Cablegate: North Korea Economic Briefing - October 2009

DE RUEHUL #1740/01 3060817
R 020817Z NOV 09




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) This cable is sensitive but unclassified and not/not
intended for Internet distribution.

In This Issue

-- ROK Scholar: DPRK Economy Dysfunctional, Not in Crisis
-- DPRK Restores Science and Technology Commission
-- DPRK Establishes Ship Control Center to Comply with the IMO
-- DPRK Untouched by H1N1
-- DPRK Seeks to Expand Trade
-- DPRK-Russia Trade: Exports Up and Imports Down
-- DPRK-Pakistan Trade Continues to Decline
-- DPRK Exports Magnesia to Switzerland
-- DPRK-China Agree on Public Health Cooperation
-- China to Refurbish and Expand DPRK Port
-- EU Seeks Business Opportunity in the DPRK
-- Inter-Korean Trade Fell 16 Percent in August 2009
-- DPRK Grain Output Forecasts Vary
-- UNDP Resumes DPRK Operations
-- WHO to Send H1N1 Vaccine to DPRK

Domestic Economy

2. (SBU) ROK Scholar: DPRK Economy Dysfunctional, Not in Crisis:
According to Dr. Lee Suk, Research Fellow from the Korea Development
Institute (KDI), the DPRK economy is dysfunctional, but is operating
sufficiently to sustain the regime. In a conversation with Econoff,
Dr. Lee assessed that the DPRK has been hurt by worsening relations
with South Korea and outside pressure from the international
community. The current market activities will not significantly
help the DPRK economic system develop because the activity consists
only of trading, rather than production. According to Lee, the DPRK
leadership is determined to pursue a labor campaign to revive the
economy by 2012. Although the campaign could improve short-term
productivity, it will ultimately fail due to a lack of resources.
This failure may pressure the DPRK to restore relations with South
Korea and other countries.

3. (SBU) DPRK Restores Science and Technology Commission: North
Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA) reported September 19 that North
Korea has revived its State Science and Technology Commission (STC),
which would oversee science and technology affairs. STC was
established in 1962 to support government-led efforts to grow the
defense industry. It merged into the National Defense Academy of
Science in 1998. The restoration of the STC could be part of the
North Korean authorities' recent emphasis on the role of science and
technology in transforming the DPRK into an economic power.

4. (SBU) DPRK Establishes Ship Control Center: According to KCNA on
September 29, North Korea has recently established a control center
to carry out the International Maritime Organization (IMO) system
for identifying and tracking ships. The DPRK said the control
center would ensure maritime safety and prevent sea pollution.
Since 2006, the international Long Range Identification and Tracking
(LRIT) system has required ships sailing in international waters to
report their positions to control centers at least four times a day
so they can be protected from terrorism or piracy. A ROKG official
noted that North Korea has yet to test the system and has not
transmitted any information on its flag vessels to other countries.

5. (SBU) DPRK Untouched by H1N1: There are no cases of H1N1 in the
DPRK, according to an October 14 report in the Chosun Sinbo, a
pro-North Korea newspaper in Japan. The article cited an official
of the North Korea Emergency Anti-epidemic Commission who credited
tightened quarantine inspections at all immigration points of entry
and intensified local medical check-ups for the DPRK's success in
avoiding an outbreak.

