Friday, September 26, 2014

For Biodiversity...

...work obligations and long held convictions will take me to Pyongchang, South Korea, for the UN Convention of Biological Diversity conference.

Remember Nagoya, 2010?

I feel very fortunate to be able to participate in events like this.

Since the Rio Summit in 1992, it was clear that climate change and biodiversity where among the most pressing issues facing our planet. We need sunshine and rain and food (seeds) and rain and then some certain comforts.

Energy issues - another factor, but the global community never managed to create conventions for that, thus the uncertainty. Imagine - a UN convention for oil. Or a UN convention for energy. Didn't happen.

I have kept working on food safety issues, trying to educate people about seed issue, and the importance of organic farming, and avoiding the massive amounts of antibiotics used for the animals people eat. Plus I try to tell everyone that cares to listen to avoid artificial additives, or colourings, if possible.

But more importantly, just avoid meat.

Massive areas in South America - forests - are used to grow soy beans for animal feed. There is no way we can justify that. Also, massive areas in the oceans are used to catch tuna and other large fish.

Japan is involved in a lot of unsustainable practices, but it also provides a lot of the solutions.

More rice, more soy, more vegetables. More tofu and miso, and we can all enjoy a healthy life.

Less meat, less dairy. It is all connected. You want more fish? That means more farmed salmon, or tuna, or eel, high in fats, and fed on unsustainable diets. The proteins used to farm salmon come from all kinds of unsustainable practices, do take a look, Youtube will help, no doubt... So, reduce your consumption of that. Gradually. As you wish.

Traditionally, Japan did not consume a lot of protein from the oceans.

Many local towns are now trying to get schools to provide more rice and locally produced vegetables, rather than the meals proclaimed by the Tokyo government.

I know, it will take a lot of effort, and I hope a lot of you will support us.

Let's work for biodiversity.

Contact us, I know you want to get involved.

Read more:

Consumers Union of Japan (E)

Japan Citizens' Network for Sustainable Food and Agriculture (J)

COP12-MOP7 Biodiversity for Sustainable Development (Korea) 

東京 TALK & LIVE TOWARDS CBD/COP12 (J)

The Cartagena Protocol is very important. It provides rules that can be useful to protect local biodiversity. Other countries, mainly the U.S. (not part of the CBD) avoid such concerns.

Countries that care about biodiversity are taking the development of rules by the UN seriously.

South Korea:


  • Objective: The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is an international agreement on biosafety, as a supplement to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The objective of the Protocol is to contribute to ensuring an adequate level of protection in the field of the safe transfer, handling and use of ‘living modified organisms resulting from modern technology’ that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health, and specifically focusing on transboundary movements.
History


29 January 2000 3 October 2007 11 September 2003
The Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted the Protocol Korea Ratified the Protocol The protocol entered into force in Korea
Parties
As of June 2014, 166 countries and the European Union.
Main features

  • The Advance Informed Agreement (AIA) procedure is to ensure that countries are providing information to make informed decision prior to the import of living modified organisms (LMOs) regarding LMOs for intentional introduction into the environment.
  • The procedure for LMOs intended for food or feed, or for processing is to ensure that countries are providing information to make informed decision prior to the import of LMOs regarding these LMOs.
  • The Protocol requires Parties to conduct risk assessments on import of LMOs for intentional introduction into the environment. These assessments aim at identifying and evaluating the potential adverse effects of LMOs. The Protocol sets out principles and methodologies on how to conduct a risk assessment to for making informed decisions about whether or not to accept LMO imports.
  • The Biosafety Clearing-House is established to facilitate the exchange of information on living modified organisms and to assist countries in the implementation of the Protocol.
  • Parties must also adopt measures for managing risks identified by the risk assessments.
  • Parties can also take into account socio-economic considerations in reaching decisions on import of LMOs.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Again And Again: Huge Demonstration Against Nuclear Power In Japan

Huge demonstration today in Yoyogi Park in central Tokyo with tens of thousands of people voicing their concern about nuclear power plants.

Japan still manages fine with all of them shut down. No to restart!

Consumers Union of Japan and many, many other NGOs supported this event.

Photos from The Mainichi.



Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ghibli At Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum

One of Tokyo's most unusual museums is located in Koganei Park, west of the central parts of the city. It is a large park with a lot of space for kids to run around and much to see and do. If you like Ghibli animation films, now is a great time to visit. Until December 14, 2014 they are holding a special exhibition celebrating Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli and its many talented artists. The famous studio, by the way, is also located in Koganei City near the park.

