Archive for the ‘RoK Ministry of Unification’ Category

South Korean firms losing money in the DPRK

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

According to the Hankyoreh:

South Korean businesses have suffered losses of up to ten trillion won (US$8.3 billion) from the cutbacks in inter-Korean economic cooperation under the Lee Myung-bak administration, figures show.

The losses taken by South Korean firms are fives times the 1.8 trillion won (US$1.7 billion) North Korea’s estimated losses. The results show an unintended effect of Seoul’s May 24 sanctions, which were meant to punish North Korea economically for the shooting death of a tourist at the Mt. Kumkang resort, the sinking of the Cheonan warship, and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. North Korea has offset these losses with increased cooperation with China.

Read more below…



Seoul eases export restrictions to Kaesong

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

According to Yonhap:

The Unification Ministry said Tuesday it will allow South Korean companies to bring new equipment into their factories at a joint industrial complex in North Korea in an easing of sanctions on the communist nation.

Seoul has banned the establishment of new factories or expanding investment in the industrial complex under economic sanctions slapped on the North in May 2010 in response to its torpedoing of the South Korean warship Cheonan in the Yellow Sea that killed 46 men aboard.

The ministry’s decision, effective from this week, is a follow-up measure after a group of eight ruling and opposition lawmakers last month visited the border city of Kaesong to meet with South Korean company officials and help work out problems with operating factories there.

More than 50,000 North Koreans work for 123 South Korean firms operating in the industrial zone to produce clothes, utensils, watches and other goods. The project serves as a key legitimate cash cow for the impoverished communist country.

According to a survey conducted by the ministry of the 123 firms after the parliamentary delegation’s visit, 15 firms wanted to move 803 pieces of equipment worth 4 billion won (US$3.5 million) out of the complex.

Thirty-two companies had plans to remodel the current factories or facilities, the survey showed.

The ministry is also considering expanding bus routes for North Korean workers to help employers hire more workers living farther away from the complex, officials noted.

Read the full story here:
Seoul eases limits on factories, equipment in Kaesong complex


Seoul to ease some Kaesong investment regulations

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

According to the Donga Ilbo:

The South Korean government will allow companies operating in the Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea to bring new facilities or build plants there. Against this background, regulations banning new investment in the complex under a sanction against North Korea, which made May 24 last year, will be massively eased.

Park Soo-jin, vice spokeswoman of the Unification Ministry in Seoul, said Wednesday, “We will ease sanctions on North Korea imposed May 24 last year to support the operations of plants operating (in the Kaesong complex), including allowing the entry of necessary facilities and construction of warehouses.” “We will also actively examine working-level talks with Pyongyang to resolve the issue of supply of North Korean workers. We are willing to negotiate with the North on building dormitories and tackling passage, customs and telecommunications matters and personal safety.” The ministry is also mulling putting artificial grass on a soccer field within the complex to improve living conditions of South Korean staff.

The latest decision is a follow-up measure after members of the special parliamentary committee for inter-Korean relations development and the National Assembly`s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee visited the Kaesong complex Friday and urged the resolution of difficulties facing companies operating there. Having offered Tuesday working-level talks to Pyongyang for family reunions, Seoul apparently hopes to expand amicable relations through this deregulation.

The Unification Ministry said last year`s sanctions will remain in force since expansion of large-scale investments will still be banned, including new corporate advances into the complex and plant construction. The latest measure, however, is still a big step forward because until now, Seoul had approved just facility entry into the complex for repair purposes, while going forward, additional facilities could be allowed for production activities. Plant construction was initially allowed for seven companies, which had been suspended due to last year’s sanctions.

Certain projects are already in place, including the construction of fire stations and emergency medical facilities, as well as repair of roads for commuting by North Korean workers. The South Korean ban on visiting North Korea excluding the Kaesong complex and Mount Kumgang area, which was effected last year, was also eased following approval of trips to North Korea for social and cultural exchanges, including the recovery of Kaesong Manwol pavilion.

Read the full story here:
Seoul to partially lift restrictions on biz complex in N. Korea
Donga Ilbo


North Korean workers in Kaesong exceeds 50,000

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

As of January 2012, the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) employs over 50,000 North Korean workers.

South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) reported that North Korea sent 449 additional workers to the complex last month, bringing the total number of North Korean employees at the KIC to 50,315.

The majority of the workers are women, comprising 72 percent of the total employees. A total of 81.8 percent are high school graduates, while 9.5 percent are college graduates and 8.7 percent are graduates from specialized/professional schools.

