Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

Overwhelming response from Singapore firms for North Korea business mission

SINGAPORE — A planned business mission to North Korea has received overwhelming responses from Singapore companies within a day after TODAY's report on it.

Overwhelming response from Singapore firms for North Korea business mission

A planned business mission to North Korea has received overwhelming responses from Singapore companies within a day after TODAY’s report on it.

SINGAPORE — A planned business mission to North Korea has received overwhelming responses from Singapore companies within a day after TODAY's report on it.

More than 20 companies have since indicated their interest, said former academic Michael Heng, who is facilitating the trip in September following an invite from the hermit kingdom.

As the trip can only accommodate 18 participants, Dr Heng said on Wednesday (June 20) that he is conducting "selection interviews" to assess the most suitable candidates for the trip.

The keen interest came as a surprise to the 63-year-old director of People Worldwide Consulting. He had been struggling to put together a group since receiving an official invitation from the Korea Committee for the Promotion of International Trade on June 13, a day after the historic Trump-Kim summit.

Despite sending out hundreds of emails to his personal and business contacts – including the Singapore Business Federation – he only received confirmation from four companies of their interest in the trip, while three others were still considering it.

Interested parties now looking to jump on the bandwagon include Chinese and Vietnamese firms that are looking to "learn the rules of investment in North Korea and take off from there", he said. The trip will not involve any government agencies from Singapore.

According to Dr Heng, the spike in interest came a day after TODAY reported on the contents of the invitation letter, which stated that the trip would serve as a "good chance… to confirm our will (in) desiring to develop economic and trade relationship with Singapore and other countries".

Singapore had trade links with North Korea for many years until last November, when it cut economic ties with North Korea in line with toughened United Nations (UN) sanctions.

Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) had earlier reiterated that the UN sanctions are still in effect. "We will constantly review and update our legislation to implement United Nations Security Council Resolutions," said the ministry.

MTI added that individuals and entities engaging in business missions to North Korea should refer to the relevant regulations — namely the UN (Sanctions – Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)) Regulations, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (Sanctions and Freezing of Assets of Persons – DPRK) Regulations and the Regulation of Imports and Exports Regulations.

Participants of the business mission will have to pay S$4,950 each to make the trip from Singapore, or S$4,500 from Beijing. The amount covers all expenses, including airfare, hotel accommodation, ground transportation and visa fees.

Mr Chris Chua, 35, a manager in a family-owned apparel manufacturing business, said he had indicated his interest in the mission to satisfy his curiosity about the reclusive country.

"You don't get this kind of guided tour everyday, very few people have been there, to me it is a chance of a lifetime," he said.

The businessman said that his interest in touring Pyongyang was piqued during the Trump-Kim summit. "Then, I was already asking my friends if they were interested to go to Pyongyang, just to have a look, understand what they are doing, see what opportunities there are."

Calling North Korea a "business haven" with "limitless opportunities", Mr Chua plans to identify opportunities to expand his family business and also spot underdeveloped markets.

"Getting there first and understanding the place means you'll have an edge over people who go later," he said.

After reading the TODAY report, Mr Andrew Sew, 46, was so eager to join the mission that he rang Dr Heng the moment he arrived in Singapore on Wednesday morning from an overseas business trip.

"Regardless of the type of business, eventually the Singapore market will be saturated, so we are constantly on the lookout for opportunities elsewhere," said Mr Sew, a regional development manager for a company that manufactures products such as air-conditioning systems.

"Prior to reading the news, our company has also observed how other Singaporean businesses expanded into North Korea," he added.

Fast-food chain Samtaesong is one Singaporean-owned company that has made a name for itself in North Korea. Owned by Mr Patrick Soh, Samtaesong now has five dine-in eateries and over 20 takeaway outlets in the country.

Other Singaporean firms are also looking to make their moves into North Korea.

The Trump-Kim summit has whetted Mr Sew's business appetite, as he called North Korea an "interesting", "remote" destination that "has lots of potential to develop".

"We deal with infrastructure, so if UN decides to lift trade sanctions and as the country develops, definitely that is where our products will be needed," he added.

Interested parties who missed out on September's "rapport building" trip can still sign on for future missions to North Korea, as Dr Heng said another outing could be planned for January or February 2019.

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.

Aa