North Korea reform takes centre stage

04/05/2007 | Anthony Rowley

South Korea FM Kwon says it's high time to respons to North Korea's thaw

South Korean finance minister Kwon Okyu will tell Asian financial leaders at the ADB annual meeting today that it’s “high time” to take notice of changes in North Korea.

“We want to draw attention to North Korea”, Kwon told Emerging Markets in an interview yesterday. “North Korea is not a member of any international organisation, and yet it is one of the poorest countries in the world, “ he said.

Kwon will tell ADB governors that change is evident in the reclusive state, but that it is receiving very little outside support in its efforts.

“North Korea recently sent government officials overseas to get training in the market economy,” Kwon pointed out.

“The US position is moving more and more toward supporting North Korea. I want to draw ADB members’ attention to this, and to stress the way that the situation is changing.”

Kwon pointed to a recent survey by a leading investment bank suggesting that North Korea is at a similar stage of economic development to that in China during the late 1960s and 1970s.

An increasing proportion of commodities are being traded via the market. A market in foreign exchange also exists, even though at different rates from the official market, he noted.

North Korea cannot apply for membership of the ADB until it has first secured admission to the IMF and the World Bank, Kwon said. But ADB members should be aware of changes in the country, so that they can examine ways that they can assist North Korea’s potential transition to a market economy, he suggested.

Before taking his present position, Kwon spent some time in the Czech Republic at the request of Korean president Roh Moo – studying how the transition from a centrally planned to a more marketised economy was managed there. The Czech experience could have considerable relevance for North Korea, Kwon suggested to Emerging Markets in an earlier interview.

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