The KIC has had a low worker turnover rate. Some of the workers are licensed doctors and nurses, signifying the popularity of employment at the complex.

However, the MOU added that, “in order to meet the demands of the South Korean corporations in the KIC, 20,000 more workers are needed.”

Currently the average monthly wage of the workers is 110 USD, which is paid directly to the North Korean authorities in US dollars by the South Korean companies.

Out of the total wage, 45 percent is deducted and collected by the North Korean government as social security (15 percent) and social cultural policy funds (30 percent). The North Korean workers receive 55 percent of the total wage, which is paid either in coupons or North Korean currency.

Since the KIC’s opening in 2004, the total amount paid to the KIC workers reached 193.58 million USD as of November 2011.

Despite the deadlocked relations between the two Koreas, the number of employees, along with production and number of businesses, has steadily increased.

The number of employees in 2007 was 23,529. Thus the number has increased to over 50,000 in just four years, and the yearly production output has risen from 180 million to 400 million USD.

Cumulative production also increased from 310 million USD in March 2008 to 1.19 billion USD as of last year. During this time, 55 additional South Korean companies joined the KIC.

Yearly export output jumped from 870,000 USD in 2005 to 36.87 million USD in 2011. However, this is a drop from the previous year’s export of 39.67 million USD. Cumulative export as of November 2011 was 190 million USD.

In the assessment of the MOU, “the decrease in export reflects buyer’s anxiety from instability in inter-Korean relations and North Korean military provocations and many of the manufactured goods were sold domestically in South Korea.”

In addition, the issue of KIC-made products to be granted a “made in Korea” label is still under debate. According to an undisclosed MOU source, “This July will mark the one year anniversary of the ROK-EU FTA and the Committee on Outward Processing Zones (OPZ) is scheduled to meet to discuss the matter of KIC’s recognition as OPZ. But it will not be an easy game to win.”

UPDATE:  The Hankyoreh also wrote about the Kaesong Zone’s growth.


RoK sets aside 2012 DPRK emergency assistance funds

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

According to Yonhap:

South Korea has set aside more than 540 billion won (US$465 million) for humanitarian aid for North Korea this year, the Unification Ministry said Wednesday.

Most of the budget is earmarked for the South Korean government’s possible rice and fertilizer aid to its impoverished northern neighbor. It is also designed to provide aid to the North in case of natural disasters, according to the ministry, which handled inter-Korean affairs.

Read the full story here:
S. Korea sets aside more than 540 bln won for humanitarian aid for N. Korea


ROK spending on inter-Korean projects lowest since 2000

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

According to the Korea Herald:

South Korea’s government last year executed the smallest amount of its inter-Korean cooperation fund in a decade, officials said Sunday, in another reflection of frayed relations with the communist North Korea.

The Unification Ministry, in charge of North Korean affairs, spent 42.6 billion won ($36.6 million), or 4.2 percent of the 1.1 trillion won fund designated as “South-North Cooperation Fund,” the ministry officials said.

The fund was used to support a Korean dictionary project, a humanitarian program by the United Nations Children‘s Fund as well as operating a facility for family reunions and an association for the inter-Korean industrial complex, they said.

Last year’s spending was the lowest level since 2000 when the two sides held their landmark summit talks and agreed on a wide range of cooperation projects as part of their reconciliation efforts.

Inter-Korean relations went to the lowest ebb in a decade after the North‘s two deadly provocations in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans.

In 2008, when President Lee Myung-bak took office with a hard-line stance on North Korea’s nuclear program, the cooperation fund‘s execution rate plunged to 18.1 percent from 82.2 percent in 2007 under the liberal predecessor Roh Moo-hyun, the report noted.

The rate had remained at the 7 percent level between 2009 and 2010, it said.

The fund was created in 1991 to support humanitarian and economic exchanges between the divided Koreas, which remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce. (Yonhap News)

Read the full story here:
Gov’t spending on inter-Korean projects lowest since 2000: ministry
Korea Herald


Recent stories on food prices and inflation

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Story 1 (Daily NK): Ministry strikes out currency swap (2011-12-1):

The Ministry of Unification has concluded that the currency redenomination implemented by the North Korean government two years ago was, as is already widely accepted, an utter failure in most regards.

According to the ministry, which revealed its assessment today, North Korea intended to use the currency redenomination to weaken the role of the markets, generate supplies of capital for the construction industry and adjust the amount of domestic currency in circulation, but ended up achieving the opposite.