There is nothing on the official English website, and I do hope they will do more to help people who don't read Japanese to get to know the many architectural treasures and historical buildings in the park.

Access to the Open Air Museum (E)

Rocket News 24 has more:

With nearly 400 different pieces including full 3-D models, landscape paintings, and notes and other material about the anime buildings, the exhibition looks to be a great way for Ghibli fans to get a deeper view of what was happening behind the action. Explanations by Terunobu Fujimori, a famed architect and architectural historian, are also provided, helping to increase patrons’ understanding and enjoyment.

Perhaps the crown jewel of the exhibition is the three-meter-tall sculpture of the bathhouse Aburaya from Spirited Away, which you can see below.

Afterthoughts:

This park (East area) is a great place to explore architecture and wonderful buildings that can, to some extent, still be seen and experienced all over Japan, but... (and this is a huge but) one of the major issues in a country that experiences earthquakes, is sustainability.

The wood architecture here was not meant to create long-lasting structures, but to provide a means to simply rebuild when disaster struck.

Thus, Japan has any number of "old" temples and pagodas and other wooden buildings. Todaiji in Nara comes to mind, from the 7th century initially, but rebuilt in the 17th century. The great pagoda in Nara is from the 14th century, and if that is not enough numbers and years and history to make your mind go "wow" then what. And Todaiji initially had another two such wooden pagodas, imagine that.

So, what is sustainability? I think Japanese wooden structures ought to serve as a norm. If you can build something like Ise Shrine, and keep rebuilding it, then it qualifies.

The Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum has a more recent take on that.



Afterthoughts x2

Many of the buildings that have been carefully moved and restored at Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum have featured in Ghibli movies.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Asia: Demand For More Vegetables, Less "Gutter Oil"

Nothing like a healthy meal, with lots of fruit and veggies. Any time of the day.

It also makes economic sense. Not just because it will help cut your medical bills. Well, think about it. Well.

Nikkei Asian Review notes that all over Asia, there is a trend towards more healthy eating, and that means more fruit and vegetables.

How to provide it? That is another huge task.

Nikkei: Now blossoming across Southeast Asia: The vegetable business

BANGKOK/HANOI -- New vegetable enterprises are emerging in Southeast Asia as incomes rise and consumers increasingly insist on safe, quality produce.    

The Bolaven plateau in the southeast of Laos is gaining prominence as a cabbage-producing area. A 150-hectare field, situated about 1,000 meters above sea level, is being cultivated by 160 farms under contract with Pakxong Development Export-Import, the country's largest agricultural corporation. "Production of cabbages in Bolaven for export is helping farmers double or triple their incomes compared with 10 years ago," said the mayor of the village of Nonsoung, which administers the place.

(...)

Demand for vegetables is growing among Southeast Asia's roughly 600 million consumers. Per capita consumption rose to about 60kg a year in 2011, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. That amounted to a 20% increase over 10 years.

The article mentions several Japanese companies that are now growing vegetables in Thailand and Vietnam.

Lacue, an agricultural corporation based in Kawakami, Nagano Prefecture, is growing a brand of lettuce called Asagiri in Vietnam. The operation in Dalat, a high-altitude city in the central part of the country, is run through An Phu Lacue, a joint venture with a Vietnamese company.

Kawakami is one of Japan's largest producers of quality lettuce varieties. The company adopts the same cultivation methods in Vietnam, keeping chemicals to a minimum. 

The Asagiri brand costs 55,000 dong ($2.59) per kilogram, twice as much as ordinary varieties. But the crisp, sweet taste and the brand's reputation for quality are winning over locals in Ho Chi Minh City and other large municipalities. FamilyMart, the Japanese convenience store chain, also uses the brand in its sandwiches.

Meanwhile, Taiwan is rocked by a huge food oil scandal, showing that some in the meat industry will go to any length to sell lard (pig fat) and "gutter oil" (re-used cooking oil that nobody seems to know where it comes from) to make modern food products, for sale. My suggestion? Avoid anything made from food factories.

You couldn't make this up. The disgusting oils sold and re-sold for cheap production to over a thousand companies. MOS Burger, the Japanese company was also a victim. I'm hoping Japanese lard producers are not going to be found guilty of importing this stuff, but who is checking and testing their products? And who is to say, other cheap imports are not already here, from guys in huge cars with more cash than sense...?


