New business and economics related majors established in top universities in North Korea

March 28th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2014-3-27

It has been confirmed that many major universities in North Korea, including Kim Il Sung University, have recently established new departments relating to business and economics. Under the Kim Jong Un regime’s national goal of constructing an economically powerful nation, the addition of these business-related departments can be interpreted as a move to develop and foster the training of individuals who will lead North Korean economic development.

The Choson Sinbo, a news outlet published by the pro-North Korean General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, introduced some of these newly established departments in an article on March 22, 2014, stating that steps are being taken to strengthen the nation’s higher education system.

According to the newspaper, a department for International Economics has been opened at Kim Il Sung University, and the Pyongyang Jang Chol Gu University of Commerce now offers newly established programs in Hotel Management and Hotel Services. Additionally, the Jong Jun Taek University of Economics (formerly known as the Wonsan University of Economics) has installed several new departments, such as Tourism Economics, Insurance Studies, Pricing Studies, and Economic Law.

The addition of these international business, hotel and tourism departments stands out as part of North Korea’s recent efforts to strengthen their economy through the attraction of foreign investments and the development of the tourism industry.

The Choson Sinbo also stated that universities in the rural areas have changed their names to better suit the different types of scientists and technicians that they are training. For example, Sinuiju Light Industry University is now known as the Pyongbuk Institute of Technology, and Haeju Light Industry University has changed its name to the Hwangnam Institute of Technology.

This can be interpreted as a movement to promote “balanced growth” by creating a focal point for the development of talented individuals not only in light industry, but across all fields and industries. It is expected that these individuals will take the lead in developing the economies of North Korea’s rural regions.

Other newly emerging departments include Computer Hardware Engineering and Intelligence Engineering Program at Pyongyang University of Computer Technology, Geothermal Engineering at Pyongsong Coal Industry College, and Forest Construction and Heating Systems at Hamhung Hydrographic and Power College. Other additional departments include the Industry of Fine Arts and Commercial Fine Arts at the Pyongyang University of Printing Engineering, and various medical schools have seen the creation of a Recovery Medicines department.

The addition of these departments is a reflection of North Korea’s recent emphasis on the development of renewable energy systems and industrial design, such as geothermal heat.

The Choson Sinbo added that North Korea has also expanded its distance learning system, utilizing their information network to establish cyber colleges at Kim Il Sung University, Pyongyang University of Architecture, and Wonsan University of Agriculture this past January. Additional departments for distance learning were also reported to have been established at the Kim Hyong Jik University of Education.

According to the newspaper, distance learning is being developed for all classes of workers, and it is expected to revitalize the industry by fostering the growth of talented individuals from many fields, including agriculture and construction.

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Fertilizer imports up to Feb 2014

March 28th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

The North brought in 13,769 tons of Chinese fertilizer in February, a whopping 13 times more than some 1,064 tons from a year earlier, according to the data compiled by the Korean Rural Economic Institute (KREI).

In the first two months of the year, Pyongyang imported 48,882 tons of Chinese fertilizer, which is far higher than 1,066 tons from the same period a year earlier, the data showed.

“The 2013 figure is unprecedented, as the North used to buy a limited amount in the winter season. It seems to be very proactive in securing fertilizer long ahead of its usual schedule, and that indicates farm output improvement is its top priority,” said KREI researcher Kwon Tae-jin.

In his New Year’s message, the North’s young leader Kim Jong-un stressed boosting food production, saying all efforts “should go for agriculture … in order to build a strong economy and to improve the people’s livelihoods.”

Last year, Pyongyang bought a total of 207,334 tons of fertilizer from China, down by 18 percent from the previous year.

Additional Information:

1. The United Nations and South Korean government have reported that domestic gain production is up in 2013.

2. The DPRK has also increased food imports from China in 2013.

3. Food aid from UN was down in 2013.

4. Food prices fell in last year. DPRK won appreciated in last year.

5. Kim Jong-un’s speech to subworkteam leaders.

6. Previous posts on ‘foood’.

7. Scott Snyder on DPRK-China trade.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s fertilizer imports from China soar in Feb.
Yonhap
2014-3-28

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Choe Hyon Chol on Rason development

March 26th, 2014

According to Naenara, Choe Hyon Chol is the section chief of the State Economic Development Commission (SEDC). He has previously been identified as a director of the Korean Association of Economic Development. In a recent interview with Naenara, he discusses the benefits of investing in the Rason Economic and Trade Zone.

