Hundreds of foreign companies attend North Korea trade fair despite sanctions

The 22nd Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair opened on Monday with a ceremony hosted by top economic officials. (AFP)
Updated 21 May 2019
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Hundreds of foreign companies attend North Korea trade fair despite sanctions

  • More than 450 companies from North Korea, China, Russia, Pakistan, Poland and “other countries and regions” showcased a range of products at the fair
  • Sanctions imposed over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs would prohibit all joint ventures and most business with North Korea

SEOUL: An international trade fair in North Korea this week may be the largest such event on record, analysts said on Tuesday, with hundreds of Chinese and other foreign vendors taking part despite sanctions pressure.
The 22nd Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair opened on Monday with a ceremony hosted by top economic officials, North Korean state news agency KCNA reported.
More than 450 companies from North Korea, China, Russia, Pakistan, Poland and “other countries and regions” showcased a range of products at the fair, KCNA said.
That number would make it the largest trade fair hosted by North Korea, according to an analysis of state media announcements from 2007 to 2019 conducted by NK News, a website that tracks North Korean issues.
Last year, 260 companies reportedly participated in the spring fair, for example.
Among those taking part this year were at least 216 Chinese companies, NK News said in an analysis.
“The numbers tie into a lot of what we’ve seen recently demonstrating real Chinese interest in pushing ahead with business opportunities in North Korea, even though technically not much can go ahead under the current sanctions regime,” said Oliver Hotham, managing editor of NK News.
North Korean officials opened the event by saying it was a chance to expedite trade, economic cooperation, and science and technology exchanges with the participating countries, state media reported.
Companies exploring doing business in North Korea walk a fine line.
Sanctions imposed over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs would prohibit all joint ventures and most business with North Korea, analysts said, while some foreign business operations have previously said they were only preparing the ground for when sanctions are lifted.

HANDBAGS AND HEATERS
KCNA said among the products on show were “metal, electronics, machinery, building materials, transport, public health, light industry and food and consumer goods.”
Photographs of the event published by both state media and international participants on social media showed vendors offering health supplements, flat screen televisions, handbags, air conditioners and heaters, clothes, kitchen appliances, and North Korean-brand SUVs, among other products.
“A wide range of sectors, and domestic products from North Korea as well as imports,” said British ambassador to North Korea, Colin Crooks, in a post on Twitter.
“Most of the foreign exhibitors were from China.”
Photos posted on Facebook by the Russian embassy in Pyongyang showed its ambassador, Alexander Matsegora, posing at a booth showcasing Russian pharmaceuticals.
Since last year, leader Kim Jong Un has embarked on a diplomatic campaign to try to get the sanctions lifted and allow him to jumpstart the economy.
Under Kim, North Korea has seen a rise in private markets and growing consumerism, but it faces tight political and economic control.
Kim’s second summit with US President Donald Trump in February ended in an impasse, with Washington saying Kim had not offered to give up enough of his nuclear program to warrant an easing of sanctions.
Since then, North Korea has expressed growing frustration, with negotiations stalled and tensions rising.
In a front-page commentary on Monday, North Korea’s ruling party newspaper said sanctions were designed to create economic hardship and warned North Koreans not to depend on the restrictions being lifted.
State media and international aid organizations say that recent droughts and small harvests could lead to a serious shortage of food for many North Koreans this year.


Lebanon’s Hariri calls for cabinet solidarity in budget debate

Updated 18 June 2019
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Lebanon’s Hariri calls for cabinet solidarity in budget debate

  • The PM said cabinet ministers need to be united and responsible
  • Lebanon’s debt is almost 150% of its GDP

BEIRUT, June 18 : Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri on Tuesday called for parliament to quickly approve the country’s 2019 budget and urged his coalition government to avoid internal disputes.
The cabinet this month agreed a budget plan that shrinks the projected fiscal deficit by 4 percentage points from last year to 7.6% by cutting spending and raising taxes and other fees.
“What I want during the debate is for us to be responsible and united, and not contradictory,” Hariri said in a statement, addressing cabinet ministers as to their comportment during the parliament debate.
Parliament’s finance committee is debating the draft budget and has suggested amendments, local newspapers reported. It will then put the budget to the full assembly to ratify it.
Parliament is mostly composed of parties that are also present in the coalition government and which supported the budget there.
Since the budget was agreed there have been fierce arguments between parties in the coalition over several subjects, though these have not targeted the budget.
Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest debt burdens, equivalent to about 150% of GDP, and the International Monetary Fund has urged it to cut spending.
“We have held 19 cabinet meetings to agree on this draft budget and these sessions were not for fun, but for deep, detailed debate over every clause and every idea,” Hariri said.
“For this reason, I consider it the responsibility of each of us in government to have ministerial solidarity...to defend in parliament the decision that we have taken together,” he added.
After the 2019 budget is agreed, the cabinet must quickly start working on the 2020 budget and on approving the first phase of a program of investments toward which foreign donors have offered $11 billion in project financing. (Reporting by Angus McDowall, editing by Ed Osmond)