Instead, the overall economy slowed, while markets have now made a comeback, recovering to their state they were in before the event.

The process was simple. Straight after the currency redenomination, the flow of commodities rapidly froze up due to contracting supply and weakening purchasing power. According to the Ministry of Unification, factories and enterprises that relied heavily on materials and capital from the market were fatally undermined. This immediately added to extant difficulties securing daily necessities, and forced the authorities to tolerate the markets once again. Commodity flows are still in the process of recovering.

But worse, the value of the domestic currency fell and people’s preference for US Dollars and Chinese Yuan deepened further, setting exchange rates and prices in a continuously increasing inflationary spiral.

This can be seen in the case of rice, a good proxy for overall economic conditions. In 2009, rice cost between 20 and 40won, but within a year had increased abruptly to approximately 1,500won, and as of November, 2011 was more than 3,000won. Despite the 100:1 ratio of the redenomination, prices have returned to their level before the currency redenomination.

The North Korean authorities even attempted to ban the use of foreign currency in January, 2010, causing various problems which resulted in the withdrawal of the plan in the following month. In December, 2009, a US Dollar was worth 35 North Korean won, but by a year later had soared to 2,000 won, and is currently worth 3,800 won.

The North Korean authorities said the currency redenomination would improve the lives of the people, but in truth because of hyperinflation people’s lives have actually gotten more difficult.

At the time of the currency redenomination, they emphasized care for the common worker, giving them wage increases and cash payments; a one-off bonus (500won per person) to laborers and an additional payment to farmers (150,000won per person). However, nominal wages subsequently increased 100 times, and with a lack of food, necessities and soaring inflation, made the people’s lives worse.

The average worker’s salary is now 3,000won, but the living expenses of a family of four are approximately 100,000 won per month.

In conclusion, an official from the Ministry of Unification declared, “As long as there is deepening popular distrust of the North Korean authorities, it looks like the power to implement future policy will weaken. The decisions made by the authorities that decreased the quality of people’s lives deepened the distrust.”

“The seizure of property, which in the short term alleviated polarization, ended up causing more poverty among the general population and had a relatively minor effect on the people who hold a lot of foreign currency.”

“North Korea tried to restore their socialist economy via the currency redenomination, but in reviewing the comments and perspectives of various North Korea experts and defectors we can see that the currency redenomination was an overall failure.”

That being said, he noted, “There is a limit to the ability of collective discontent to turn into collective political organizing.”

Story 2 (Yonhap): Botched currency reform destabilizes N.K. rice prices, exchange rates (2011-12-1):

North Korea’s currency reform has failed to stabilize rice prices and its currency while the nation still endures lack of food and supplies, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Thursday.

The North carried out a massive currency reform two years ago to try to rein in galloping inflation, squash free market activities and tighten state control over the economy. The measures failed to halt massive inflation and worsened food shortages and public backlash.

The North Korean won was traded at 35 won to one U.S. dollar in markets right after the currency reform in late 2009. But one dollar was traded at around 3,800 won in November, up from around 2,000 won in 2010, according to the ministry.

The ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, also said rice prices have risen to pre-currency reform levels in a sign of food shortages in North Korea.

A kilogram of rice cost up to 40 won in 2009 before skyrocketing to about 3,000 won in November, the ministry said in an assessment of the North’s currency reform.

The dire assessment comes as the North is struggling to achieve its goal of building a prosperous nation by next year, the centennial of the birth of the country’s late founder, Kim Il-sung, the father of current leader Kim Jong-il.

The rice prices started to soar in Pyongyang on rumors that Kim failed to secure much aid during his trip to Russia in August, Good Friends, a Seoul-based private relief agency, said in September.

Rice is a key staple food for both South and North Koreans.

The botched currency reform is “expected to further deepen public distrust of the authorities and undermine their control on the people,” the ministry said in an assessment report.

Still, North Koreans are unlikely to display any collective action, because there is no organized political force, the ministry said.

Kim has been ruling the country with an iron fist, and tolerates no dissent.

There have been reports of growing discontent in the communist country over chronic food shortages and political oppression, though no organized opposition has emerged to challenge the leader.

Story 3 (Daily NK): Rice and Yuan zooming up in Ryanggang (2011-11-28):

The price of North Korean rice and the Yuan exchange rate have both reached post-2009 record levels in Yangkang Province, with domestic rice surpassing 4,000 won/kg and 1 Chinese Yuan selling for 720 North Korean won on November 28th.