Foreign Trade and Investment

SEOUL 00001740 002 OF 004

6. (SBU) DPRK Seeks to Expand Trade: North Korea hopes to expand
trade with friendly nations, Kim Mun-jong, Director of the North
Korean International Exhibition Corporation, said on September 21,
at the semiannual Pyongyang International Trade Fair. The Fair
included companies from China, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden,
United Kingdom, Australia, Austria, Italy, Vietnam, France, Poland
and Taiwan.In a single initiative, North Korea has scrapped extra
land use fees and introduced selective import rules that could help
foreign-owned companies maintain market share. A Chinese local
daily, Jilin Newspaper, reported the DPRK also introduced state
measures to ensure investor profits by banning imports of goods that
are already produced in adequate quantities within the DPRK. Yoon
Young-sok, Deputy Director General of the Foreign Direct Investment
Bureau of the Trade Ministry, told Jilin the North Korean
authorities plan to offer 60 percent corporate tax cuts for foreign
investors who are invested in high-tech industries. (Note: The
current corporate tax is 25 percent. For high-tech sector investors
will be offered to pay 10 percent which is 60 percent tax reduced.)
The income tax cut can be extended by two additional years with a 50
percent tax rate. Dr. Hong Ik-pyo, researcher at the (South) Korea
Institute for International Economic Policy told Chosun Ilbo that
the DPRK's FDI incentives are similar to those of South Korea and
reflects the North's attempt to adapt to a market economy.

7. (SBU) DPRK-Russia Trade: Exports Up and Imports Down: According
to the Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), North
Korean exports to Russia for the period January - June 2009 jumped
170 percent from the same period in 2008. Major items of the USD
16.8 million total included organic chemicals, steel and electrical
machinery. Imports from Russia in the first half of 2009, however,
declined to USD 18.1 million, down 65 percent from the previous
year's total. Imports included diesel and petroleum oils,
fertilizer, wood, paper and paperboard, and vehicles. North Korea's
imports of vehicles between 1,500cc and 3,000cc in engine size
jumped to more than double from the same period of 2008 and amounted
to USD 2.5 million. Fertilizer imports spiked 839 percent to USD
1.1 million in the first half of 2009.

8. (SBU) DPRK-Pakistan Trade Continues to Drop: Pakistan's two-way
trade with the DPRK dropped five percent to USD 11.7 million from
July 2008 through March 2009, KOTRA reported on October 14.
Pakistan analysts believe the trade deficit with the DPRK for the
past three fiscal years has narrowed because of the recession in
Pakistan, continued devaluation of the rupee, and the Pakistan
government's import control policy. Pakistan's imports of steel
products from July 2008 through March 2009 rose 61 percent compared
to a year earlier (to USD 6.4 million).

9. (SBU) DPRK Exports Magnesia to Switzerland: Quintermina AG, a
Swiss mining developer, has signed an annual contract to import
magnesia from the DPRK. The company will buy 100,000 metric tons of
Fused Magnesium (MgO) and 40,000 ~ 50,000 metric tons per year of
Dead Burned Magnesia (DBM) a year from North Korea's Chosun Magnesia
Clinker Industry Group and the Seungri Magnesium Oxide Factory. It
will then sell the magnesia to the United Kingdom, Germany and
Eastern Europe, according to a September 25 VOA report.

10. (SBU) DPRK-China Agree on Public Health Cooperation: North
Korea and China on September 14 signed an agreement of public health
and medical science cooperation in Beijing, reported KCNA. Choi
Chang-sik, North Korea's Public Health Minister, and the Chinese
Vice Minister of Public Health were present at the signing ceremony.
The agreement for public health and medical science cooperation
will be implemented from 2009 to 2011.

11. (SBU) China to Refurbish and Expand DPRK Port: A China-based
environmental equipment manufacturer, Chuangli Group, has recently
acquired exclusive rights to refurbish, expand, and operate Rajin
port No.1 wharf, according to Yonhap News Agency. The October 7
report said the remodeled port would be able to handle one million
tons of cargo. In return, the company has agreed to build a 93
kilometer road linking Hunchun, Northeastern province of China and
Rajin port. Meanwhile, Russian Railway Corporation had acquired the
exclusive right to operate the third and fourth wharves at Rajin
port in 2008. The company had agreed to modernize the railway
linking Khasan, Russia and Rajin port.

