North Korea calls for economic growth, improved living conditions despite ‘persevering struggle’

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a ruling Workers’ Party political bureau meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea, January 19, 2022 in this photo released by Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) from the North on January 20, 2022. KCNA via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS NOT ABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO SALES TO THIRD PARTIES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALE IN SOUTH KOREA.

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SEOUL, Feb 8 (Reuters) – North Korea’s parliament has vowed to grow the economy and improve people’s livelihoods amid a “persistent fight” against international sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic, officials said. announced on Tuesday the official media.

The Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), the reclusive state parliament, met Feb. 6-7 to discuss the budget and pass laws on childcare and the protection of overseas residents, the official KCNA news agency said.

Chief Kim Jong Un did not attend the meeting, which was chaired by Choe Ryong Hae, his top aide who chairs the SPA’s standing committee.

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The parliament rarely meets and is usually used to approve decisions on the budget, personnel and legal matters, as well as the tasks of the ruling Workers’ Party, whose members mainly form the assembly.

The rally came as North Korea faces growing economic hardship amid sanctions on its weapons programs and COVID-19 lockdowns that have sharply reduced trade with China, its main ally and its economic lifeline.

On Monday, the United States called on North Korea to suspend its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and put the needs of its own people first, as Russia and China blamed sanctions for worsening the humanitarian situation in the country. the Asian hermit state. Read more

In December, Kim hailed the successful implementation of a five-year economic plan he unveiled early last year, but warned of a “big fight to the death” this year to boost economic growth. economy and improve people’s lives.

Kim Tok Hun, prime minister in the cabinet overseeing the economy, told the SPA there were both achievements and “serious flaws” in the past year, KCNA said. It aimed to cement the foundations of the five-year plan this year, with the metallurgical and chemical industries in mind.

He pledged to strengthen efforts to restore the “unitary trading system”, without giving further details.

Lim Eul-chul, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University in South Korea, said it could be aimed at centralizing trade channels and tightening state control in accordance with an amendment to the law. commercial approved by the SPA last week.

Kim also called for increased grain production to “normalize” food rations and listed meat, eggs, fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, dairy products and oil crops as essential items that “contribute greatly to the diet of the population”.

The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea has said the country’s most vulnerable people are at risk of starvation amid growing isolation during the pandemic.

North Korea has not confirmed any cases of COVID-19, but has closed borders and imposed strict travel bans and other restrictions.

The economy suffered its biggest contraction in 23 years in 2020 due to sanctions, the pandemic and bad weather.

The border closure led to an 80% drop in bilateral shipments in 2020 with China, which accounted for about 90% of North Korea’s trade volumes. The two sides resumed trade last month, when a North Korean train arrived in a Chinese border town for the first time since the pandemic.

At SPA, Finance Minister Ko Jong Bom crafted this year’s budget, including a 33.3 percent increase in spending to fight the pandemic, KCNA said in a separate dispatch.

He did not specify the size of the budget, but said 15.9% of the total would be allocated to defence, similar to last year.

“Defensive budget planning seems to be continuing since last year due to the pandemic,” an official with Seoul’s Unification Ministry in charge of cross-border affairs told reporters.

There was no mention of foreign policy or inter-Korean relations, unlike last September when Kim Jong Un hosted the SPA and offered to reopen direct lines to the South while criticizing the ‘hostile policy’ of the United States .

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Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; edited by Richard Pullin, Stephen Coates and Lincoln Feast.

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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