What can North Korea do for you?

Are you looking for a hot new business opportunity that’s sure to excite? Look no further than… North Korea. According to the Official Business Webpage of the DPRK, North Korea “will become in the next years the most important hub for trading in North-East Asia.” Forget China. North Korea not only provides the lowest labor ...

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597638_071212_dprk_05.jpg

Are you looking for a hot new business opportunity that's sure to excite? Look no further than... North Korea.

Are you looking for a hot new business opportunity that’s sure to excite? Look no further than… North Korea.

According to the Official Business Webpage of the DPRK, North Korea “will become in the next years the most important hub for trading in North-East Asia.” Forget China. North Korea not only provides the lowest labor costs in Asia (which is quite simple when your economy is impoverished and that pesky business of human rights protection is completely out of the picture), the government also ensures that foreigners will not have to deal with middlemen: “All business made directly with the government, state-owned companies.” Moreover, North Korea offers tax incentives, particularly for high-tech operations, and a “stable” political environment (one of the benefits of a strong-fisted dictatorship) that claims to be corruption-free.

So what type of products does the DPRK sell abroad? The country’s exports in goods include ship parts, computer machinery, cosmetics, garments, vehicles, and more. North Korea also offers services internationally, sending IT engineers and programmers, historical site restorers, construction workers, doctors, and “organizers of mass gymnastics” abroad. Examples of business success stories working with the North Koreans include the export of ginseng to Spain and the United States, the production of a cartoon series for Denmark, and V.I.P. tours from the Netherlands.

The strangeness of some of the country’s specializations aside, this effort by North Korea to open up (albeit slightly) economically and engage the international business community may just be a positive development for the country and the region. Even if skeptics of “constructive engagement” are right and these business links don’t lead to political and regime change, there’s still the hope that any increase in employment in North Korea will help the general population. As many as two million North Koreans died during the famine a decade ago in the Hermit Kingdom. Opening up is surely a better option. And with progress being made on the nuclear front, will it simply be a matter of time before North Korea sheds its pariah status?

Prerna Mankad is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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