Lard, by the way, is never safe. This is fat that is solid at room temperature, so imagine what it will do inside your body. It will - stay solid. That means, it will clog your arteries.

Lard, even in its pure form, is harmful. Now add toxic sewage plus whatever the criminals in Hong Kong and Taiwan sold to those companies...

Wonder why sensible people all over Asia are turning to vegetables, instead?

In some parts of Asia, this is known as the Mooncake food scandal. In autumn, it is a tradition to enjoy viewing the full moon while enjoying traditional sweets.

Well, unless you make it yourself, or really trust who supplies you with the goodies, no way to know what kind of (cheap) fat has been used. Disgusting? You said it.

A Kaoshiung-based supplier is accused of buying at least 240 tonnes of gutter oil – recycled from kitchen waste, by-products from leather processing plants and offal from slaughterhouses – from an unlicensed factory and then reselling it to importers and businesses in Hong Kong and Macau. Several samples have been taken, including mooncakes, almond strips, cookies and various kinds of bread – and unfortunately pineapple buns are affected. Some have been sold in Starbucks and 7-Eleven.

Image from bluebalu.com

Gutter oil scandal? It is a terrible story and has been reported widely here in Asia. It has exposed food oil as the weak link in the increasingly globalized food supply system.

NHK World (Japan) Probe continues into Taiwan edible oil scandal
http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/news/20140913_23.html

Nikkei (Japan): Taiwan's 'gutter oil' scandal deepens in Hong Kong and Macau
http://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/Economy/Taiwan-s-gutter-oil-scandal-deepens-in-Hong-Kong-and-Macau

Taiwan News: Farmer hailed as 'hero' for exposing oil scandal
http://www.taiwannews.com.tw/etn/news_content.php?id=2571445

SBS (Australia): Taiwan executive detained as 'gutter oil' food safety scandal deepens
http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2014/09/13/taiwan-executive-detained-gutter-oil-food-safety-scandal-deepens

WSJ China Real Time Blog: After Tainted Oil Scandal, Taiwan Pledges to Clean Up Food Safety
http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2014/09/11/after-tainted-oil-scandal-taiwan-pledges-to-clean-up-food-safety/


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

TPP: Everyone Should Be Truly Worried, Now

What's the name of that children's game, where you get to hit one thing after another, and another one after the other pops up, and it is the same thing over and over?

Same thing with TPP, the trade pact that seems to have no benefits at all, yet the economists and free market liberals and people in charge (who will no doubt profit from it since they own the right stock and have all the connections for future cushy jobs, aka revolving door or amakudari, with variations). Round after round of negotiations with little or no result. I went to the Brunei Round last year, and here we are, more smoke screens on the foggy radar (forgive mixed images).

Ahem.

Met a friend today, he just got married. Has his own issues, but loves nature and farming and has recently moved to an organic scheme near Tokyo, and he is getting a lot of attention. Young and handsome and generally genki. And even he said he was worried about TPP. "How can we farm if all these cheap foods are imported?"

Same thing with others I met recently from both northern and southern Japan, where they have trouble attracting youth to help out. And they want to do better. Case in point - farmers I have met in Aizu Wakamatsu, Fukushima do really well exactly because they are able to invite people in their 20s and 30s to help out - and learn a lot.

WWOOF (thanks Tom!) is another way to be a part of this growing movement.

I also went to a meeting with Japan Organic Agriculture Movement (JOAA) and again, the anti-TPP message is solid and well thought-through, and the concerns are real. Do I have to mention that mainstream farmers and postal workers and teachers and just about everyone are up in arms?

Ahem, again.

Tomorrow I'm going to PARC in Tokyo to help out with an international telephone conference with anti-TPP groups in the US and Australia, like Public Citizens. Should be - interesting. Everyone from the Japanese anti-TPP movements should be there. Time to stop this madness.

Asahi: EDITORIAL: Japan, U.S. should consider consumers, not industries, in reaching TPP deal

The question is whether the two countries can rise to the challenge from the viewpoint of seeing the benefits the deal would bring to general consumers and the boon it would give to their national interests instead of trying to protect the bottom line of specific industries.

Jiji Press: Japan, U.S. in Final Phase of Auto Trade Talks

The two countries concluded their three-day working-level auto trade talks in Washington. After the talks, Takeo Mori, Japanese ambassador in charge of economic diplomacy, expressed Japan's intention to make further negotiations, saying that there still remain difficult issues. Japan's TPP affairs minister Akira Amari has said that he hopes to settle the pending issues between the two countries, such as elimination of tariffs on farm products, by early October through ministerial talks with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.