Before getting to the interview, however, it is worth noting that the Rason Economic and Trade Zone was set up before the creation of the State Economic Development Commission and it was “controlled” by Jang Song-thaek. Since Jang’s purge, it appears that Rason (and probably Hwanggumphyong) have been moved to the SEDC’s portfolio–that is, under the control of the cabinet.

Here is the interview:

Reporter: Would you please give me a briefing on the Rason Economic and Trade Zone that is now under development.

Choe: As you know, northeast Asia becomes one of the global development regions with a great potentiality, for the countries in this region have comparative advantages in respect of availability of production factors such as economic conditions, natural resources and economic and trade relations.

The Rason Economic and Trade Zone, situated on the western shore of the lower Tuman River in the northeastern part of Korea, borders on China and Russia, and Japan with the sea on the east. Its geographical location offers immense economic and traffic advantages as a transportation hub as well as a bridgehead of the continent.

Occupying an area of 470 km2, it has Rajin Port with an annual handling capacity of 3 million tons of cargoes, Sonbong Port with a handling capacity of 2 million tons of oil and Ungsang Port with a handling capacity of 600 000 m3 of timbre. The sea off the ports is deep and not frozen even in winter.

Rajin Port, in particular, has favourable conditions for creating cargo handling capacity of over 100 million tons without building a breakwater thanks to the Taecho and Socho islands in front of it.

The zone has also advantageous traffic connections with neighbouring countries.

Rajin-Wonjong class-B road (51 km), Rajin Port-Tumen railway (158 km) and Rajin Port-Khasan railway (51 km) are under construction or nearing completion.

The Rason Economic and Trade Zone is endowed with abundant tourist resources such as beautiful seascape, lake and bathing resorts, and 20-odd islands including Pipha, Taecho, Socho and Al islands.

In view of these favourable geopolitical and economic conditions, the DPRK government declared Rason city as an economic and trade zone on December 28, 1991 and held an international investment seminar with participation of entrepreneurs from 27 countries under the sponsorship of the UNDP and UNIDO in September 1996. It also raised Rason city to the status of special city on January 4, 2010 and agreed with China on the issue of joint development and management of Rason Economic and Trade Zone and Hwanggumphyong-Wihwado Economic Zone in May 2010.

In November 2010 the DPRK and the Chinese governments signed the Agreement on Joint Development and Management of Rason Economic and Trade Zone and Hwanggumphyong-Wihwado Economic Zone and organized the DPRK-China Joint Guidance Committee. The second session of the committee was held in June 2011 in Yanji, Jilin Province, China and its third session in August 2012 in Beijing. Besides, both governments concluded the agreement on establishment and operation of management committee for Rason Economic and Trade Zone, the master plan for DPRK-China joint development of the zone, the framework agreements on investment in ports, industrial districts and power transmission within the zone and investment and cooperation for construction of a new border bridge between Wonjong and Quanhe, the agreements on investment and cooperation for a high-efficiency agricultural model district and investment and cooperation for building-materials industry and the master plans for Sonbong-Paekhak industrial district and Rajin port industrial district.

The development of the zone in which a hundred and scores of businesses from different countries of the world are now active is in its initial stage but the number of potential investors with exceptional interests in the zone is increasing as days go by.

Reporter: How is the present state and prospect of the zone?

Choe: I shall begin with the progress of city construction.

The city is divided into residential quarters, industrial district and traffic junction district. The residential quarters consist of economic and trade area and peripheral area; the economic and trade area is subdivided into Rajin, Sonbong, Ungsang, Kulpho-Uam and Chonghak areas and the peripheral area into Tumangang, Hongui, Wonjong and Huchang areas. The industrial area embraces Changphyong, Yokjon, Chonggye, Sinhung, Tongmyong, Namsan and Andong areas.

The traffic junction district includes Rajin, Sonbong and Ungsang ports, Rajin, Ungra and Sonbong railway stations and Chongjin-Wonjong and Chongjin-Tuman River roads.

The Rajin Port, a transit trade port, is the hub of international cargo transit transportation and transport of exports and imports of entrepreneurs who invested in the zone.

The port has assignments to transport marine products for export from the East Sea of Korea and every kind of cargoes from and to northeast area of China and Far East Region of Russia.

