North Korea Has An Outstanding Debt With Sweden

Decades ago, when the Volvo 144 was still in production, Swedish businesses started expanding into a promising new market: North Korea. In the mid-1970s, export companies signed huge trade contracts and shipped tons of Swedish-made industrial equipment to North Korea — including heavy mining machinery and 1,000 Volvo 144 cars. From the exporters' point of view, there was money to be made in North Korea's emerging economy, so Sweden shipped over $70 million worth of products to the country. So much had been invested in North Korea by Swedish export companies that Sweden's Ministry for Foreign Affairs sent Erik Cornell there as a diplomat. He quickly found out that North Korea's numbers didn't add up. It turned out the country wasn't paying for the goods it imported. Payment deadlines passed, debts and interest payments mounted, and it became clear that North Korea couldn't afford all of its investments. North Korea's debt to Sweden has grown over the years to a massive $322 million. Sweden still sends twice-yearly reminders to Pyongyang, but North Korea has never upheld its end of the agreement. Perhaps a fleet of 1,000 free Volvos is just the cost of diplomacy.