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North Korea hosts foreign experts at SEZ conference in Pyongyang

Faculty of Management professor Connie Carter was one of only six foreign experts invited to Pyongyang, North Korea, to discuss the establishment of special economic zones (SEZs) in that country in an attempt to kick-start its moribund economy. The two-day conference, held 16-17 October, was organized by the Korea Economic Development Association and a professor at the Institute of Asian Research in the University of British Columbia.

About eighty north Korean participants from various provinces and ministries attended the unique international conference. According to the director of the Korea Economic Development Association, Mr Yun Yong Sok, the plan is to establish an SEZ in each province.Although the Socialist country follows a strict command economy, it has experimented with capitalist market economy activities before. One example is the Kaesong SEZ, located on the border between north and south Korea and jointly operated by the two Koreas. However, this SEZ was closed when North Korea removed its workers in spring 2013 when conflict escalated between Pyongyang and Seoul.

“The situation in North Korea reminds me of that in Myanmar, which is only just emerging from five decades of military rule and almost total isolation from the international community”, says Connie Carter, who is currently researching the challenges and opportunities of doing business in Myanmar’s SEZs. Her research in Myanmar is funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), a Canadian crown corporation. “Both North Korea and Myanmar are seeking to emulate China’s strategy of using SEZs to attract foreign investors”, says Connie Carter. “But it will take much more than the declaration of SEZs to make them happen. And both countries have a very long way to go. Myanmar has the edge as it has introduced a comprehensive reform programme, including many foreign investor friendly laws and regulations. However, the jury is still out on whether Myanmar’s move towards the rule of law and democracy is irreversible.”