The Rajin Port consists of three wharves; wharf No. 1 is designed to be renovated and operated by China Dalian Chuang Li Co., Ltd. and wharf No.3 by Rason International Container Transport J. V. Company to be set up according to the contract with Russian Rail Trade Co., Ltd.

The project of Rajin-Wonjong road started in April 2011 and completed in October 2012, and the power transmission project is now under way.

Currently, three railways run through Rason.

In the whole section of the Pyongyang-Tumangang line, standard gauge track

(1,435 mm) is laid from Pyongyang to Rajin and combined-gauge track with standard gauge and broad gauge (1 520 mm) from Rajin Railway Station to Tumangang Railway Staion, leading to Khasan Railway Station.

The updating project of Rajin-Namyang railway has been agreed with China in October 2012 and the construction of Sonbong-Paekhak industrial district, building materials industrial district, high-efficiency agricultural model district and Wonjong-Quanhe border bridge is in full swing.

When the construction projects of power line, railways, ports and border bridge are brought to completion, the Rason Economic and Trade Zone will be turned into a promising economic and trade zone of the world standard.

Next, tourism is booming in this zone.

Rason has eight bays and 21 islands, big and small.

There are Pipha, Chujin and Kalum Headland tourist attractions furnished with hotels, restaurants and sea bathing grounds along the coast.

Rason abounds in natural monuments, mineral water, spring water and marine products, and sea birds and coastal scenery strike tourists with admiration.

As mentioned above, the Rason Economic and Trade Zone is a special economic zone equipped with all conditions favourable for preferential trade and investment, transit transportation, tourism and financial and service businesses.

The DPRK government is constantly encouraging foreign investors to invest in intermediate trade, industry, agriculture, construction, transport, communications, science and technology, tourism, service and finance.

Today the development prospect of the zone is optimistic.

We are looking forward to an active investment in development projects of the zone, promising high profit with small investment.

Reporter: Thank you for kind explanation.

State Economic Development Commission of the DPRK

PDF of the interview here.

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Rice prices falling / won value rising

March 25th, 2014

The Daily NK has just updated their very valuable tables of rice prices and exchange rates. Things appear to have improved for the won and for those who have to make purchases with it.

Here is the most recent data on the Won/US$ exchange rate:

 

DPRK-USD-ER-2014-3-24

 

In March 2013 it took approximately W8,700 to buy one US$. Today that number has fallen to as low as W7,300. Most of the won’s gain in value has taken place in the last month.  As of February 2014, the US$ was worth W8,400–meaning the Won/US$ exchange rate has fallen (the currency has appreciated) by appx 13% since then.

Since the Chinese Yuan trades in a narrow band around the US$, the data would look much the same in terms of the Chinese currency.

Of course what remains to be seen is how stable the rate will be going forward.

The Daily NK also offers time series data on the price of rice:

Rice-price-2014-3-24

According to the chart above, the price of a kilo rice has fallen from approximately W6,900 in March of 2013 to W4,000 in March 2014. A fall of 42% in the last year!

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DPRK factories take up sharecropping

March 22nd, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

This spring has brought a noticeable increase in the number of North Korean factories and enterprises leasing out parcels of farmland to private individuals, it has emerged.

A source from North Pyongan Province reported the news to Daily NK on the 21st. She explained, “The trend recently has been towards factories leasing out parcels of their farmland. On average they agree to divide up production 70/30, but in cases where lessees have already shown the ability to generate good returns on their own private plots it can be as high as 50/50.”

North Korean factories and firms use land given to them by the state to grow supplementary foodstuffs for employees, such as vegetables for use in side dishes like kimchi. Large ones have dedicated units that manage their farmland full-time, while smaller ones do so on an ad hoc basis.

The lease agreements are being concluded according to not only the capacity of the farmer to generate returns, but also upon which side is to provide inputs such as vinyl coverings and fertilizer, the source went on to reveal. If the majority of the inputs are to come from the factory then the harvest is likely to be divided 70/30 in favor of the factory. If the farmer is making the majority of the investment personally, the division can be as high as 50/50.

“Obviously, anyone who has money is going to prefer a 50/50 split, and people who don’t are going to get 70/30,” the source said. “Factories generally like the 50/50 split more because it means they do not to have to concern themselves with the farming process itself.”

Lessees are in some cases able to secure access to farmland via bribery or human networking, but the source emphasized that the ability to generate a good harvest is what usually matters. “We’ve had private farm plots here for the better part of 20 years now,” she pointed out, “so we know very well who has lots of farming experience and who is hard-working.”

