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.


More than 100 Saudi groups at Dubai’s GITEX week

Updated 22 September 2019

More than 100 Saudi groups at Dubai’s GITEX week

  • GITEX is an international platform

DUBAI: More than 100 Saudi organizations, including government entities, private companies and startups, are participating at the upcoming GITEX Technology Week in Dubai, from Oct. 6 to 10, indicating an increase in Saudi participation from last year at the annual technology gathering.

Bringing in one of the biggest contingents at the event, at 114, Saudi Arabia is also an official partner of GITEX this year, which is expecting to host more than 100,000 visitors over four days at the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC).

“There’s a lot of collaboration and integration in this region — there’s a lot of learning and sharing. GITEX is an international platform. This is where the Saudi contingent comes — from the big enterprise sector to the startup ecosystem — to interact with hundreds and thousands of visitors from over 140 countries,” Trixie LohMirmand, senior vice president of events management at DWTC, told reporters on Sunday.

LohMirmand also noted a spike in Saudi participation at the GITEX Future Stars, a concurrent event that focuses on the region’s startup community.

“We have a big Saudi Innovation Day. In fact, Saudis are again bringing a big contingent of startups. It’s led by the deputy minister of communications from Saudi Arabia to explore partnerships and discuss the opportunities in the region, particularly for startups,” she said, referring to the three special sessions that will focus on the Kingdom’s technology drive.

This increase in participation, LohMirmand said, is a reflection of a bigger “impetus on innovation and the getting the startup community going” in the region.

“We see a lot of new tech coming out, so there’s a lot of interest to give these companies an opportunity to connect to the rest of the world. When you come to GITEX, we connect you to the rest of the world — we host over 500 investors from all around the world, including from Silicon Valley,” she added.

Firat Aktas, DWTC’s director of brand innovation and communication, stressed: “You can see what’s happening around the world — the Saudis are showing their ambition very clearly in various industries.”

Earlier this year, the Saudi Telecom Company signed a deal with Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson to launch commercial 5G services in the Kingdom. “The roll-out continues. It’s a huge deployment in different parts of Saudi Arabia,” Wojciech Bajda, head of Gulf Council countries and global customer unit zain, told Arab News. “The focus for our customers currently is to understand how to monetize 5G, how to make sure there’s an industrial application of 5G in Saudi Arabia.”

Bajda also said they are looking at introducing 5G to different sectors in the Kingdom such as mining, and oil and gas. “We have engagements with different industries in trying to prototype together, and see if there’s something relevant for Saudi Arabia, and for our customers like the Saudi Telecom Company to pick up and do a full implementation,” he added. 

What to expect at GITEX this year 

This year’s GITEX, which has the theme “Synergizing the Mind and Technology Economy,” will highlight the region’s 5G adoption, as well as other futuristic concepts such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and immersive technology.

LohMirmand said the dwelling time for GITEX visitors has increased over the years, owing to the gathering’s massive content offering.

“We are measuring more in terms of dwelling time. You can have 100,000 people come one day and do, but now the trend for us is we’re seeing them staying longer. Because there’s so much content, there’s so much knowledge, and so many companies with new technology, dwelling time is much longer, averaging 3.5 to 4 days,” she explained.

“Visitors and exhibitors are having deeper and more meaningful interactions at the show.”

The halls of DWTC will be divided into six sectors: 5G, AI, Future mobility, GITEX lifestyle tech, and Smart cities. It opens Oct. 6.