Impact of the ROK’s May 24 economic sanctions against the DPRK

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 10-05-27-1

On May 24, the South Korean government announced, in response to the Cheonan incident, the cessation of inter-Korean exchanges and other sanctions against Pyongyang. These measures will directly impact the North, costing it 250~300 million USD. According to the Ministry of Unification, North Korea earned 245.19 million USD from inter-Korean cooperative schemes not related to the Kaesong Industrial Complex. This does not include additions monies for customs fees, transportation costs, mediation fees and other incidentals.

About 254 million USD worth of goods were produced on commission in the North after raw materials or partially manufactured products were sent from the South. 10~15 percent of this (25-38 million USD) covers labor and other costs. Therefore, by halting all exchanges and cooperative schemes other than the Kaesong Industrial Complex, North Korea stands to lose at least 200 million USD.

In particular, as the South has banned the import of North Korean sand and marine products, both known to be money-earners for the North’s military, it appears these sanctions have the potential to really pressure Pyongyang. In addition, preventing North Korean ships from using South Korean waters could cost an additional nine million USD. An additional 6 billion won-worth of government-related projects for the North has also been suspended. Ultimately, the cessation of inter-Korean exchange will cost North Korea 250~300 million USD.

The Korea Defense Institute estimates that through inter-Korean projects, tourism, and the Kaesong Industrial Complex, North Korea earned 180 million USD in 2004, but that jumped to 233 million USD in 2005, 341 million in 2006, and 534 million USD in 2007, before falling to 490 million in 2008, and 347 million USD last year.

It appears that the reduction in foreign currency earned by the North has somewhat impacted its economy. Now, the cessation of inter-Korean contacts means further reduction in the North’s access to foreign currency, possibly causing severe shortages of daily necessities because of a lack of trade and insufficient production capacity. If inter-Korean trade ceases, the North can no longer earn foreign capital from Seoul, and this could cause DPRK-PRC trade to drop off, if the North is unable to cover its bills.

It will also cause a loss of jobs for all those North Koreans involved in consignment production, fishing, farming, and other areas of the economy hit by the freeze in trade with the South. As the processing-on-consignment business has reached 30~35 million USD per year, labor involved in the industry nears that of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, and could mean the loss of as many as 40,000 jobs.

While the government has decided to maintain the Kaesong Industrial Complex, it plans to downsize the ROK manpower by 40-50 percent. The reason given is to be able to ensure the safety of the workers, but if the number of workers is cut by 50 percent, this cannot help but have a huge impact on production, raising concerns with North and South Korean employees alike.


One Response to “Impact of the ROK’s May 24 economic sanctions against the DPRK”

  1. tibor gaal says:

    Friends, did someone heared about ‘processing-on-consignment business’ outside Kaesong? I have never read or heard about it. If someone did, report it here!
    I want to react the assumptions that sanctions will cause unemployment in the DPRK. It is not true because everyone has to work in a socialist state. They’ll redirect these workers to another areas. However, I agree that DPRK’s foreign currency income is going to be depleted.