Sources explain that people who are officially registered as members of cooperative farms cannot farm land owned by factories in this way. In general, the ones taking out the leases are either factory workers who know how to farm effectively, or failed traders who have turned to farming other people’s private plots for them.

Importantly, the leasing of land in this way appears to have become official policy. This marks a shift in approach: although cases of similar deals between factories and private individuals started to appear at the beginning of the 2000s, these were illegal which limited their spread. Conversely, the authorities have been focusing heavily on improving the efficiency of the agricultural system for the last 2-3 years, and instances of land rental are now more widespread than ever before.

In an interview with the pro-North Korea publication Choson Sinbo last May, Kim Myong Ho, a 52-year old director in the North Korean Ministry of Light Industry, explained that the government had decided to grant factory and enterprise managers greater authority in order to improve industrial production.

Authority over land owned by individual factories and enterprises rests with factory managers, who decree what is grown, in what quantities, and by whom. Therefore, in the event that managers stipulate that their land is being leased in order to increase production, the leases are acceptable to the state.

“The state directive was that we have to improve production and the management of state firms,” the source commented. “They don’t mind whether this is done by farming the land directly or by leasing it to other people to farm.”

Read the full story here:
Farm Deals Abound as State Pushes for Production
Daily NK
2014-3-22

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Russia forgives DPRK debt – transact in rubles (2006-present)

March 20th, 2014

UPDATE 10 (2014-10-20): According to RIA Novosti, the Russians and North Koreans have conducted their first transaction in rubles:

The first transactions in rubles between Russia and North Korea were carried out in October, Russia’s Far East Development Ministry said in a statement Monday.

“Russia and the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] have begun carrying out transactions in rubles in the framework of agreements, reached during the 6th meeting of the intergovernmental committee on commercial-economic relations between the Russian Federation and the DPRK, headed by the Minister for the Development of the Russian Far East Alexander Galushka,” the statement posted on ministry’s website reads.

In May, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law ratifying an agreement on settlement of the DPRK’s debt to Russia. Russia agreed to write off 90 percent of the North Korea’s debt to the former Soviet Union, which amounted to $10.94 billion as of September 17, 2012. The remaining 10 percent ($1.09 billion) is to be paid off in 40 installments over the next 20 years.

No word yet on what was purchased.

Here is coverage in Xinhua:

Russia has started interbank transactions with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the Russian ruble, the Ministry for Far East Development said Monday.

The business went ahead according to an agreement the two sides reached earlier this year. The ministry’s press service said in a statement that the first transactions have already been completed.

The move is part of the efforts aimed at the ambitious goal of boosting annual bilateral trade to 1 billion U.S. dollars by 2020, the Itar-Tass news agency quoted the ministry as saying.

“Moscow and Pyongyang signed a deal on May 5 about writing off all DPRK debts to Russia, which has facilitated the launch of ruble-based accounting between the two countries,” Far East Development Minister Alexander Galushka said.

Under the deal, Russia has written off 90 percent of the DPRK’s debt and restructured the remaining 1.09 billion dollars to be paid off in the next 20 years.

Amid worsening ties with the West, Russia has turned to Asian countries for more economic and political cooperation.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in July that Russia should push for a breakthrough in economic relations with the Asia-Pacific region.

UPDATE 9 (2014-6-5): RIA Novosti reports that Russia and the DPRK will begin negotiating bilateral trade contracts in rubles rather than dollars. According to the article:

Russia and North Korea are preparing to launch bilateral transactions in the Russian ruble this month to boost trade turnover between the two nations to $1 billion by 2020, Russia’s Far East Development Minister said Thursday.

In May 2014, Moscow agreed to write off 10.94 billion of Pyongyang’s Soviet debt with the remaining 1.09 billion to be paid in installments over the next 20 years.

“The decision to write off DPRK’s debt to Russia has opened up the way to resolve a wide range of issues that was previously blocked by this debt load. Ruble transactions between Russia and DPRK will begin as early as this month, with first bank accounts to be set up in Russian banks,” Far East’s Development Minister Alexander Galushko said.

North Korea currently uses euros as the official currency in settling overseas trade deals.

The announcement came on the heels of a meeting in Russia’s far eastern city of Vladivostok where Galushko took part in the sixth annual session of the Russian-Korean standing commission, an intergovernmental agency on trade, economic and scientific cooperation.

