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Doing business with North Korea

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, also known as North Korea) finds itself at a new era of international economic cooperation, and it especially welcomes business with Europe. North Korea is offering various local products and services to export markets, while the country is also in need for many foreign products. 

In the current financial and economic situation, European companies face many challenges. They must cut costs, develop new products and find new markets. In these fields, North Korea is an interesting option, since it is now actively opening its doors to foreign enterprises. It has also established a number of free trade zones and Economic Development Zones. There are several sectors, including renewable energy, shipbuilding, agro business, horticulture, logistics, animation and Information Technology, that can be considered for trade. North Korea is competing with other Asian countries by offering skilled labour at low monthly wages. In particular firms with production facilities in China, where the wages are rising fast, have been investigating alternative options in North Korea.    

In case you are interested to explore North Korea, we can offer assistance (including advice related to the various sanctions when trading with North Korea). Earlier articles from us about trade and investment sectors (note: some of these sectors, such as the production of garments, are now sanctioned): 

•   producing animation in North Korea (overview of the animation-sector in DPRK, July 2018) 
•    video: ICT outsourcing to North Korea (the second part of this video, made by Technical University Delft, deals with North Korea)
Impression of our mission to North Korea in 2017  
•   Producing textile and garments in North Korea
•   Software and ICT outsourcing
•   Animation and cartoons (video examples of SEK Studio, Pyongyang)
•   Cooperation in the flower sector
•   Investment projects in the Wonsan-Kumgang International Tourist Zone
•   Investing inside Korean EDZ's (Economic Development Zones)
•   Floriculture investment project proposal

•   Examples of North Korean products and investment proposals.


New article: 'Cultural differences when dealing with North Koreans' (April 2024)
A large number of Americans and Europeans have been involved in collaboration projects with North Koreans, even though the geopolitical situation and the different political systems create complicated challenges. Compared with the past, many books and articles are now available about the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and they cover a wide range of issues. However, one topic is often missing: the cultural differences when communicating with North Koreans.

The cultural divide with the DPRK is vast. Many professionals dealing with this country are relatively new to the topic of culture or lack situational awareness. As soon as the borders re-open, foreigners will have again intensive personal communication with North Koreans, and it will be important for them to find ways to create common ground between the different cultures and ideologies. Since there is limited information available about this topic, I am currently writing the article 'Cultural differences when dealing with North Koreans'. The first version is already available (suggestions for input are welcome).


Webinar: ‘Statement of the Korean National Peace Committee (23 March 2024)
One of our partners in the DPRK is the Korean National Peace Committee (KNPC).  When the borders re-open, we plan to organize again missions with this organization. On the occasion of its 75th founding anniversary, the KNPC has issued the following statement.


Webinar: ‘Past, Present, and Future Opportunities for Economic Engagement with North Korea’ (7 September 2023)
North Korea is slowly re-opening its borders after the Covid-related closure of the country. On our side, we hope to be able to organize press missions to North Korea again in early 2024. These tours will have an introductory character and cover a broad range of political, economic, security and societal issues.

We have contacts with various North Korean organizations since the year 1996, and cooperation with them has been possible in various fields. Dealing with North Koreans however is not easy because of the many political and cultural differences, and misunderstandings and disagreements often occur. We discussed these challenges on Thursday 7 September at the webinar: ‘Viewing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from Within’, organized by the Universal Peace Federation. This webinar is part of a series exploring the views of those who have travelled to the DPRK. The main speaker is Dr. Han S. Park (Professor Emeritus of International Affairs, University of Georgia). He is the author of several books, including: ‘North Korea : Ideology, Politics, Economy’; ‘Korea: The Politics of Unconventional Wisdom’ and ‘North Korea Demystified’. This webinar was organized by UPF Canada and UPF Europe and Middle East. The recording of the webinar is available.