Although a geographically remote location when seen from within North Korea, Yangkang Province act as a barometer for the situation in other areas because it stands alongside the capital Pyongyang and the Shinuiju-Dandong area as one of the most marketized, active trading locations of all.

Speaking with Daily NK today, a source from the province commented, “In the daytime on the 27th, the Yuan price, which had risen to 780 won, fell back to 720 won; however, the discomfort of the people is continual,” before adding, “Because of the rising exchange rate, the rice price also went up to 4,000 won.”

According to the source, as the price of North Korean rice hit 4,000 won/kg, that of Chinese rice also reached 3,200 won and sticky rice 5,000 won.

This means that the price of rice in Hyesan, the provincial capital, has now risen 500 won in two weeks, while the value of the North Korean won has depreciated by 120 won over a similar period.

The cause of the problem stems from a number of sources, but at the top of the list is a lack of faith in the North Korean won and the continual desire on the part of people who hold currency not to do so in domestic money.

As a result, the source said that traders are not selling their products, preferring instead to watch for changes, and with customers less likely to buy at such inflated prices, the overall effect is that trading volumes in the market have fallen drastically.

He explained, “There is even one rumor out there suggesting that by year’s end the price of the Yuan will have reached 1,000 won and that before long rice will have gone over 5,000 won. Rice traders are not selling their stock, saying that ‘if it gets more expensive, I’ll sell’, and so those citizens who are unable to get food together are looking pretty uneasy.’

Meanwhile, the new price records present a sense of cruel irony for a country about to commemorate the 2nd anniversary of the November 30th, 2009 currency redenomination.

“This is all the fault of the government, which organized the currency redenomination and destroyed the value of Chosun money,” the source agreed, complaining, “The price of everything is soaring, so the time has come where we can’t even buy blocks of tofu to eat.”


ROK to create official reunification fund

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

According to Yonhap:

South Korea will create an exclusive unification account as part of its efforts to prepare for a future merger with North Korea, Seoul’s point man on Pyongyang said Wednesday.

The government plans to set up the unification account in an inter-Korean cooperation fund that is currently worth about 1 trillion won (US$869 million).

The fund already has a separate account earmarked for inter-Korean projects, according to the Unification Ministry in Seoul, which handles North Korean affairs.

Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik made the announcement during a meeting with South Korean reporters on the last day of his three-day trip to Beijing.

The development underscored Seoul’s longstanding commitment to unifying with North Korea. The envisioned account, which needs parliamentary endorsement, is part of South Korea’s efforts to help cushion the cost of re-unification with one of the poorest countries in the world.

A state-run think tank has estimated that the initial costs for the integration of the two Koreas could range from 55 trillion won (US$47 billion) to 249 trillion won ($216 billion).

The estimate, which is projected to cover the first year of integration, was based on the assumption that the two neighbors could be unified two decades from now, according to the Korea Institute for National Unification.

Yu said the government does not have an immediate plan to levy a tax on citizens to help finance the potential unification, though he left open the possibility of collecting a tax.

South Korea has been working on details of a so-called unification tax since last year when President Lee Myung-bak floated the idea of using taxpayer money to help finance unification.

Seven out of 10 South Koreans believed that the costs of unification would outweigh its benefits, according to a recent telephone survey, in the latest sign of public concern over re-unification’s economic burden.

The National Unification Advisory Council, a presidential advisory body on unification, released the results of last week’s poll of about 1,000 people.

The Korea Herald also reported on this story.

Here are some previous posts on reunification costs:

1. KINU study looks to mineral wealth to cover unification costs

2. DPRK risk ‘biggest drag on Seoul’s credit rating’

3. OECD on Korean unification costs

4. Reunification costs

5. Working through Korean unification blues

6. 3 Million NK Refugees Expected in Crisis: BOK

Read the Yonhap story here:
S. Korea pushes to create independent unification account


ROK government planning to resume construction and relax sanctions in Kaesong zone

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Pictured above (Google Earth): The towns mentioned in the article below from which the Kaesong Industrial Zone could draw more labor: Pongchon (봉천), Kumchon (금천), and Phyongsan (평산).

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

According to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MOU), the “May 24 Sanctions” that went into effect after the sinking of the naval boat Cheonan was relaxed and began to permit the resumption of construction of businesses in the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC). In addition, plans to build fire stations and emergency medical facilities in the area are also currently underway.

After South Korean Grand National Party chairman Hong Jun-pyo visited KIC on September 30, 2011, the ROK government has reached the following decisions: 1) to allow the resumption of halted factory constructions; 2) to build a fire station and emergency medical facility; 3) to resume repair work for commuting roads for KIC employees; and 4) to extend the operations of commuter buses.

