니다. 전 달 437t을 공급한 것에 비해 3배 이상 늘었지만, 지난 해 같은 기간6천400t에 비해 77% 감소한 규모입니다.

배럴로 환산해도 1만1천608배럴로 한 달 허용치에 크게 못 미치는 수준에 불과합니다.

앞서 헤더 노어트 국무부 대변인은 29일 폼페오 국무장관과 왕이 중국 외교부장과의 전화통화 소식을 전하면서, 폼페오 장관은 유엔이 금지하는 선박 환적을 통한 북한의 불법적인 석탄 수출과 정제유 수입과 관련한 유엔 안보리의 모든 대북 결의안에 대한 전면적 이행의 중요성을 강조했다고 전했습니다.

한편 올해 북한에 들어간 전체 정제유를 월별로 보면 1월, 569.62t에서 2월 3천274t으로 크게 늘었고 3월에는 1천t 이상 증가한 4천337t을 기록했습니다. 4월에는 437t으로 급감했다가 5월에는 다시 1천451t으로 세 배 이상 증가했습니다.

올해 1월부터 5월까지 북한에 수출된 정제유는 총 1만66t으로 집계됐습니다.

중국이5천921t, 러시아가 4천148t을 각각 북한에 제공했다고 신고했습니다. 중국과 러시아 외에 북한에 석유제품을 공급했다고 신고한 나라는 없습니다.

올해 북한에 수출된 정제유를 배럴로 환산하면 8만532 배럴로, 상한선의 15% 수준에 머물고 있습니다.

Article source:
유엔 “중국, 올 1~5월 북한에 정제유 5,921t 공급”…유엔 제재 상한선 크게 못 미쳐
Kim Hyun-jin
Voice of America
2018-07-06

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The calm throughout the storm: North Korean market prices in May 2018

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Daily NK just released their market price index for May 29th. With that, we get a pretty clear picture of the market situation for the full month of May.

So, what’s new? Not much, and that is newsworthy in its own right. Throughout the period of so-called “maximum pressure” in economic sanctions pushed by the Trump administration, North Korean market prices have, save for some months of a shaky diesel market, remained remarkably stabile. This trend continued in May.

Overall, average rice prices for May, in three North Korean cities, was 5041 won per kg. The average USD-exchange rate for the same period was 8061 won for $1. For a simple point of comparison, the average three-city rice price for late April 2017 was 4900 won/kg, and for USD, 8057 won/$1. For early June, rice cost 5228/kg, and for USD, 8026 won/$1. That prices are climbing is fully natural given that we’re approaching the so-called “lean season”, when North Korea is at the furthest point from the last harvest, and closest to the coming one.

How these relatively stabile prices are maintained is still very much a mystery. I maintain that if “maximum pressure” was truly all-encompassing, it would be very unlikely for at least foreign currency prices not to be impacted. The government may be keeping market prices stabile by adding to the supply of food and foreign exchange from their own coffers, and in the case of the foreign exchange rate, by contracting the supply of won by drawing down on credit supply to state enterprises, for example. But news of economic management at this scale would likely have been reported by at least one of the many outlets that regularly publish economic news from North Korea sourced from people inside the country. As things stand right now, there’s much we don’t know, but if the North Korean economy is truly in a crisis mode, market prices aren’t reflecting such a state of affairs.

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What North Korea’s 2017 budget report and 2018 projections tell us about its economy

Monday, April 16th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

What could be better on a rainy Sunday (at least for those of us on the U.S. east coast) than to delve a little deeper into North Korea’s 2017 budget reporting? I don’t have as much time as I would wish at the moment to give the topic the attention it deserves, so I would advise readers who wish to do more research on their own to use Ruediger Frank’s previous writing on the topic as a guide to making sense of the most recent budget report (see, for example, here, and here), in combination with information about the budget report itself.

Before delving into some points from the report, here’s the usual mantra about figures from North Korea: numbers should never be taken as exact, and their reliability is sketchy at best. It is impossible to tell for sure what is propaganda and what is actual, realistic information, and all figures should be taken as indicative only.

