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International Trade Fair in Pyongyang


By Leonid Petrov, The Korea Times (10 May 2005)


The 8th International Trade Fair is opening next week at the New Technology and Innovation Hall in Pyongyang, the capital city of North Korea. For three days (May 16-19) its organizers - DPRK Ministry of Foreign Trade and Korea International Exhibition Corporation - will host the event.

Pyongyang Trade Fairs usually draw dozens of companies from friendly nations such as China, Syria, Thailand, Romania, Germany, Italy, Britain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Malaysia and sometimes Taiwan. Despite the friendly relations between the DPRK and Russia, no Russian companies express interest. American and South Korean companies are not expected to be present for political reasons.

This year, the "official forwarder" an Italian company from Milan, OTIM SPA has been appointed to promote the event. Along with its exclusive rights in Italy to sell tours to North Korea, OTIM is focusing on freight-forwarding business related to trade fairs and exhibitions worldwide.

North Korean companies, which work in the area of export and import will be also represented. Fairs like this are designed to attract the attention of DPRK government officials, company decision-making managers, engineers, scientists, traders and developers.

Put on display will be electronic products, telecommunication facilities, vehicles, equipment for farming, machine tools, light industrial goods and articles for cultural use. Construction materials and building equipment will make up another large group of exhibits.

Foreign mining equipment and technologies have been traditionally attracting the interest of North Korean mining authorities. But these days, energy production is the most burning issue for the country. Foreign investors and producers may find this sector of economy the most promising for cooperation.

Environment protection, transport and logistics are the areas where foreign companies find little or no competition. What is attractive about it is that the export to North Korea can be organized through the network of foreign NGOs generously sponsored by the European Commission, the Asian Development Bank and other multilateral development finance institutions.

Communications and IT Technology are both in high demand and rapidly developing in the DPRK. The North Korean companies developing software are renowned for high professionalism and cost effectiveness. Currently, the citizens of Pyongyang and other large cities are wired to the three major communication networks. So, in the country where a cellular telephone with subscription costs a thousand dollars, why not invest in the development of local Intranet and mobile networks?

For those selling farming equipment and technology, PITF 2005 will save many surprises. After the launch of ``July 2002 economic measures, the national agriculture is on the rise. The state-run farms and cooperatives have aggressively purchased modern equipment in order to boost the agricultural productivity.

Textile manufacturing, food and beverage, printing, packaging, chemical, pharmaceutical equipment and other light industries are sufficiently developed in North Korea. However, to secure the production of competitive consumer goods for domestic consumption and export they desperately need foreign investments.

A wide range of foreign products, which will be on display, usually arouses much interest among the local visitors. North Korea is notorious for the shortage of available commodities. Galloping inflation makes it difficult for the population to purchase imported goods. Thus, the barter and non-cash deals with foreign companies are prevalent.

The Pyongyang International Trade Fair provides a rare chance for the North Korean businessmen to see their foreign counterparts. Business meetings are held, contacts are established and deals are cut. These fairs also serve as an important opportunity for foreign companies to set up a joint venture or liaison office inside the secretive state.

By attracting foreign investments and promoting its own goods to international markets the DPRK tries hard to revamp its critically damaged economy and create a solid foundation for the future unification of Korea.

The writer, a Russian, is a Korea Foundation post-doctoral fellow at the Academy of Korean Studies. He also works as an instructor at the Intercultural Institute of California in San Francisco).

Seoul, Korea

May 2005

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