North Koreans in Sweden on ‘discreet’ trade visit

A business and trade delegation from North Korea has been in Sweden learning about its economy and visiting companies, banks and state agencies, Swedish Radio reported on Friday.

“The participants are from universities, state export companies and the North Korean foreign trade ministry. They have been invited by the International Council of Swedish Industry,” the public radio station said.

Sweden has longstanding ties with North Korea, and was the first Western country to establish diplomatic relations. It opened an embassy in Pyongyang in 1975.

Discretion has surrounded the visit, which has lasted around two weeks. The Swedish foreign ministry did not return calls to AFP asking whether it was involved in any way.

North Korea has one of the world’s most rigidly controlled economies and is desperately poor following decades of mismanagement and isolation.

North Korea watchers and media reports in South Korea say new leader Kim Jong-Un has shown signs of promoting market reforms since taking power following the death of his father Kim Jong-Il last December.

A senior lecturer at Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology, Björn Berggren, was contracted to speak to the delegation but would not disclose any information.

“I’m forbidden from doing so,” he told the radio.

The marketing director of a vegetable wholesaler in Stockholm, Benny Olsson, also met with about 25 members of the delegation and was more forthcoming.

“They had millions of questions. They asked how much we earn, what the average salary is and many of the questions were about how involved the government is,” Olsson said.

“They asked us if the government decided what the company’s maximum salary is. They had to ask the question several times because I didn’t understand. They come from a completely different world, they don’t understand our world and I don’t understand theirs,” he said.

“I don’t know what jobs any of them had, all I know is that they were high-ranking economists from North Korea, that’s it,” he said.

Johan Alvin of the International Council of Swedish Industry organised the North Korean visit.

“We support their wish to learn more about our type of economy,” he told the radio.

The delegation’s visit was at least partly funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, a government agency.

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