With that out of the way, here are some observations, in no particular order:

The economy has grown, according to North Korea’s own figures, but by less than previous yearsThat is, if you take Ruediger Frank’s view that growth of state budget revenue is a proxy for overall economic growth, which went up by 4.9 from the previous year. This is significantly lower than the past few year’s estimates and results, so in a way, it’s an admission of a real decrease in economic performance. Thus, it is an admission of sorts that the economy isn’t doing all that well at the moment. There are several potential reasons for this figure (which, again, may not even be true or accurate). Recall that exports only started dropping in any drastic sense from early fall last year, when Chinese sanctions enforcement began.

For 2018, the “envisaged” growth rate is much lower, at 3.2 percent. Perhaps this, too, is overtly optimistic given how difficult things seem at the moment. Or perhaps it’s a realistic anticipation of a real downturn, but no disaster.

The budget report recognizes that a significant share of economic activity occurs out of the central government’s handsThough North Korean publications do not explicitly recognize private economic activity, they’re less and less shy about talking quite openly about key facets of the marketized system. Frank pointed out previously, for example, that budgetary items such as revenues from provinces, according to some, essentially represent incomes from the non-centrally planned share of the economy. If this interpretation is correct, over a quarter of economic production (26.1%) is openly admitted by Pyongyang to be out of central planning hands. The share may well be more than the double of that in reality, depending on how you count. In any case, the budget report – and this isn’t new at all, I should point out – recognizes that a significant share of the economy is out of central government hands: “[…] 도,시,군들에서 자체의 수입으로 지출을 맞추고 많은 자금을 중앙예산에 들여놓을것으로 예견하였다 (Provinces, cities and counties are expected to balance expenditure with their own revenue and contribute lots of funds to the central budget)”.

The state foresees continued growth from private and semi-private enterprise revenue next yearTo see why, consider two budget posts that may appear especially peculiar for a nominally socialist economy: the social insurance fee (사회보험료수입금) and the real estate rent (부동산사용료수입금). The income from the former is expected to grow by 1.2 and 1.8 percent respectively. Revenues from the transaction tax (거래수입금) anticipated to grow by 2.5 percent. These, too, have been mentioned in previous budget reports so their appearance per se is not new. Information about what exactly they are is rather tricky to come by, and I’m grateful to my good friend and colleague Peter Ward for sending me excerpts from a 2010 North Korean dictionary (광명백과사전) on the social insurance and real estate rent fees.

The social insurance fee, basically, is just what it sounds like: a fee charged from “socialist organs and factories” as well as individual worker’s earnings, to help guarantee a decent life for “people who loose their ability to work [로동능력을 잃은 사람]” as well as the elderly and others in need. The real estate usage fee is explained as a revenue from “socialist organs and factories” charged in order for the government to maintain the quality and standard of its property, i.e., its buildings and land (which technically is all the land and all the buildings in the country). In other words, this is a fee charged to enterprises in a general sense, it seems. Both the social insurance fee and the real estate usage fee are probably best thought of as general revenue streams for the government, rather than income later used for a specific purpose. The transaction tax was first mentioned in the budget report for 2011, and is most likely a form of general tax on enterprise activity.

Again, these revenue flows are not new, and neither is their reporting. But fact that these revenue channels are institutionalized parts of the official economy say something about how far North Korea has gone from the Stalinist economic model, even nominally speaking. In a fully planned economy, there would be no need for fees or taxes (and indeed, North Korea claims to be a tax-free society) because all production would be planned, and its results collected in full and distributed by the state. Fees and taxes are only necessary when economic production occurs outside of state hands, which likely about half or more of economic activity in North Korea does.

Conclusion

No reader should take this post to mean that the North Korean economy is doing well, improving, or remains untouched by sanctions. Politically, it would likely be very tough for the state to report a major downturn in a year of such scaled-up sanctions and international pressure. But the overall assessment, that things are getting tougher but are not yet catastrophic in any way, may well be accurate. The question is how long it can go on this way, and it seems to me that economic projections for 2018 may well be more optimistic than they should be. Of course, with China’s sanctions enforcement reportedly letting up in some respects, there might be more cause for optimism than we realize.

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North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly Session: Economic reporting

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

On April 11th, 2018, North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament held a session in Pyongyang. Some news media has focused on Kim Jong-un’s absence from the session, but some interesting reporting on the economic situation came out of the session as well. Here are the key points on the economy (from KCNA on April 12th, with my annotation and emphasis added):

Deputy Pak Pong Ju, premier of the Cabinet, delivered a report on the fulfillment of the work of the Cabinet for Juche 106 (2017) for carrying out the five-year strategy for national economic development and its tasks for Juche 107 (2018) at the Sixth Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly held on Wednesday.