The minister added that Russia hoped to ramp up its trade turnover with Korea to $1 billion, up from the current $112 million. “It is not much,” he pointed out, saying that a greater degree of Korea’s commitment to the existing bilateral projects could whip up sales to $400-500 million.

UPDATE 8 (2014-4-19): Russia has reportedly [formally] written of the DPRK’s debt. According to Reuters:

The State Duma lower house on Friday ratified a 2012 agreement to write off the bulk of North Korea’s debt. It said the total debt stood at $10.96 billion as of Sept. 17, 2012.

The rest of the debt, $1.09 billion, would be redeemed during the next 20 years, to be paid in equal instalments every six months. The outstanding debt owed by North Korea will be managed by Russia’s state development bank, Vnesheconombank.

Russia’s Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak told Russian media that the money could be used to fund mutual projects in North Korea, including a proposed gas pipeline and a railway to South Korea.

More at the Voice of Russia.

UPDATE 7 (2014-3-20): Russian Duma committee recommends write off $10 b DPRK debt. According to Voice of Russia:

Committee of the State Duma for the budget and taxes has issued a recommendation to the MPs to ratify an agreement between the Russian government and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on settling the North Korea’s debt to Russia on the Soviet-era loans issued to that country.

The document that was submitted for ratification by the Russian government features the agreements reached at the negotiations that lasted almost twenty years and took account of the special features of financial, political and economic relations between Russia and North Korea.

Debt settlement embraces all the categories of reciprocal financial claims and obligations of the former USSR and the DPRK, with the precise parameters registered on the date when the agreement is signed.

Overall amount of the DPRK’s financial obligations to Russia stood at an equivalent of $ 10.96 billion as of September 17, 2012.

“This amount is rather conventional in many ways – not only because of the exchange rate but also due to the interest rates accumulated over a huge period or, in other words, a non-return of the loans because many of them were issued in the 1980’s,” Sergei Storchak, a deputy minister of finance said at the session.

“We applied a standard pattern in which we write off 90% of the debts amount and 10% is left over,” he said. “We agreed to utilize this 10% for financing the joint projects implemented on the North Korean territory.”

There projects are related to the energy sector, healthcare, and the country’s foodstuff security.

“Frankly speaking, we hope we’ll be able to attain agreement in the course of future joint work on allotting plots of land for construction of a gas pipeline on the DPRK territory,” Storchak said adding that Russia’s major producer and exporter of natural gas, OAO Gazprom, continues eyeing a possible integration in the Korean market of gas.

For this purpose, it will need some land acquisitions and “a part of the debt can be utilized for this purpose,” Storchak said.

Russian government officials say settlement of debts on the loans issued by the former USSR with the observance of conditions coordinated with Pyongyang pursues three objectives.

In the first place, it removes the problem of North Korea’s outstanding debt to the Russian Federation that was an irritating factor for bilateral relations for quite some time.

Secondly, the agreements that have been reached enable Russia to exert noticeable influence on the DPRK’s social and economic development through projects in healthcare, education, and the energy sector, since Russia will have a say in the decisions on their financing.

Thirdly, owing to the presence of big enough debt claims, Russia will have an opportunity to take part in multilateral talks on settling the North Korean debts in the format of the Paris Club of Sovereign Debtors and to influence the terms of debt repayments in Pyongyang’s interests.

You can read more about the gas pipeline here.

UPDATE 6 (2012-9-18): RIA Novosti reports that the DPRK and Russia have signed a debt deal.  According to the article:

Russia and North Korea have signed a deal on settlement of the DPRK’s $11 billion debts to Russia, Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak told Prime news agency on Tuesday.

“It was signed yesterday,” Storchak said.

Russia and North Korea have been negotiating over the issue of Pyongyang’s debt to Russia, left over from the Soviet era, for the last four years without result. Russia did not rule out writing off part of the debt and either rescheduling the remainder or offsetting it against investment.

Storchak previously said it was understood a debt settlement would involve a conversion of the ruble debt into dollars, giving an initial discount of around 90 percent of the debt.

The remaining debt of over $1 billion would be used in a “debt for aid exchange” plan to assist with joint education, health and energy projects in North Korea.

Here is coverage of the deal in KCNA:

Agreement on Debt Settlement between DPRK, Russia Signed

Pyongyang, September 18 (KCNA) — An agreement on settling the debt incurred by the loan provided by the former Soviet Union which the DPRK owes to the Russian Federation was signed between the governments of the two countries in Moscow on Monday.

