If, like me, your bucket list includes taking a tour of the DPRK and investing in an insanely risky joint venture in an authoritarian country, Young Pioneer Tours may have given you the opportunity to check off both boxes.
Like many packages, this six day DPRK Industrial Tour will fly or sleeper-train you in to Pyongyang for the usual forays to historic juche sites and a stay at the majestic Yanggakdo hotel. However, as Young Pioneer puts it, this trip is aimed at “those that are potentially interested in doing business with the…surprisingly stable economy that is the DPRK,” and offers “opportunities to arrange meetings with various ministries, or key personal [sic] involved in business.”
Participants are treated to a briefing session by the Joint Venture Investment Commission on Law and Environment for Foreign Investment as well as the National Tourism Authority, followed by visits to factories for heavy machining, glass, textiles, and clothing. And, to top it all off, the package promises dinner at a Pyongyang pizzeria, “one of the first JV restaurants in the capital,” presumably to see just how great your investment can turn out. (I do not know which pizza parlor Pioneer is referring to, but if CNN is correct in stating there are only two joints in Pyongyang, linking to this story is a 50/50 chance.)
One thing to note is that this tour most likely has the potential to be one of the most comprehensive views of North Korea that you can get. I ran a post last week on the Dutch stamp dealer Willem van der Bijl, and according to him doing business in the country gives you relatively unrestricted freedom of movement – that is, until you end up in a jail cell. Similarly, this package too seems to be somewhat flexible in who you meet and what you see.
But obviously, the tour is secondary to the real purpose. North Korea wants foreign investment and hard foreign currency. There are even a few arguable incentives for investment in North Korea: like any country the North possesses certain comparative advantages, specifically in labor intensive, medium-skill manufacturing. However, despite Pioneer’s claims of a “surprisingly stable economy,” the framework for stable FDI is still clearly lacking. One doesn’t have to look further than Kaesong to see the obvious effects of major political shocks on cooperative output. A little further out of the spotlight, the New York Times ran an interesting piece on a beleaguered beer venture in Chongjin that simply petered out due to the DPRK’s bureaucratic inexperience with private business entities.
While foreign investment into North Korea remains relegated to a few pockets of activity by Chinese and South Korean firms, perhaps sweetening the deal with a vacation package will get things humming for the rest of the outside world. Unfortunately, I’m not holding my breath.