Last year was a year of great victory in which a great progress had been made in carrying out the five-year strategy for the national economic development under the outstanding and seasoned guidance of the respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, repelling unprecedentedly grave challenges stemming our advance, the reporter said.

According to the report, last year the Cabinet organized a drive for putting the nation’s overall economy on a higher stage with a main emphasis put on revitalizing the production by locally producing equipment, raw and other materials on the principle of self-support and self-sufficiency while focusing the state efforts on augmenting the foundation for electricity production, rounding off the system of Juche iron production and realizing the independence of chemical industry in line with the five-year strategy for national economic development set forth by the Party.

Note the emphasis here on local production, the expansion of which has been a key policy under Kim Jong-un.

The achievements made last year, a year of crucial importance in carrying out the five-year strategy for national economic development, proved once again that no desperate sanctions and pressure moves of the U.S. and its vassal forces to destroy the sovereignty of the DPRK and its rights to existence and development can ever check the progress of the Korean people dynamically advancing with firm faith in the validity of their cause and its final victory under the wise guidance of the Party and that the cause of building a powerful socialist country is sure to be accomplished.

Saying that this year we are faced with the tasks to make a breakthrough of revitalization in the economic front as a whole while frustrating the challenges of the hostile forces, who are making last-ditch efforts, through all-people offensive under the militant slogan of “Let us launch a revolutionary general offensive to achieve fresh victory on all fronts of building a powerful socialist country!”, the reporter specified them.

The fighting goals for the third year of the five-year strategy for national economic development should be attained without fail with a firm hold on the key tasks of strengthening the independence and Juche character of the national economy and improving the standard of people’s living.

The power industrial sector should put defective generating equipment into good shape and reinforce them, take scientific and technological measures for lowering the standard of coal consumption at thermal power plants and put the operation of generating equipment additionally installed at the Pukchang Thermal Power Complex on a normal track and thus increase the electricity production with the use of thermal power source onto a high stage.

The emphasis on independent electricity consumption makes a lot of sense, particularly as North Korea’s oil and fuel imports are being squeezed. But it’s a problem going back much, much further than the past year’s sanctions.

The coal industrial field should attain the monthly and quarterly coal production goals and create more coal fields so as to fully meet the demand for coal increasing in different sectors of the national economy.

Note: the national economy. The dependence on revenues from coal exports has been a problem, and one side-effect of sanctions may be that domestic industries get access to more and cheaper coal.

In the field of metal industry, Korean-style Juche-based iron making production system should be further perfected by the use of oxygen heat blast furnace and efforts be put into improving the quality of steel and diversifying the kinds of steels through introduction of advanced technologies so as to fully meet the demand for iron and steel of the national economy.

Again, national economy. Diversification is also an important and long-standing goal, and North Korea has long sought to not just export raw materials, but manufacture and sell more of end-products as well.

The field of chemical industry should unconditionally hit the fertilizer production target to timely provide nitrogenous fertilizer to the agricultural field ahead of farming processes. The production at the February 8 Vinalon Complex should be invigorated to fully supply various chemical products including vinalon, caustic soda and vinyl chloride to various sectors of the national economy.

Vinalon…Good luck.

Along with the establishment of various catalyst production bases, the construction of main production processes should be pushed forward at the Sunchon Phosphate Fertilizer Factory and the process for production of carbonate of soda with glauberite as starting raw material should be renovated and perfected.

The machine industrial sector has to step up the modernization of machine factories, unconditionally hit the target for production of tractors and trucks and put the quality of machinery on the world level.

Advanced mining methods should be widely introduced to increase the production of minerals and nonferrous metal.

The railway transport sector should ensure in a responsible manner the transportation of materials necessary for various sectors of the national economy and capital construction projects.

The Cabinet will bring about a remarkable turn in improving the standard of people’s living through production surge in the fields of light industry, agriculture and fisheries this year.

Equipment and production processes should be rearranged on a manpower-saving and electricity-saving basis, diverse and quality light industrial goods produced on a larger quantity with locally available raw and other materials, and local economy should be developed in a peculiar way with reliance on the domestic resources.

High-yielding farming methods should be positively introduced and the proportion of farm work done by machines should be drastically increased to attain the grain production goal for this year without fail.