The agreement was inked by Vice-Minister of Finance Ki Kwang Ho from the DPRK side and Vice-Minister of Finance Sergey Storchak from the Russian side.

The conclusion of the agreement on the debt settlement would create fresh conditions for boosting the relations of economic cooperation between the two countries in the future.

The Wall Street Journal offers some additional details on the deal:

Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak told Interfax that the “restructuring conditions are standard in connection with our membership in the Paris Club, with a conversion into U.S. dollars at an appropriate discounted rate with the balance of the debt to be used for a debt-for-aid program.”

The $11 billion figure was reached by using the Soviet conversion rate of 67 kopecks to the dollar, the ministry said, which at today’s exchange rate would make the debt just $238 million. Russia has reached similar agreements over the years with many former Soviet-clients in larger part because there was little chance the loans would ever be repaid.

Russian and North Korea had resumed negotiations over the decades-old debt in August 2011, following a meeting between former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and the late-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. During the meeting, the two sides agreed to pursue a pipeline project that would send Russian gas to South Korea via North Korea.

The following June, a preliminary agreement was reached and the finance ministry submitted a proposal to the Russian government for approval, Interfax reported.

Experts say the settlement of the long-stalled debt talks represented a change in political will on both sides and would help spur along the pipeline project as well as other railway and electricity deals.

“The decision on a settlement of debt is a significant step as it removes the obstacles for cooperation. Now credits can be granted,” said Alexander Vorontsov, an expert on North Korea at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Read more below:

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Handicap International earmarks $1.12 million in DPRK aid

March 19th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

The Belgium branch of Handicap International earmarked $1.12 million for this year to support medical and rehabilitation facilities in the communist country to promote the health and well-being of the disabled there, the Voice of America (VOA) reported, citing an e-mail from the agency’s official Dominique Delvigne.

The budget is also to be spent for such projects as nurturing teachers in charge of special education for visually- and hearing-impaired people, and assisting the (North) Korean Federation for the Protection of the Disabled (KFPD), the official added.

The NGO, established in 1982 to help disabled and vulnerable people in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster, began to help physically challenged people in North Korea in 1998 at the request of the KFPD.

According to the report on disability published by the World Health Organization in 2013, some 3.4 percent of the population in North Korea suffered from a disability as of 2007.

Read the full story here:
Belgium-based NGO to spend US$1.1 mln in 2014 for disabled N. Koreans
Yonhap
2014-3-19

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Deforestation: Stats, costs and attempted remedies

March 18th, 2014

First the bad news. According to Yonhap:

North Korea has destroyed forests about 18 times the size of Manhattan for more than 10 years, data showed Tuesday, in the latest sign of deforestation in the communist country.

Global Forest Watch, which is run by the Washington-based World Resources Institute, said on its website that a total of 160,515 hectares of forest were destroyed between 2000 and 2013.

It also said North Korea created 13,680 hectares of forest between 2000 and 2012.

The development illustrates the rapid deforestation in North Korea as people cut down trees for fuel and turn forests into farmland to grow more food.

Experts have said severe deforestation is one of the reasons behind devastating floods that hit North Korea in recent years.

North Korea’s total forest area stood at 5.2 million hectares, with its output estimated at US$300 million as of 2006, or 2.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

You can see a visualization of the DPRK’s deforestation with Global forest Watch here.

Of course the problem is the a classic “tragedy of the commons“.

And according to the Donga Ilbo:

According to the Korea Forest Service’s report on the “cost for reforestation in North Korea” that the Dong-A Ilbo obtained on Tuesday, as of 2008 deforested mountains accounted for 32 percent of the total land of North Korea, about 2.84 million hectares. To restore the area, about 32 trillion won (about 30 billion dollars) is estimated to be required.

Deforestation is proceeding at a rapid pace in North Korea. It appears even faster in areas with high population density. The Korea Forest Research Institute has recently analyzed photos taken by a German commercial satellite and found deforestation progressed in North Korean cities of Pyongyang and Gaesong more rapidly than rural areas of Hyesan and Bongsan over the same period of time. The institute concluded that such discrepancy is cause by reckless lumbering and reclamation in urban areas. Besides, some reclaimed lands are not used for cultivation and just wasted because of the spread of crop theft, further exacerbating deforestation. In this regard, many argue that reforestation in North Korea should be beyond planting trees and in line with measures for food, fuels and income.

