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N. Korea’s Standardization Policy


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South Korea operates the Korean Industrial Standards or KS certification system, which established standards for industrial products, tests and production methods. In North Korea, there is a similar system that defines certain standards for industries and society overall. North Korea enacted a law concerning the standards in 1997 and revised it in 2005. Under the law, the country uses national standards called KPS. Lawyer Oh Hyun-jong explains North Korea’s standard law in more detail. 

North Korea introduced the standard law in July 1997. The purpose is to guarantee the convenience of the public in daily life by establishing systems and order based on proper standards and to contribute to developing the economy, culture, and science and technology. Standards are defined as legally-binding frameworks regulating reasonable criteria that would generate the best possible socioeconomic effects. These are based on achievements in science and technology as well as practical experiences. North Korea’s national standards are obligatory rules that should be strictly followed. 

In South Korea, the KS mark was issued to some 10,500 products or services as of 1999, while North Korea reportedly had 1,000 more national standards than that. The regime began to revise and improve its KPS standards in line with international ones in 2002, and the number of products with this national standard mark reaches 14-thousand. 

North Korea has constantly expanded the scope subject to national standards, ranging from the information technology industry and environment protection to foodstuffs including soybean products, soft drinks and traditional food, and general goods like building signs and house doorplates. 

It is said that the bureau in charge of establishing national standards has found many factories that fail to follow the standards. 

Early last year, the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper pointed out this problem that arose in industrial sites and urged them to fix it. The paper said that an improvement in the standardization project is most important for better production quality. It added that it would be necessary to set correct standards for all products and require manufacturers to strictly adhere to them. 

Through its Rodong Sinmun newspaper, North Korean authorities said that many products had been manufactured and sold without any standard, while machines were being designed based on technical papers that had already become invalid. They also pointed out that even the same products varied in quality and the number of similar types of products increased due to the lack of any unified standard. 

In recent years, the authorities have stressed the importance of standardization in all areas, from industrial goods and food products to office supplies, and its strict enforcement. They have also emphasized the need to learn advanced international standards in a timely manner and to devise economic and technical measures to unify national standards. 

The central government is said to have instructed officials to punish those who engage in production and construction activities in their own way, not following the national standards. 

The authorities are actively pushing for standardization in an apparent move to increase efficiency in production and improve the quality of goods. In doing so, they seek to stimulate domestic demand and prepare to explore the overseas market in case that international sanctions are eased.

For North Korea, accepting international standards in each area is an important task for its economic development. For that reason, the regime began to embrace various global standards pretty early. North Korea joined the International Organization for Standardization or ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission in 1963, and the World Intellectual Property Organization in 1974. 

It also became an official member of European Article Number, or EAN International in 1999, to adopt the global standard bar code system. But afterwards, the country was rather passive to the introduction of international standards. Things began to change fast after current leader Kim Jong-un came to power. 

North Korea’s standardization is similar to that of the former Soviet Union. Later, the country focused on its own standardization system, which is far from international standards, in accordance with its political ideology of juche, or self-reliance. This was a stumbling block in the way of technology exchanges with foreign countries. But North Korea has shown a major change under Kim Jong-un’s rule. Since 2017, the country has set the legal, mandatory system for quality management in food, cosmetics, medicines, vehicles, electronic goods, medical appliances and agricultural chemicals. The North has accelerated the process of introducing international standards as well. 

This is regarded as the reclusive regime’s important attempt to join the international community through trade and financial systems. 

It seems North Korea decided to accept global standards in the belief that an increase in trade will lead to economic development. 

The introduction of international standards is one of the crucial tasks the two Koreas have to deal with in the future. South Korea uses a standardization system that makes it easy to trade with foreign countries including the U.S. and Japan. North Korea, on the other hand, depends on technology standards of socialist states or its own standards. As a result, there is a great difference between South and North Korea in industrial standards overall, including technical terms, units of measurement, standard voltage and railway signaling. There are growing calls for the two sides to discuss how to unify their respective standards in preparation for a unified Korea. 

North Korea should accept more international standards. In addition, the South and the North need to exchange information about their national standards and establish a joint information system for the sake of inter-Korean standard unification. North Korea has already built a database called “Raeil.” It could hopefully be connected with South Korea’s standards service network to lay the groundwork for integration of standards between the two sides. 

Scholars from the two Koreas may get together by participating in international cooperation programs on standardization. North Korea is relatively active about cooperation with international organizations involving global standards, including ISO. An international policy supports developing countries’ efforts to bring in global standards. For instance, standards-developing technical committees are operated between developing and advanced countries under ISO 26000, which is an international standard related to social responsibility. Likewise, South and North Korea might organize a joint technical committee.

North Korea’s acceptance of international standards will be a shortcut to the integration of standardization systems of the two Koreas. Fortunately, North Korea has been committed to embracing global standards under the current leader’s rule. The nation’s project to incorporate global standards is actually nearing completion. South Korea needs to seek ways to help its northern neighbor join international certification systems. 

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