The fisheries field should unconditionally hit the fish production target and at the same time finish the construction of projects for consolidating the material and technical foundation of fisheries ahead of schedule.

Big efforts should be directed to sprucing up Samjiyon County into a standard and model county under socialism and the construction of the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist area should be finished within specified date. And such capital construction projects as the Tanchon Power Station and the second-phase waterway project in South Hwanghae Province should be pushed forward.

The rate of rooting of saplings should be ensured at more than 90 percent through efficient tree planting and meticulous cultivation of planted trees and the appearance of the country be bettered through the technical renovation and repairing of highways and tourist roads in a qualitative way and the rearrangement of key rivers and streams based on an all-people movement.

All the sectors and units should solve the sci-tech problems arising in completing the domestic production of materials and equipment and the structure of self-supporting economy with firm reliance on science and technology.

The reporter stressed that the Cabinet and other state economic guidance organs would work out in a practical way an operation plan for hitting this year’s targets and push forward its implementation in a responsible manner through skillful operation and command to successfully attain the fighting goals set forth by the Party and thus fully discharge their responsibility and duty in glorifying this year marking the 70th anniversary of the DPRK as a year of victory to be specially recorded in the history of the country.

I don’t have time to add more commentary right now, but will hopefully be able to return to this later. Below is KCNA’s rendition of the state budget report on last year and this year and there’s lots of interesting stuff to discuss here:

Deputy Ki Kwang Ho, minister of Finance, made a report on the fulfillment of state budget for Juche 106 (2017) and on the state budget for Juche 107 (2018) of the DPRK at the 6th Session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly held on Wednesday.

According to the report, last year the state budgetary revenue plan was over-fulfilled by 1.7 percent or 4.9 percent increase from the previous year.

The local budgetary revenue plan was carried out at 100.5 percent.

Last year the state budgetary expenditure plan was carried out at 99.8 percent.

15.8 percent of the total expenditure was earmarked for the increasing of the military capabilities of the country and 47.7 percent for the development of the national economy.

Investment in the field of science and technology increased 8.5 percent as over the previous year, thus contributing to settling the scientific and technological problems arising in the economic development and to accomplishing the tasks for studying ultra-modern field.

5.2 percent more fund was allocated to key sectors of the national economy and for the improvement of people’s livelihood than the previous year, thus actively promoting the drive for putting power, coal, metal, chemical, machinery and light industrial fields on a Juche basis and updating their production processes. In particular, it helped build a Korean-style oxygen heat blast furnace at the Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex and attain the goal of producing new type tractors and trucks.

2.6 percent more investment was made for the construction field than the previous year, while 36.3 percent of the total expenditure was directed to facilitating the building of a highly-civilized socialist power, thus contributing to the implementation of the Party’s policies of prioritizing the education and health care and to the development of sports and literature and arts.

According to the report, the state budgetary revenue and expenditure for this year have been shaped in such a way as to carry out the five-year strategy for the national economic development.

The state budgetary revenue envisages 3.2 percent increase over last year, of which the transaction tax, key item of the budgetary revenue, is expected to swell 2.5 percent while the profits from state enterprises is expected to grow 3.6 percent, to hold 85.3 percent of the total revenue.

The income from cooperative organizations is expected to grow 0.9 percent, the real estate rent 1.8 percent, the social insurance fee 1.2 percent, while the revenue from property sales and price differences is to grow 0.5 percent and other revenue 0.8 percent. The revenue from economic trade zones is expected to increase 2.5 percent.

The central budgetary revenue out of the state budgetary revenue stands at 73.9 percent which means that the revenue from the central economy holds an overwhelming proportion. Provinces, cities and counties are expected to balance expenditure with their own revenue and contribute lots of funds to the central budget.

The state budgetary expenditure is to grow 5.1 percent over last year’s.

An investment in strengthening the independence and Juche character of the national economy and improving the standard of people’s living will increase 4.9 percent as against last year and thus relevant fund will go to 47.6 percent of the total expenditure.

An investment in the field of science and technology will increase 7.3 percent.

Expenditure for the overall national economy including power, metal, coal, chemical and machine industries, railway transport, light industry, agriculture and fisheries will increase 5.5 percent.

The financing necessary for actively promoting the capital construction and further expanding the achievements of forest restoration campaign will swell 4.9 percent.

5.9 percent more fund will go to the education field, 6 percent more fund to public health, 5.1 percent more to sports field and 3 percent more to literature and art.

