Report: Sanctions Haven’t Stopped North Korea’s Market Economy

North Korea Kim Jong Un
North Korea has changed its consumer economy since Kim Jong Un came to power, according to interviews with foreign businessmen who are familiar with North Korea. File Photo by Rodong Sinmun

SEOUL, June 13 (UPI) — North Korea is under the heaviest economic sanctions in its history, but the embargoes haven’t stopped some Westerners from pursuing business in Pyongyang.

Three businessmen interviewed by the BBC said that there is opportunity in North Korea and that pursuing projects in the relatively isolated country is the best way to build bridges, the BBC reported.

Michael Spavor, a Canadian national who said he’s been doing business with Pyongyang for 18 years, said face-to-face meetings with North Koreans are still necessary.

Spavor also told the BBC increased investments have improved the standard of living for people in major cities.

“There’s also some trickle down,” Spavor said.

But foreign businessmen have to be mindful of not violating any United Nations sanctions, or violating unilateral sanctions of their country of origin, said Andray Abrahamian, executive director of Choson Exchange.

“For the vast majority of Western businesspeople you look at all those things,” the British national said.

The sanctions, however, don’t dictate everything businesspeople do, according to Paul Tjia, a Dutch businessman.

“You have to do your homework, but in reality sanctions do not hamper most of our business,” Tjia said.

“Officially according to the embargo, we are not allowed to trade champagne with North Korea but in reality you can find champagne very easily. If the elite wants to buy champagne they can do it easily.”

Market principles may be dictating other aspects of North Korean society.

A report from South Korean government think tank Korea Development Institutenoted the market economy is leading to the development of North Korea off-campus tutoring that could help the children of elite families get into better schools.

“We know that North Korea’s education is based on equality and offered free of charge. But in reality, it appears in a different way,” the report read.

“We can find some clues that the education market has been slightly marketized as private money wields influence on public education institutions.”


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