Eliminating farm product tariffs, in exchange for what? Sorry, guys, auto tariffs are a non-issue. Car ownership is decreasing anyway, in both the US and Japan. More and more people are finding more important things that they value higher. Yet, we all have to eat!


Anyway, Japan responded to this ages ago by eliminating all of its auto tariffs. The US kept its tariffs, even though Japanese car makers set up car factories in the US and created American jobs there.

Remind me, did any American car maker do the same in Japan? No.

And even so, the US still complains about Japanese "barriers" that are in fact safety rules, attempts to keep pollution down, and other measures to make all cars less harmful. These rules, by the way, in no way are aimed at US car makers, even though that is how well-paid lobbyists from Detroit and Washington like to push their sorry case. Having observed global trade negotiations for a long time, I know it is all about trade-offs, and bluffing. Much like poker. Not a very honourable game, sirs & madams.

This fall, TPP will have to destroy efforts in Malaysia to produce generic medicines at reasonable prices to its population. It will have to crush the state-owned companies in Vietnam. Australia and New Zealand will no longer be able to block dispute panels, where multinational corporations can sue governments (Japan, by the way, does not allow such ISDS in its current free trade agreement with Australia).

For consumers and all of us trying to make an honest living on this beautiful planet, we wish trade negotiators would do more, not less, to protect human (and animal) health, and we think governments should do more to advocate policies (precautionary principle, polluter pays, 3Rs) that make sense in this era of economic downturn, known as "negative growth" when all of us are dealing with higher bills for everything from electricity and fuel - to food.

Climate change is also playing a huge role, but how do we communicate that message to the TPP negotiators? We want less trade in meat and cars, not more!!


JA Youth is all over Japan trying to engage young people to like farming.

PARC has been around for a very long time, since the Japanese struggle against the Vietnam War, and their AMPO magazine was one of the few publications that kept people abroad in the know about events in Japan, with people thinking outside of the box. Back Issues, headlines only, in a pdf file from their website.

The Pacific Asia Resource Center, also known as PARC, was established as a non-government organization in 1973. Even before its establishment, PARC made a name for itself with its English language publication, AMPO, which carried well-researched articles on Free Trade Zones, banana plantation in the Philippines, shrimp farming and peoples’ movements in Japan and Asia.

The anti-TPP movement is not a recent little blimp on the radar. Corporate media will try to project that image, but there is a history to the protests.

Newly appointed Agriculture Minister Koya Nishikawa, from Tochigi prefecture, used to be a staunch critic of the kind of secret-deal-negotiations that the TPP represents. I wonder if he has the spine to stand up to real resistance, when push comes to shove.

Born i 1942, he thinks the Japanese economy in 2014 will prosper...

...if there's a TPP agreement. But if a deadline is set for ending negotiations by such and such a date, we lose our bargaining chips. Our stance in the negotiations respects the resolutions passed by the farm, forestry and fisheries committees of both Diet houses (which oppose granting concessions on rice, wheat and other sensitive farm goods).

(Top images from 采の榊 Sai no sakaki, an effort to revive local forests and provide sasaki for shrines)








Sunday, September 07, 2014

Hatappi - Smarthphone Farming Game App

I think I have seen it all now. Someone next to me on the train played it, and I found out it's called Hatappi, a play on the word for farm field, "hatake" and "happy" (and maybe "app") by Tokyo-based LD Inc.

It looks like a load of fun but come on, is this what the word has come to? We are now too rich and lazy to actually do farm work, and instead enjoy the simulation on an electronic device hooked up to satellites and electricity and batteries and...

But ok, I get it. Not everyone has the opportunity to grow their own vegetables. It is a nice dream to have and I shouldn't rant about this. I really shouldn't. I mean, I want to, but...

I like how they call it a Satoyama Kurashi experience, and it is tied up with real farmers that actually can provide the produce to gamers. Also, gamers can sign up for visits to participating farms, and there are all kinds of great ideas. Yet... I mean... You know what I mean... An app for farming...?

(It reminds me of how the popular board game Monopoly was invented and introduced after the New York stock market crash in 1929, allowing everyone to pretend that they were rich enough to purchase property and bonds and whatnot...)

Top image from LD Inc.



On their Youtube Channel, they go to great lengths to introduce the very real farmers that participate in this crazy project.