15.9 percent of the total expenditure will go to increasing the military capabilities for self-defence.

This year also, lots of educational aid fund and stipends will be sent for the children of Koreans in Japan.

The reporter said that the state budget for this year will be successfully carried out through meticulous organization of economic operation and command and thus financially back the building of a powerful socialist country.

(UPDATE 4-15-2018: Korean original for the budget report added below, date fixed above):

지난해 국가예산집행의 결산과 올해 국가예산에 대한 보고

(평양 4월 12일발 조선중앙통신)

11일에 진행된 최고인민회의 제13기 제6차회의에서 조선민주주의인민공화국 주체106(2017)년 국가예산집행의 결산과 주체107(2018)년 국가예산에 대한 재정상 기광호대의원의 보고가 있었다.

보고에 의하면 지난해 국가예산수입계획은 101.7%로 수행되였으며 전해에 비하여 104.9%로 장성하였다.

지방예산수입계획은 100.5%로 수행되였다.

지난해 국가예산지출계획은 99.8%로 집행되였다.

나라의 군력강화에 지출총액의 15.8%를 돌렸으며 인민경제발전에 지출총액의 47.7%를 돌리였다.

과학기술부문에 대한 투자를 전해에 비하여 108.5%로 늘여 경제발전에서 제기되는 과학기술적문제들을 해결하고 첨단분야의 연구과제를 완성하는데 기여하였다.

인민경제의 중요부문과 인민생활향상에 전해에 비하여 105.2%로 늘어난 자금을 지출하여 전력,석탄,금속,화학,기계,경공업부문의 주체화와 생산공정의 현대화를 적극 추동하였으며 특히 김책제철련합기업소에 우리 식의 산소열법용광로를 건설하고 새형의 뜨락또르와 화물자동차생산목표를 점령하는데 이바지하였다.

건설부문에 전해에 비하여 102.6%로 투자를 늘이였다.

사회주의문명강국건설을 앞당기는데 지출총액의 36.3%를 돌려 당의 교육중시,보건중시정책을 관철하고 체육과 문학예술을 발전시키는데 이바지하였다.

보고에 의하면 올해 국가예산은 국가경제발전 5개년전략수행의 요구에 맞게 국가예산수입과 지출을 편성하였다.

국가예산수입은 지난해보다 103.2%로 장성할것으로 예견하였으며 그가운데서 예산수입의 기본항목인 거래수입금은 102.5%로,국가기업리익금은 103.6%로 늘어나 수입총액의 85.3%를 차지할것으로 보았다.

협동단체리익금은 100.9%,부동산사용료는 101.8%,사회보험료는 101.2%,재산판매 및 가격편차수입은 100.5%,기타수입은 100.8%,경제무역지대수입은 102.5%로 늘어나게 된다.

국가예산수입에서 중앙예산수입은 73.9%로서 중앙경제에 의한 수입이 압도적비중을 이루며 도,시,군들에서 자체의 수입으로 지출을 맞추고 많은 자금을 중앙예산에 들여놓을것으로 예견하였다.

국가예산지출은 지난해에 비하여 105.1%로 장성하게 된다.

인민경제의 자립성과 주체성을 강화하고 인민생활을 개선향상시키기 위한 투자를 지난해에 비하여 104.9%로 장성시켜 지출총액의 47.6%에 해당한 자금을 돌리게 된다.

과학기술부문에 대한 투자를 107.3%로 늘인다.

전력,금속,석탄,화학,기계공업과 철도운수,경공업,농업,수산업을 비롯한 인민경제전반에 대한 지출을 105.5%로 늘인다.

중요대상건설을 적극 추진하고 산림복구전투의 성과를 더욱 확대해나가는데 필요한 자금보장을 104.9%로 늘이게 된다.

교육부문에 105.9%,보건부문에 106%,체육부문에 105.1%,문학예술부문에 103%로 투자를 늘인다.

자위적국방력을 강화하는데 지출총액의 15.9%를 돌리게 된다.

올해에도 재일동포자녀들을 위하여 많은 교육원조비와 장학금을 보내준다.

보고자는 경제작전과 지휘를 빈틈없이 짜고들어 올해 국가예산을 성과적으로 집행함으로써 사회주의강국건설을 재정적으로 안받침해나갈것이라고 강조하였다. (끝)

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