North Korea’s annual trade fair in Rason will take place for three days from August 8, the Paekdu Cultural Exchange announced on Friday.
The sixth iteration of the trade fair will be in the Rason special economic zone (SEZ), which is around an hour’s drive from the Quenhe/Wonjong (Chinese/DPRK) border-crossing checkpoint.
“The exhibition will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and will house over 120 booths displaying electronic equipment, services, light industry products, housewares, processed fish and agricultural products, local food and beverages, and traditional alcohols,” the fair’s announcement page reads.
The event is organized by the local Economic Cooperation Bureau, which is part of the People’s Committee of Rason Special Economic Zone. Booths at the fair will cost 600 to 800 euros for indoor spaces, with larger outdoor spaces also available.
The Paekdu Cultural Exchange will take a group of “interested observers as well as those wanting to operate a booth or meet with trade and investment officials,” Michael Spavor, director of the Paekdu Cultural Exchange told NK News.
Any trade fairs happening in North Korea this year will do so under the shadow of the DPRK’s recent rigorous weapons testing schedule and a strengthened sanctions environment, arising from a nuclear test and satellite launch earlier in the year.
Even long-standing ally China now requires its companies complete additional paperwork and receive permits before buying some of the North’s major exports like coal and iron. The U.S. also tightened sanctions against the country, which could have difficult consequences for dollar trades, or companies that use banks with U.S. interests.
“Due to recent developments and political tensions in the region prospective foreign investors seem to be much more cautious and risk averse now than in the past 5 years,” Spavor said.
The new sanctions however have not dissuaded companies with a preliminary interest in the North, or less risk averse organizations.
“I’ve experienced a growing interest this year from frontier investment firms and individuals who are generally attracted to higher risk investments,” Spavor said.
“We haven’t yet experienced any additional difficulties this year in planning or participating in the Rason International Trade Fair. We already have more interest from foreign companies this year than previously.”
Rason is North Korea’s most successful Special Economic Zone and has attracted relatively large-scale investment in the past. In recent years, Russian companies bankrolled upgrades to the port infrastructure, significantly upgrading how much coal could be moved through the area.
The site was also the focal point of a trilateral coal export project between the two Koreas and Russia, though Seoul has shelved the plans amidst the recent tensions.
“It is far from being an easy place to do business, this year there were a few foreign businesspeople who’ve packed up and moved away, but I still know of many successful businesses inside. There are currently about 130 foreign joint venture and wholly owned private enterprises in the zone,” Spavor told NK News.