SEOUL 00001740 003 OF 004

12. (SBU) EU Seeks Business Opportunity in the DPRK: A European
Union business delegation led by a Dutch consulting firm, GPI
Consultancy, visited North Korea September 22-26. The delegation
visited Chosun Computer Center, Kimchaek University of Technology;
Dakor, a DPRK-based data processing firm; and Nosotek, the first
European-invested software development and research company in the
DPRK. GPI Consultancy said the delegation was interested in
Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and IT-related activities such as
data center operations, testing and quality assurance. It said that
some Dutch computer game developers have recently acknowledged North
Korea's potential IT skills by signing a BPO contract with a North
Korean IT firm.

Inter-Korean Economic Cooperation

13. (SBU) Inter-Korean Trade Fell 16 Percent in August 2009:
Continuing a twelve-month downward trend, inter-Korean trade in
August fell to USD 136.6 million, down 16 percent from August 2008.
Commercial transactions between the two Koreas shrunk five percent
to USD 135.6 million, while non-commercial transactions declined 95
percent to a mere of USD 1 million. ROK exports to the DPRK
dropped 36 percent to USD 53.8 million, while the imports in August
rose by five percent to USD 82.8 million. Major exports for South
Korea included raw materials for textiles, electronic equipment, and
machinery. South Korea imported garments made in the KIC and
commissioned projects from elsewhere in the DPRK.

Foreign Aid

14. (SBU) DPRK Grain Output Forecasts Vary: North Korea would
require at least 1.8 million metric tons of food aid in the coming
year, Food and Agricultural Office analyst Kisan Gunjal told Radio
Free Asia (RFA) on September 23. Gunjal said North Korea's total
rice output would be 2.4 - 2.6 million metric tons (mt.) this fall,
similar to or lower than that of last year. The FAO also said that
this year's corn output in the DPRK would be around 1.3 - 2.0
million mt. The FAO warned the DPRK may face a serious food
shortage which requires as much as 1.8 million mt of food from the
international community in the coming market year (November 2009 -
October 2010). NOTE: FAO is consistently lower than other
forecasters in its DPRK grain harvest predictions. END NOTE.

15. (SBU) Expressing a different view, Dr. Kwon Tae-jin, Senior
Research Fellow of the Korea Rural Economics Institute, told us that
grain output in the DPRK in the coming market year would rise around
five percent to a total of 4.3 million mt. despite significantly
reduced food aid from the ROKG and the United States in 2008. Kwon
attributes the increase to the lack of flooding and favorable
weather conditions over the summer. He also said that potato
production in 2009 is expected to be good thanks to the ROK NGOs'
contribution of potato seeds. He forecast that fertilizer
production in the DPRK is expected to increase in 2010 because the
DPRK has recently refurbished major fertilizer factories such as
Heungnam Fertilizer Complex. Kwon said the DPRK would not face a
serious food shortage in 2010.

16. (SBU) Noted corn biologist, Dr. Kim Soon-kwon, told us that
based on his recent field observations in Kaesong and near
Pyongyang, the corn and rice harvests could be off by 40 percent or
more this year. Kim explained that weather conditions and a lack of
quality fertilizer were the likely causes. He observed ears of corn
that appeared to be a fraction of the size they should be so close
to the harvest, and heads of rice that looked similarly stunted. He
was in Pyongyang in September, and Kaesong in early October. Kim
has routinely traveled to the DPRK over the past twelve years in
support of agricultural development projects that his NGO, the
International Corn Foundation is supporting. He told reporters in
September that this year's corn crop was the worst he had seen in
the DPRK since 1998.

17. (SBU) UNDP Resumes DPRK Operations: The UNDP Pyongyang office
has resumed operations in the DPRK, KCNA reports. The office closed
in 2006 due to the alleged misuse of funds.

SEOUL 00001740 004 OF 004

18. (SBU) WHO to Send H1N1 Vaccine to DPRK: The World Health
Organization (WHO) will send H1N1 vaccines to the DPRK, according to
an October 5 RFA report. The vaccines, which have been donated by
the United States and eight other countries, are to be shipped to
the DPRK after November. Exact quantities have not yet been


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