Tesco reports drop in sales to North Koreans in Dandong

According to Bloomberg, North Koreans in the Chinese city of Dandong have slashed purchases of ham, shirts, and candy at UK-owned Tesco:

At the Tesco store, Zhao said fewer North Koreans are coming in, and they’re spending less. Most North Koreans can’t freely cross the border, and only those with the ability to travel abroad shop in Dandong.

“Before this year, they would buy over 10,000 yuan in goods, now they typically only spend thousands,” she said. (10,000 yuan is about $1,460.)

Shopkeepers working within sight of the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge spanning the Yalu River that separates the countries said traffic is down by as much as half since May.

Fan Bo said he sells about 10 generators a month to North Korea, all to Chinese companies doing business there. “The North Koreans don’t need generators,” he said. “They don’t use electricity.” Mao Yifeng, a tire seller, blames the global financial crisis for the slowdown.

Over the course of half an hour on Aug. 12, two empty blue Chinese trucks crossed the bridge into Dandong. One diesel freight train, also Chinese, crossed to China from North Korea. The open door on one of its two cars revealed there was nothing inside.

Over 45 minutes the next morning, two empty trucks and three empty North Korean buses crossed into China. No trucks were seen heading into the North.

A souvenir salesman who only gave his surname, Huang, said he’s seen road and rail traffic on the Friendship Bridge fall by about half since North Korea’s nuclear test in May. “It was never busy, now it’s even less,” Huang said.

….Trade Aid

China is the North’s biggest trading partner. Its support for the regime can be gauged by the trade surplus it runs with the country, according to Nicholas Eberstadt, a Korea specialist at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. That fell to $386 million in the first half of this year from $1.27 billion in all of 2008, as China’s imports of coal from North Korea hit the highest level in at least five years, China’s Ministry of Commerce data show.

“China is Kim Jong Il’s patron of last resort,” said Eberstadt. “If net transfers from China continue to shrink, it will be ‘back to the 1990s’ for North Korea. That can only be an alarming prospect for Kim Jong Il and his would-be successors.”

Official trade statistics, incomplete and not including goods smuggled by sea or across the 1,415-kilometer (880 mile) border, show two-way trade between China and North Korea fell 2.5 percent in the first six months of this year to $1.12 billion, according to China’s Commerce Ministry. Trade between China and South Korea during the same period was $67.6 billion.

Read the full artilce here:
North Koreans Spurn Tesco Ham as China Trade Withers
Michael Forsythe


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