Archive for February, 2014

More measurement of the importance of markets in the DPRK: residential and public sector energy consumption

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

According to Yonhap (via the Korea Herald):

A fuel ration system in North Korea seems to have been dismantled due to a chronic fuel shortage, a report said Monday.

The report by the state-run Korea Energy Economics Institute (KEEI) said a majority of households in North Korea secure their fuel for heating and cooking on the black market or by themselves, hinting that the country’s fuel ration system might have been scrapped.

The report was made on the basis of data compiled from a poll of 350 North Korean defectors who fled the country after 2011.

According to the report, 51.1 percent of the North’s households bought their heating and cooking fuel on the market, with 42 percent gathering their fuel, such as firewood, by themselves.

Only 6.8 percent of them were provided with fuel for heating and cooking through the country’s fuel ration channel.

The energy consumption of a North Korean household was estimated at 0.291 tons of oil equivalent (TOE) as of 2011. The TOE is a unit of energy which is equivalent to the amount of energy released by burning one ton of crude oil.

The consumption of energy gaining from coal briquettes accounted for 36.8 percent of the total, reaching 0.107 TOE, followed by wood with 0.069 TOE, electricity with 0.038 TOE, oil products with 0.025 TOE and propane gas with 0.023 TOE.

The energy consumption for heating took up 50.9 percent of the total, amounting to 0.148 TOE.

The KEEI said a program for fuel aid to North Korea should be mapped out on the basis of exact data on the energy consumption in the North’s private sector.

You can download the full report here in Korean (PDF). Here is the web page for the Korea Energy Economics Institute.

Read the full story here:
Fuel ration seems to have been dismantled in N. Korea: report


Kim chol-jin and the Economic Development Committee

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

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Kim Chol-jin, the deputy chief of North Korea’s National Committee for Economic Development, is seen with North Korea head-of-state Kim Jong-un in Pyonyang’s water park (top left) and at the Masik Pass ski resort (top right). A Shanghai businessman uploaded the two lower pictures showing Kim meeting Chinese businessmen onto his blog in January 2012. (Yonhap)

According to the Korea Herald:

Kim Chol-jin is the newest influential economic policymaker in North Korea said analysts, after television images recently showed the bureaucrat accompanying head of state Kim Jong-un on multiple inspection rounds.

The North Korean Central News Agency broadcast images of Kim Chol-jin, the deputy chief of the National Committee for Economic Development, shadowing the North Korean leader to economically symbolic sites such as the Masik Pass ski resort last December. The ski resort opened last year as part of efforts to boost foreign tourism in the reclusive country.

“That deputy seat is actually closer to that of a minister here in the South,” said Ahn Chan-il, the head of the World North Korea Research Center. “He will likely have clout on North Korea’s economic policies.”

North Korea analysts expect Kim Chol-jin to spearhead much of the North’s recent economic plans to earn cash through foreign investment.

But the latest television images showing Kim Chol-jin do not include his immediate boss, the chief of the National Committee for Economic Development, implying that he is the de facto executive and his boss a mere figurehead, according to sources.

The deputy committee chief is an experienced trade official. He served at the North’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and at government agencies facilitating Chinese investment. Sources say he has extensive business connections in China and experience trading with South Korea in the mid-2000s.

Kim, along with Park Bong-ju [Pak Pong-ju], the Premier of North Korea and Roh Du-chol [Ro Tu-chol], head of the National Planning Commission, are expected to be the key members of North Korea’s economic policy team. North Korea experts consider Park and Roh to be market-orient reformists although one analyst voiced caution.

“Yes, (there) are changes on the margins, but they’re more for maintaining the current (political) system,” said Daniel Pinkston, the Deputy Project Director of the International Crisis Group’s North East Asia office.

The North’s economic development committee is the communist country’s key macroeconomic decision-making body. The committee oversees special economic zones, which lower taxes for foreign companies willing to invest there. Russia and China have been the main bidders.

Read the full story here:
New economic czar emerges in N. Korea
Korea Herald
Jeong Hunny


China – DPRK trade data (January 2014)

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

Yonhap reports that China – DPRK trade appears unaffected by the purge of Jang Song-thaek. According to the article:

Despite North Korea’s stunning execution of the leader’s uncle in December, its trade with China remained solid in January, up 16 percent from a year earlier, data showed Friday.

Jang Song-thaek, the country’s No. 2 man and leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle, had played an important role in dealing with Beijing before being executed late last year on treason charges. The political upheaval raised concerns over a possible instability that could spill over into other areas of the reclusive country’s moribund economy and society.

Still, trade volume between North Korea and its major trading partner China came to US$546 million in January, compared with $471 million from a year earlier, according to the data compiled by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).

North Korean exports to China jumped 18 percent on-year to $223 million, with imports rising 14.5 percent to $323 million, the data showed.

Anthracite was the No. 1 export item for the impoverished country to its communist neighbor, selling some $101 million worth of the natural resource last month, up 21.3 percent from a year ago.

North Korea’s anthracite exports are a major source of income, and China is virtually the only destination for the shipments.

Inbound shipments of China-made cell phones soared 28 percent on-year to $14.4 million in January, the data showed.

“Trade volume between the two countries is expected to rise further given China’s growing demand for minerals for its project to develop its three northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning,” said Lim Eul-chul, a research professor at Kyungnam University.

“Such political variables as Jang’s execution would not likely affect the trend,” he added.

The heavily sanctioned North Korea has been increasingly reliant on China, though the Asian giant has become frustrated with its wayward neighbor, particularly after Pyongyang’s third nuclear test early last year.

In 2013, trade volume between the two reached a record $6.45 billion last year, up 10.4 percent from the previous year, according to KITA data.

The Wall Street Journal notes:

“Bilateral trade has probably yet to feel the impact of Mr. Jang’s execution,” said Cho Bong-hyun, research fellow at Seoul-based IBK Economic Research Institute.

“Both sides are still acting on trade contracts that have already been signed and usually take effect for six months,” Mr. Cho said.

Mr. Cho said he expects the impact from Mr. Jang’s purge will begin to appear in the data from the second quarter of this year. North Korea may also increasingly turn to trade with South Korea following a thawing of ties and the reopening of a jointly run Kaesong industrial park, he said.

The KITA data show inter-Korean trade volume shrank 42% to an eight-year low of $1.15 billion last year, when the Kaesong complex was closed for several months after North Korea pulled out its workers.

North Korean-Chinese trade volume hit a record high of $6.54 billion last year, according to KITA, as North Korea exported natural resources such as coal and iron ore, while importing fuel and electronics goods.

The Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, Seoul’s state-funded trade agency, said in a report last year that North Korea’s bilateral trade with China accounted for 88% of Pyongyang’s entire external trade in 2012, up from 53% in 2005.

Read the full stories here:
N. Korea, China trade unaffected by stunning execution: data

Jang Purge Yet to Hurt North Korea-China Trade
Wall Street Journal
Kwanwoo Jun