Fur coats and pills that claim to increase strength are among some of North Korea’s more unusual exports, according to the most recent issue of Foreign Trade magazine, a publication which covers DPRK companies looking to sell their products abroad.
The magazine has a two-page spread featuring the Taehung Fur Trading Corporation, a North Korean company which makes leather, fur garments and artificial furs for export, claiming to have shipped its products to “Asia and Europe.”
“The corporation is striving to further develop furskin (sic) processing techniques, put the production lines on a modern footing and and strengthen exchanges and cooperation with the outside world,” the magazine article reads.
The Taehung Fur Trading Corporation uses furs from various animals – and some that are not indigenous to North Korea – including silver fox, nutria (also known as a river rat), otter, badger and rabbit.
Though no product prices are given, outside of North Korea coats and garments made from silver fox appear to be the most expensive, ranging anywhere from $150 to more than $9,000.
Prices of furs from the other listed animals appears to be generally cheaper, though still regularly cost more than $200.
According to the Foreign Trade article, the company produces “fur coat, cap, leather gloves, leather clothes, garments and shoes.”
In February, an article in South Korean media indicated that Pyongyang’s elite were wearing fur coats dubbed “Putin winter coats,” though this appears to be the first time North Korean furs have been advertised for export.
“No, I haven’t heard about (North Korea’s) fur trade,” Kim Young-hui, North Korea Economy Team Head at the Korea Development Bank told NK News.
The ITC Trade Map also shows that North Korea’s fur trading appears to be two-way, with limited exports in recent years to some countries in Asia, Europe and even Brazil.
North Korean imports of fur coats, however, appear to be more extensive. In 2010 and 2011, the DPRK made two single imports from Italy and France, valued and $2,000 and $4,000 respectively.
If accurate, the imports of product code “4303 – Articles of apparel, clothing access and other articles of furskin” would likely constitute a breach of the UN’s luxury good sanctions and EU law, which prohibit shipments of high-quality garments to the DPRK.
‘There is not much doubt in my mind that a fur coat is to be considered as “high-quality garments …” one of the categories of the EU list of luxury goods’
“There is not much doubt in my mind that a fur coat is to be considered as ‘high-quality garments, clothing accessories and shoes (regardless of their material)’, one of the categories of the EU list of luxury goods,” a sanctions expert who wished to remain anonymous told NK News.
“I am therefore confident that fur coat exports from France and/or Italy in 2010 (and) 2011 should be considered as sanctions violations,” they added.
North Korea publishes no trade figures of its own, however, leaving it other countries to report on trade interactions. This allows for the possibility of error, with trade agencies and companies occasionally confusing South and North Korea.
North Korea also appears to import far greater quantities of fur garments from China. Last year alone, the DPRK spent more than $4 million on fur garments from its neighbor, and $7 million in the previous year.
Despite the relatively large sums of money involved, the exports would not contravene UN sanctions, as China has not published a prohibitive list of luxury good exports to the DPRK.
“As for China, (it is) hard to point towards a violation in the absence of a (publicly known?) list of luxury goods. Fur coats not being on the baseline list defined by resolution 2094, it is up for each Member State to consider them or not luxury goods,” the sanctions expert added.
“China had no published luxury goods list (so) it was possible legally to sell a wide variety of goods from China to the DPRK that would have fallen foul of sanctions had they been exported from (e.g.) an EU country. This problem went well beyond fur coats (whiskey was another difficult example),” a diplomatic source with knowledge of UN sanctions told NK News.
Pelts and other materials for making fur garments also appear in the DPRK’s imports. China, France, Turkey and South Africa have all sent shipments of varying sizes to North Korea over the last two years.
UN sanctions, however, are geared towards inhibiting North Korea’s weapons programs and subsequently do include provisions for materials that could be used to produce luxury items.
Such measures would likely have difficult consequences for above board trade.
“There is no UN sanction on the DPRK importing pelts and exporting finished fur goods. Why should there be? The UN sanctions aim to stop the DPRK’s WMD programs, not to halt legitimate trade,” the diplomatic source added.
A cure-all pill with a wide array of supposed health benefits was also advertised in the most recent issue of Foreign Trade.
Among the supposed benefits are, ‘strengthening growth hormone’ and ‘increasing sexual function in the elderly’
While companies purporting to sell elixirs are by no means limited to North Korea, the potential advantages to taking the “nutrition” pills are quite remarkable.
Among the supposed benefits are, “strengthening growth hormone” and “increasing sexual function in the elderly.” The pill can also be taken by children to promote growth, help with mental concentration and benefit athletes.
Lastly, the pill is said to help relieve fatigue, car sickness and anemia.
According to the article, the pill’s ingredients are a mix of various vitamins and “physiological activators.”
This is not the first time North Korea has produced medicinal products for export, according to experts.
“If they are capable of manufacturing Viagra, it must be easy for them to make some oriental medicine pill that is believed to have all kind of positive effects,” Kim Seung-chul from NK Reform Radio told NK News.
The article does not mention if there any side effects of taking the pill, and gives only vague instructions on dosage.
Two or three pills should be taken “several times a day,” with children “who have been weaned,” should take only one or two.
“North Korea certainly doesn’t have to care about global medical standards. As I believe most of those pills go in to the market in China and some in Korea (where oriental medicine is more common),” Bang Jun-seok, a school of medicine professor at SookMyung Women’s University, told NK News.
“What is equally important as the effectiveness of medicine, is it’s toxicity. All of medicines are double-bladed sword. If North Korea has not proven the toxicity of above medicine, it could cause big problem in the future.”
Additional reporting by Thomas Grevedon
Featured image: Foreign Trade Magazine
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