In Japan, seasonal veggies are a big thing, filed under the label 旬 "shun" and many consumers love the idea to enjoy eating what is "in season." In this video, they go to visit a young carrot farmer in Miura, Kanagawa prefecture, Genki Morimori Yamamori Noen... He also does the famous local variety of Miura daikon, and cabbage.

Eating carrot sticks raw - I really can support that. I also like making carrot juice. Yamamori-san mixes a rare Okinawa carrot to make a special carrot juice, more golden yellow, packed with nutrients. Sweet! Genki morimori means filled with zest and gusto, and is also a pun on his family name, Yamamori. In this day and age, of course there is a website too, over at http://www.farm-yamamori.com/

Do enjoy this fun glimpse of real life in semi-rural Japan.






Saturday, September 06, 2014

Support Japan And Efforts To Protect Biological Diversity

Japanese farmers have completely rejected genetically modified organisms. There is no cultivation of GMOs in Japan for commercial purposes. Very few field trials are ongoing at research institutes, which we are keeping a close eye on. Meanwhile, reports from China indicate that GM rice will not be allowed, which is great news. South Korea also does not grow any GMOs commercially.

Activists and experts in Asia are not supporting GMOs. Here is Third World Network and their campaign for biosafety.

The Biosafety Information Centre is a website set up and managed by Third World Network.
The goals are to:
  • Increase knowledge on, and deepen understanding of, (w)holistic approaches for a comprehensive assessment of technologies and techniques that involve genetic engineering
  • Contribute to a wider public discussion and critical understanding of the scientific, ecological , social, economic and ethical dimensions of genetic engineering under the rubric of biosafety
  • Contribute to the enhancement of the biosafety capacity of policy makers and regulators in developing countries
  • Promote research (including the identification of gaps in knowledge) on biosafety
  • Promote research on, and implementation of, sustainable systems for agriculture, health and ecological integrity
  • Promote understanding of, and respect for, the rights, knowledge and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities


Meanwhile, back in the US of A:

Wall Street Journal: U.S. Corn Exports to China Dry Up Over GMO Concerns

China's tougher stance on imports of genetically modified corn is roiling U.S. agribusiness, largely halting trade in the biggest U.S. crop in its fastest growing market. By one industry estimate, exports are down by 85% compared with last year.

NPR has another story about the mess that GMO is causing in 2014: When China Spurns GMO Corn Imports, American Farmers Lose Billions

The crackdown began in November 2013. China began rejecting shiploads of corn when officials detected traces of the new gene. By February of this year, U.S. exports of corn to China had practically ceased.

The failure of GMO foods to catch on in virtually all parts of Asia by 2014 is a story that needs to be told to the world.

Sciencemag.com: China pulls plug on genetically modified rice and corn

China’s Ministry of Agriculture has decided not to renew biosafety certificates that allowed research groups to grow genetically modified (GM) rice and corn. The permits, to grow two varieties of GM rice and one transgenic corn strain, expired on 17 August. The reasoning behind the move is not clear, and it has raised questions about the future of related research in China.
The ministry, with much fanfare, had approved the GM rice certificates in August 2009. The permits enabled a group at Huazhong Agricultural University in Wuhan to produce two varieties of rice carrying a gene from the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacteria that provides pest resistance. At the same time, the ministry approved production of a corn strain developed by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences' Biotechnology Research Institute in Beijing. Researchers had altered the corn so that kernels contain phytase, a livestock feed additive that boosts absorption of phosphorus, which enhances growth. All of the certificates were valid for 5 years.
 
Since the certificates were issued, however, public skepticism about the benefits of GM crops has grown in China. 

Some scientists conducting GM plant research have been attacked when giving public lectures.
Why the ministry allowed the certificates to lapse is in dispute. Some environmentalists say public worries about GM crops played a decisive role. "We believe that loopholes in assessing and monitoring [GM] research, as well as the public concern around safety issues are the most important reasons that the certifications have not been renewed," writes Wang Jing, a Greenpeace official based in Beijing, in an e-mail to ScienceInsider.
 
Others believe agricultural economics also influenced the decision. China has nearly reached self-sufficiency in producing rice using conventional varieties, so the ministry has decided there is no need to commercialize Bt rice in the near future, says Huang Jikun, director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy. He says that with commercialization off the table, there was no point in renewing the certifications. Huang says "rising public concerns [about the] safety of GM rice" likely also played a role.