Webinar: ‘Past, Present, and Future Opportunities for Economic Engagement with North Korea’ (13 May 2022)
This webinar is part of a series exploring the views of those who have travelled to the DPRK. With contributions of:
- Dr. Alexander Zhebin, Director of the Center for Korean Studies (CKS) of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Science in Moscow. He has spent 12 years in North Korea as a journalist and a diplomat. He will provide a Russian perspective on the DPRK.
- Dr. Okkyung Pak, author and researcher with a Ph. D degree in Social Anthropology from University Laval, Quebec. Okkyung Pak was born in Korea and is now based in Montreal. She will speak on North Korean education philosophy.
- Mr. Paul Tjia, Director of GPI Consultancy, the Netherlands. He has contacts with North Korea since 1997. He organizes business missions to this country on a regular basis. He also arranges dedicated tours for journalists and academics. He will discuss to need for more engagement with North Korea.
The webinar was organized by UPF (Universal Peace Federation) Canada and UPF Europe and Middle East and sponsored by the International Association for Peace and Economic Development – USA. The recording of the webinar is available.


Webinar: ‘DPRK Economic Engagement: The Kaesong Industrial Complex & Unjong High-Tech Development Zone (15 March 2022)
William B. Brown (Chair of George Washington University's North Korea Economic Forum in the Institute of Korean Studies) and Paul Tjia (GPI Consultancy) discussed various topics on economic engagement with North Korea, including the effectiveness of the Kaesong Industrial Park in bringing greater cooperation between the two Koreas.  The webinar was sponsored by the International Association for Peace and Economic Development – USA. The recording of the webinar is available.


Conducting IT-related work in North-Korea (presentation, 28 July 2021)
As a precaution against Covid-19, North Korea closed its borders since 2020, making trade in physical goods almost impossible. Nevertheless, it is possible to outsource IT-related projects to the DPRK. Various types of work can be done, such as data-entry, software development, production of computer games and animation.  On request of UPF (Universal Peace Federation), we made a short presentation.


Study tour to North Korea  (23 September - 1 October 2019)
North Korea is now facing a growing number of international sanctions, and banned export items include key products as coal, seafood and textiles. North Korea can also import less, in particular oil. Before this latest round of sanctions, North Korea's economy grew at its fastest pace in 17 years in 2016. Actually, the North Korean economy has grown steadily in the Kim Jong-un era, due to several pragmatic policies.

Is it still possible for North Korea to continue this growth when foreign trade has become much more difficult? State media reports suggest that the economic development strategy after 2018 will be more heavily focused on expanding light industry and agriculture. There will be a shift from importing consumer and industrial goods to domestic manufacture. In addition, there are various economic sectors where international trade is still allowed.
Are you interested in learning about the political and economic developments? Exploring business opportunities? Then you are welcome to join our upcoming study tour from 23 September - 1 October 2019. The program has a general character and includes various visits in Pyongyang. During the tour, there will be options for formal and informal discussions with Koreans. For an overview, see the draft program.


ICT- and animation-mission to North Korea  (16 - 25 September 2018)
In the field of ICT, North Korea offers opportunities for collaboration in several areas, such as software development, production of computer games, mobile games, animation and cartoons, websites, data entry and digitization. Having access to a pool of highly technically skilled labor is a key rationale behind outsourcing to North Korea, and where the rates are low. This type of business cooperation is not subject to UN or EU sanctions. In order to provide information about these ICT-related opportunities, a unique study tour will take place in September 2018. ICT companies and animation studios in Pyongyang will be visited. The tour will also have a general and broad character, since it will also cover political, economic and touristic topics. See the 
example program.