The Donga Ilbo also reports that an organization called the Green Asia Organization has been created to try and help resolve the problem:

Private organizations of South Korea, North Korea and China have started to make systematic efforts to reforest bare mountains in North Korea. The Green Asia Organization, which seeks to grow trees in mountains and nurture forest farmers at the same time, is to be launched and hold an international symposium on “international cooperation measures for reforestation on the Korean Peninsula” on Wednesday.

The organization is established based on the understanding that reforestation of North Korea costs trillions of won (billions of U.S. dollars) now and the cost will increase even further as time goes. Deforestation in North Korea not only directly affects the ecosystem of South Korea but also increases the cost for reunification. Besides, it can evolve into a more serious environmental issue in East Asia.

This organization does not have an English-language web page (or any at all as far as I can tell). If you are able to find out more about this group, please let me know.

Read the full stories here:
N. Korea destroyed forests about 18 times the size of Manhattan
Yonhap
2014-3-18

Reforestation of N. Korea is precedent for ‘Green Reunification’
Donga Ilbo
2014-3-19

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DPRK reportedly seeks to stem flow of price data

March 17th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

In an unprecedented move, the North Korean authorities have warned residents in border areas that sharing information on market prices with the outside world will result in harsh punishment.

A Daily NK source located in North Hamkyung Province reported on the 14th, “Recently lectures at People’s Units have emphasized that the Republic’s secrets are being leaked to the outside via phone conversations. We were threatened that if anyone was caught in the act of calling someone outside of the country they would be sent to a prison camp.”

“It was said that ‘impure elements’ are planning to bring about the collapse of socialism in our style from the inside out,” the source recalled.

“We were also told that market prices were a state secret. Such a thing has never been raised in a People’s Unit lecture before, and the people are dumbfounded that the price of rice, pork and corn can be considered a secret of that magnitude.”

“Others are making more cynical remarks,” the source continued. “They say, ‘We’re the worst off in the world, and since we don’t get paid we can’t buy expensive rice. This is a national embarrassment for them and all they want to do is hide it. That’s why market prices are a state secret as well.'”

Furthermore, “Many ordinary people are of the opinion that the cadres [should be targeted] as they know better than anybody else about state secrets. Smugglers, too, are now concerned for their livelihoods as it is necessary for them to discuss pricing issues with their counterparts in China.”

The flow of information in and out of the country has long been restricted by the Kim regime out of fears of a challenge to their unitary rule.

Others assess that these latest measures indicate the North’s sensitivity over recent criticism leveled against the regime in the South Korean media, an act that the North deems an “insult to the Highest Dignity.”

Read the full story here:
Regime Classifies Market Prices as “State Secret”
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin
2014-3-17

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Hyundai Research Institute: DPRK economic report for 2013

March 16th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

The North’s per-capita GDP for last year is estimated at US$854, up $39 from a year earlier, according to the report released by the Hyundai Research Institute (HRI), a South Korean private think tank.

The North’s 2013 per-capita GDP amounts to a mere 3.6 percent of South Korea’s per-capita GDP of $23,838 for the same year, it said

North Korea’s grain production improved on the back of favorable weather conditions, while the country also expanded its investment in various industrial sectors, the report said.

The communist state’s grain production is estimated to have grown some 5 percent last year from a year earlier. The country saw an 8.5 percent on-year rise and 10 percent gain in its grain production, respectively, in 2011 and 2012.

Also, the reclusive nation increased its budget spending for railroads, metal and power generation sectors, which contributed in boosting its economy, the report showed.

Trade between North Korea and its strongest ally China jumped 10.4 percent on-year to reach $6.5 billion last year, while inter-Korean trade sank 42 percent to $1.1 billion due to a five-month halt of an jointly run industrial park.

The 2013 inter-Korean trade figure is the lowest since 2005 when the comparable figure was $1.06 billion.

The Kaesong Industrial Complex was shut down in early April 2013 after the North unilaterally pulled out all of its workers at 123 South Korean firms. It reopened in September after Pyongyang agreed not to repeat such a suspension.

Assistance from the international community to the North also dropped 47 percent on-year to reach $63.1 million last year, the report said.

Though the story does not cite the article from which the data is drawn, you can download the original report by the Hyundai Research Institute here (PDF in Korean).

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s per-capita GDP grows 4.8 pct in 2013: report
Yonhap
2014-3-16

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