Whatever the reason, the decision marks an abrupt change in fortunes for transgenic rice in China. Five years ago, "China was widely expected to soon put GM rice on the country’s dining tables," wrote Cao Cong, a China policy expert at University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, in a post on The Conversation, an Australian website. The Bt rice project "is now to all intents and purposes dead and buried," he wrote...

Remember this?

Video from 2010, when the UN Convention of Biological Diversity held its meeting in Nagoya, Japan. Wow, that was a lot of fun!


Friday, September 05, 2014

Who Can Help Volvo Get Paid By North Korea?

This is such an epic story of the early 1970s, back when the Cold War was seriously on. Sweden was supporting Vietnam, and - hey, why not North Korea as well? There was a trade fair in Pyongyang and Volvo, Atlas Copco and Kockums participated (Atlas Copco for the minerals that now China are eying, but that is another story, Kockums from Malmö, for ship building, I suppose...)

Somehow, North Korea managed to manipulate the Swedish government and its foreign trade body to supply some 1,000 green Volvo 144 Sedans. With leather seats.

Oh, I remember those, they were considered large by usual Swedish standards back when I was a child in the 1970s. As I have noted earlier on Kurashi, we had a Renault 4 no more no less, until father caught on and got a Toyota Starlet in 1981. Volvo? That was for more affluent neighbors. The Volvo 144 Sedan was - luxury. And that is the very car Sweden decided to export to North Korea. And North Korea decided not to pay. Turns out, they are still around. Most serve as taxis. They are more or less indestructable. Compared to Cuba, North Korea may be lucky. Still, I'd like to know exactly why they thought they didn't need to pay.

North Korea will always have reasons for how they behave.

Newsweek: North Korea Owes Sweden €300m for 1,000 Volvos It Stole 40 Years Ago - And Is Still Using

Each fiscal year, the Swedish Export Credits Guarantee Board calculates interest on a single debt that accounts for more than half of all its political claims. It’s been a tradition since 1974, when the government agency was advised to insure Volvo, Atlas Copco, Kockum, and other Swedish companies’ exports to an entirely new buyer: Supreme Leader Kim Il-sung. For nearly half a century, the Board has been in charge of the Sisyphean task of coaxing €300m from a nation that thinks international law is an elaborate gambit designed by capitalist pig-dogs.

“We semi-annually advise when payments fall due,” Stefan Karlsson, the board’s head of risk advisory, tells Newsweek. “However, as is well known, North Korea does not fulfil their part of the agreement.” Sweden being Sweden and North Korea being North Korea, that’s about as hardball as it gets.

It was a very different world back then, before South Korea started to make the headlines. Who's competitive? In 2014, South Korea ranks 26th, and China was up by one notch to 28th. Well done. The World Economic Forum ranks Japan as the world's 6th most competitive economy, up 3 places from a year earlier. And maybe, Sweden will somehow reap amazing benefits from trade with North Korea, in the future...?

OK, but can we get back to the story abut the Volvo 144 Sedans in North Korea, please?

The story began shortly after the Korean armistice of 1953. As the line dividing north from south grew firmer, other borders became more porous, drawing the attention of many neutral European countries. The Iron Curtain rose on an entirely new part of the tumultuous era’s geopolitical zoo: a tiny, ebullient state marked by military posturing and dreams of self-reliance, running an impressive surplus and recording a mind-blowing economic growth of 25% in the face of US opposition.

Sweden was one of the first to seize on the opportunity. The Stockholm and Pyongyang ties in the early 1970s arose out of a rare convergence of leftist and industrialist interest: local socialist groups wanted Sweden to formally recognise the new communist state, and businessmen wanted to exploit the region’s nascent mining industry.

Top image from Finland's HBL.fi

Not like we did not know about this in Sweden, for a long time...

While many companies pressed on with payment negotiations in an effort to save face, Swedish media was having a blast unraveling one of the most bizarre trade debacles in recent memory. In an indignant spread featuring a photo of the supreme leader with the caption “Kim Il-sung – Broke Communist,” Åge Ramsby of the newspaper Expressen in 1976 went all out listing reports of other debts the Kim regime shirked, including a cool €5m to Swiss Rolex, from whom it had allegedly ordered 2,000 wristwatches with the engraving “donated by Kim Il-sung”.

“North Korea had expected to pay their foreign debts with deliveries of copper and zinc,” the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter wrote in 1976, referring to the reserves the imported mining equipment was supposed to unlock. “But the North Korean economists had been too optimistic in their calculations, and the international market price for these ores had also dropped ­catastrophically.”