This means seven companies that received permits in the past to begin construction but stopped after the sanctions went into effect would be able to resume the halted construction projects.

According to the Ministry of Unification, the seven companies include three metal and machinery, three textile, and one electronic factories, taking up a total area of 103,527 square meters. The total site of production facilities of stage 1 businesses in the KIC reaches 2,171,900 square meters, in which the currently operating 123 companies take up 783,471 square meters. With the sanctions lifted, the total area of businesses in operation will reach 885,950 square meters.

In addition, five companies awaiting construction for expansion will have to wait a little longer. The authorities announced to discuss this issue at a later date, looking positively on their construction to resume shortly as well.

Also the MOU announced to push forward with the establishment of fire stations and emergency medical facilities, “to protect the properties and health of businesses and employees of the KIC. The plans to break ground for fire station will begin in mid-November and is expected to be completed by late next year.”

The layout for the KIC fire station was completed in December 2009 and 3.3 billion USD has been budgeted to fund the construction. The station will be constructed on a steel frame on a 3,305 square-meter lot with the total floor space to be around 2,182 square meters.

The Kaesong Management Committee has been operating a “fire/police station” from April 2005. But with occurrences of accidental fires since last winter, it has reinforced the number of fire engines and manpower – currently at a total of eight fire trucks and 36 fire fighters.

Medical facilities in the KIC will also be completed by the end of 2012 once the construction begins early next year. About 3 billion USD is set for this project.

Currently at the KIC, Green Doctor’s Cooperation Hospital is in charge of providing medical and health services in the KIC, with South Korea Green Doctor’s Kaesong Hospital treating the South Korean employees and North Korean Comprehensive Clinic treating the North Korean employees exclusively. The South Korea Green Doctor’s Kaesong Hospital is currently operated by volunteers at a clinic level. The hospital was in the process of improving the facilities to more than ten beds. However, this project was halted after the May 24 sanctions went in effect.

On another note, the MOU also announced that maintenance work for the road connecting Kaesong City to the KIC would begin. The road is normally used by North Korean employees of the KIC. It was also announced that the number and operation of commuter buses would increase to help with the commute. The buses operate in the 20 km radius; the plan is to increase that to 40 km. Since September 2010, the number of buses increased to 400.

There are plans to extend the service to cover the areas of Kumchon, Bongchon, and Pyongsang. However, the roads to these areas are unpaved and extension of transportation services to these areas will require negotiations with the North Korean authorities.

Although these measures will alleviate some of the problems faced by the businesses in the KIC, the MOU still stands firm on its position that North Korea must take responsibility and make formal apology for the Cheonan incident in order for a fundamental resolution of the situation to occur.


Inter-Korean trade statistics update

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

According to the Choson Ilbo:

According to the Unification Ministry, 123 firms were operating in the industrial park as of July, with combined production output amounting to US$34.87 million in May, up 25 percent from $27.79 million year-on-year.

The total volume of inter-Korean trade through the industrial park reached $825.88 million in the first half of this year, up 19.5 percent from last year and a whopping 135.8 percent from 2009.

South Korean staff dwindled from 1,461 in 2008, when inter-Korean trade was at its height, to 801 in May this year, but the number of North Korean workers rose from 36,650 to 47,172. And some 3,700 more North Korean workers were hired even since May last year when the South banned new investments there after the North sank the Navy corvette Cheonon in March.

At the moment, the regime is unlikely to shut down the industrial park, since nearly 50,000 North Koreans are working there. But experts stress that the government should take the seizure of the properties in the resort as a warning and be prepared for anything that the regime could do.

“There’s nothing we can be sure of in inter-Korean relations,” said Dong Yong-seung, a researcher at the Samsung Economic Research Institute. “Risk factors always exist because the government launched the Kaesong project without providing any safety net to protect its people and properties, as in the case of the Mt. Kumgang tour project.”

South Korean investments in the industrial park amount to W920 billion (US$1=W1,079) — W540 billion invested by the 123 firms, and W380 billion from the government and public corporations to lay the infrastructure, including electricity and communications facilities, and landscaping.

If the regime shuts down the industrial park, the South would suffer double the losses it incurred from the regime’s seizure of the properties in Mt. Kumgang, which are worth W484.1 billion.

Read the full story here:
Kaesong Firms Worry as N.Korea Seizes Mt. Kumgang Assets
Choson Ilbo