Authorities extort money, fertilizer from trading companies

Choi Song Min  |  2016-04-25 17:07
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As North Korea heads into peak agricultural season, the authorities have ordered trading companies to procure and donate fertilizer. According to inside sources, the State Planning Commission is using its authority to grant or withhold annual import/export licenses to demand contributions from companies in the form of fertilizers. Companies that are unable to meet the demand are in danger of losing their trading rights. 

The authorities are under pressure to put on a spectacular show for the 7th Party Congress coming up in May. However, a number of financial lifelines have been lost since international sanctions came into effect. It is for this reason that trading companies are being ordered to contribute fertilizer in addition to loyalty funds of US $3,000.

In a telephone conversation with Daily NK on April 22, a source in South Pyongan said, Right now, all trading companies have been instructed to import large quantities of fertilizer and other agricultural products. The authorities have sent official notification forms to trading companies of various sizes stating that if they do not fulfill the request, their trading privileges will be revoked.

Additional sources in the same province and North Pyongan Province corroborated this news.

Because of this order, he added, trading companies are now engaged in hurried efforts to fulfill the request before the end of the 70-Day Battle [a mobilization effort composed of construction projects and other tasks ordered by the authorities in preparation for the May Party Congress.] Trading company managers are traveling to China directly to enter into negotiations with Chinese merchants and are also putting their relatives and connections to work in pursuit of the deals.

In towns near the border, such as Sinuiju or Namyang, trading company managers are pouring in and urgently requesting their Chinese relatives to send any quantity of fertilizer they can. There are also reports of border guards connected to the traders turning a blind eye as the fertilizer is smuggled across the border into North Korea. 

In connection with these efforts, on April 20, the North Korean state-run publication Rodong Sinmun reported that the Namhung Youth Chemical Complex exceeded its "70-Day Battle" goal by producing a daily average of 640 tons of fertilizer. The source refuted this claim, noting, This is nothing but propaganda. If massive amounts of fertilizer werent imported into North Korea this year, farming efforts would be seriously compromised. 

Speaking on wider conditions within the country, the source continued, The fertilizer shortage is obviously a problem, but there are other pressing concerns as well. For instance, the collective farms are making seedbeds for crops such as corn. However, since there are a lack of plastic sheets to cover them, they are in trouble. So the authorities have ordered every family to contribute one pyong (3.3 square meters) worth of plastic cover. Even school children are being mobilized and have resorted to collecting scraps.  

The source concluded, The authorities did not stipulate an exact amount [of fertilizer] for the trading companies to contribute. In doing so, they are attempting to incite a loyalty competition in the hopes of increasing total yield. The reluctant companies are reportedly bringing in the cheapest fertilizer available, prompting farm managers to remark that much of it is virtually useless. 

*Translated by Jonathan Corrado
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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