You’ve probably seen a lot of posts by us lately throughout social media advertising the Rason International Trade Fair this August. If you’re familiar with our itineraries and programs you may sense that this one sounds a bit unique and is, different from a conventional tour to North Korea. But you will also be wondering, what exactly is the Rason International Trade Fair? And why is it worth going to rather than let’s say, Pyongyang or Kaesong? These are all legitimate questions. Let’s establish the answers and demonstrate how as a practical, hands on and insightful experience, such an exhibition is of far more lasting value to the attendant than a standard trip to Pyongyang.
What is the Rason International Trade Fair? And why Rason?
The Rason International Trade Fair is a business conference, just like the standard ones you would find all over the world. Except, it’s in North Korea. Not only is it in North Korea, but it is located in the “Rason Special Economic Zone” a special area in the country’s North East which permits more liberalised economic activity by foreigners. It is modeled on those created in 1980s China during the era of economic opening, although not yet to the same level of success. The zone has actually been around since 1992, but has only gained more momentum in recent years since Kim Jong-un has placed greater emphasis on marketisation and economic reform. As a result, despite sanctions, many foreigners have created unique joint ventures in this area, which are seldom found in other parts of the country. The trip itinerary includes some of them, such as a casino set up by a Hong Kong company. As a result, the Rason International Trade Fair is a conference whereby these investors, as well as local companies and interested observers, come together to network, showcase their work and build ties. This represents the opportunity for the attendant to discover how business in the DPRK is changing and how the economy is evolving; offering a different level of experience and insight to what visiting statues in Pyongyang could offer.
Why is it so special this year?
The biggest obstacle to foreign investment in North Korea is international sanctions imposed over the country’s nuclear weapons programs. Although clearly this hasn’t deterred everyone, it has kept away western companies and investors. However, the emergence of new peace talks on the Korean peninsula now offer an unprecedented window of opportunity concerning North Korea’s economic future. This has been a continuing theme of President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, with him emphasizing a world of investment on offer to Kim Jong-un if an agreement can be reached. Investors themselves have been quick to respond to this rhetoric, eager to “get in first” to North Korea if thing go well. As a result, this year’s Rason International Trade Fair represents a massive opportunity. It is a window of North Korea’s economic future. Whether you are a curious observer, a scholar or an aspiring investor, the fair really becomes the place to be. It is chance to reflect upon the country’s future, upon North East Asia’s future and to build a unique network of local ties and contacts which could prove priceless in the long run.
Learn, discover and reach out
There is no better opportunity to understand the changing DPRK, and what the DPRK may yet become, through a visit to the Rason Special Economic Zone and the international trade fair. This is not the North Korea you’ve been taught to believe in. With so much to see and so much to learn, what the Fair demonstrates and offers is far removed from the media clique stereotype of the country we are programmed with every day. Instead, we can witness a country that wants to reach out to the world. New and upcoming local entrepreneurs are hungry for international contacts and new investors to work with. There is an appetite for change and wealth in the air. You don’t have to be an aspiring investor to come and see this. The experience alone is priceless.