We are mentioned in the press - some examples:

Golem, December 2018: NordKorea: kaum Fehler in der Matrix
The Times, September 2018:
Something extraordinary is happening in North Korea and it has happened with great speed
The Wall Street Journal, July 2018: Companies See Glimmers of Opportunity in North Korea
The New York Times, June 2018: Who Wants to Do Business in North Korea?
BBC, December 2017: How does North Korea do business under sactions?
Planet Money, October 2017 (audio): North Korea's Capitalists
Reuters, October 2017: U.N. ban on North Korean textiles will disprupt industry and ordinary lives, experts say
China Brief, October 2016: The Stable Door and Chollima: Chinese Computers and North Korean IT
BBC News, June 2016: How Western businessmen make money from North Korea
Vice News, March 2016: Your clothes could actually being made in North Korea 
NKNews, November 2015: North Korea angles for FDI, but doubt lingers   

Institutional investor, July 2015: Open for business: North Korea seeks foreign money 
JoongAng Daily, February 2015: Money the ultimate universal ideology   
NKNews, July 2012: Business and Outsourcing in North Korea: interview with Paul Tjia


Press mission to North Korea (16 - 25 September 2018)
What will be the impact of the recent UN sanctions on North Korea’s economy? How do the Koreans view the international situation? What changes will become visible to the visitor to Pyongyang? In this critical period, we organize two press missions to the country, in order to provide information about these topics.

Are you interested in learning about the political and economic developments? Then you are welcome to join our upcoming press mission from 16 - 25 September. The program has a general character and includes various visits to companies and factories in Pyongyang; we will also attend the Autumn International Trade Fair. We will also travel south to Kaesong and the DeMilitarized Zone at Panmunjom, and to Wonsan and Mount Kumgang. During the tour, there will be options for formal and informal discussions with Koreans. This press tour will also include the seminar ‘doing business in DPRK’ in Beijing.For an overview, see the draft program.
Our traditional  spring mission, with a stronger focus on economy, will take place from 20 - 29 May 2018, when the Pyongyang will be held.  Details of the May mission will become available at a later stage.


Trade fair participation
Are you interested in exploring export or import opportunities with North Korea? In that case, participation at the Pyongyang International Trade Fair can be useful. It is possible to have your own (or shared) booth at the PITF in May or September. Exhibiting is a great way to promote your products or services, and a surprising number of business contacts with Koreans can be made. The trade fair attracts forerign participants from China, New Zealand, Germany, Malaysia, Mongolia, Switzerland, Singapore, Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Italy, Thailand, Cuba, Poland and Taiwan. Participation is not expensive: a standard booth (3m x 3m), including the use of one interpreter, is available at this trade fair for around 1000 euro. We can assist you with the participation. See the video for an impression of this fair in 2017. 


Academic cooperation with Kim Il Sung University
The Kim Il Sung University, founded on 1 October 1946, is the first university built in North Korea. On 29 and 30 September 2016, the international symposium "Science Development and Social Progress" took place in celebration of its 70th anniversary. Participants from different countries, including China, Russia, Germany, France, Spain, Poland, Australia, the UK and the Netherlands, took part in this event. It is the intention to hold more international academic seminars and also to launch joint research projects with other universities around the world. There are various options for academic collaboration, for example in the fields of Information Technology, bioengineering, materials development, renewable energy, river water purification. We can arrange visits to the Kim Il Sung University, to explore options for collaboration. The university is also planning to increase the number of foreign students studying the Korean language.


Korean language training in North Korea: the Pyongyang Summer School 
Study the Korean language in Pyongyang next summer and make friends with your Korean teachers, language partners and tour guides while seeing the most important sights both in Pyongyang and elsewhere in the country. Both academically rigorous and led by the best language professors in North Korea, it will be the most meaningful and memorable summer learning experience of your life. The Pyongyang Summer Language Program is an intensive three week immersion experience that will help Korean language learners move to the next level in their language skills. The focus is on conversation with native language speakers. Upon acceptance, you will be part of the elite group of Europeans studying Korean language at the famous Kim Il Sung University!  


Contact us 
Curious about trade options in North Korea? GPI Consultancy is an independent Dutch consulting company, and can provide you with the latest information. We also organize seminars and business missions on a regular basis, and can connect you with relevant Korean business partners. We also have contacts with the DPRK Chamber of Commerce in Pyongyang.