Statistics on DPRK – PRC trade

Yonhap has published a short article on the difficulties of analyzing North Korean trade data.  According to the article:

Data on North Korea’s trade with other countries is scarce, and there are stark contrasts in recent estimates from South Korea and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in terms of both volume and composition.

North Korea’s imports and exports, excluding those with South Korea, reached US$4.17 billion last year, according to a report published last month by the South’s state-run Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA). The North’s trade with China — its chief ally and benefactor — amounted to some $3.5 billion, or 83 percent of the reclusive state’s total trade with other countries, the report said. Inter-Korean trade, meanwhile, reached $1.91 billion in the same period.

The findings were based on an analysis of annual trade reports filed by countries that deal with North Korea, as Pyongyang does not provide its own economic data.

The IMF, however, estimates North Korea’s total trade volume at 5.91 billion euros ($8.39 billion) last year, about double KOTRA’s figure, according to a recent report by the Voice of America (VOA), which cites the European Commission. The IMF estimates North Korea’s trade with China at some $3.9 billion, which is similar to KOTRA’s estimate, but accounts for a much smaller proportion of the total volume at 46 percent.

These figures are also based on data from North Korea’s trade partners, but appear to include some of these countries’ exports and imports with South Korea, according to experts.

The IMF’s estimates may be affected by errors in distinguishing the North from the South, while KOTRA’s South Korean staff are able to filter out many of these mistakes, the experts said. The trade agency’s figure may also be smaller because it relies on official data from governments, while the IMF collects its material from a wide range of sources.

“We do not reflect figures that we do not see as normal trade, such as foreign aid or under-the-table transactions,” a KOTRA official said on the condition of anonymity.

Back in February, Marcus Noland had this to say about KOTRA trade statistics (in regards to the % of the DPRK’s trade comprised of transactions with China):

The canard’s origin is in the odd way that the official (South) Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) reports data on North Korean trade.  KOTRA excludes trade with South Korea, the North’s second largest trade partner after China, from North Korean international trade figures, treating these cross-border exchanges as “domestic.” (Funny, I’ve never noticed a minefield separating Maryland and Virginia or encountered heavily armed guards manning the Texas-Oklahoma border.) Then, to compound matters, KOTRA seems to have stopped following some of North Korea’s trade with Middle Eastern countries. The explanation could be budget cuts; there is also speculation that it is politics—dovish South Korean governments were reluctant to report North Korean involvement with dodgy Middle East regimes; or it could be general disinterest.  Whatever the reason, the breadth of KOTRA’s coverage of North Korean trade in the Middle East has dropped considerably, further exaggerating China’s prominence.

The upshot is that there is a huge divergence between the figures produced by KOTRA and those derived from UN and IMF data.

Read the full story here:
S. Korea, IMF differ over volume of N.K. trade
Yonhap
2011-6-17

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