North Korea on Monday opened the 9th Rason International Trade Fair, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
The annual event, which takes place in the city of Rason in the DPRK’s northeast, will see foreign and domestic companies promote products in the fields of “building materials, light industrial goods, food, daily necessities, [and] medicines,” state media said.
Exhibitors hailing from “several countries including the DPRK, China, Russia and Germany” are set to participate, it continued.
110 organizations are taking part — a small decline compared to the 120+ which participated last year.
It’s unclear how many are foreign and how many are domestic, however: reporting by NK News‘s sister site NK Pro following the 2018 fair revealed that a slim majority of the firms present at the fair were foreign at around 60, and that they were overwhelmingly Chinese in origin.
The reporting also revealed that a number of foreign firms present at the event were involved in industries and commodities subject to sectoral sanctions by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
An opening ceremony on Monday was attended by a number of top state officials, as well as “working people in Rason City, exhibitors, consul generals of China and Russia in Chongjin, [and] Chinese figures concerned,” KCNA reported.
Also present were a number of “foreign businessmen active in the Rason economic and trade zone” — the special economic zone (SEZ) encompassing the city.
State media’s mention of light industry firms present at this week’s fair is notable, one expert said, given its relative profitability and importance in the DPRK government’s broader economic plans.
“Light industry appears to have been less affected by the ongoing economic contraction believed by the Bank of Korea (BOK) and many other observers to be ongoing in North Korea,” Peter Ward, a writer and researcher focusing on the North Korean economy, said.
“BOK estimates that light industry only contracted by 2.6% last year, and clearly for ‘improving the people’s lives,’ a stated government goal, and lowering dependence on imports, another such goal, making cheap consumables domestically is a priority,” he added.
“Foreign investors are useful as a source of capital, knowhow, expertise and technology. This is a reason why such events happen. Another is that such events are retail experiences in themselves, while also serving as a forum for deals and partnerships to emerge.”
North Korea stages multiple trade fairs per year, with the largest typically taking place in Pyongyang in May.
This year’s 22nd Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair saw a record number of companies participate, with state media reporting that over 450 firms were taking part.
Edited by Colin Zwirko
Featured image: NK News, file photo