DPRK’s import of luxury goods and estimated trade data

UPDATE 2 (2011-7-20): The Daily NK offers some more statistics:

It has been confirmed the North Korean authorities were concentrating on importing luxury items for privileged people, while international humanitarian organizations were worrying about North Korea’s chronic food shortage and the damage to the vulnerable classes.

According to statistics from the South Korean government and Chinese customs, from January to May this year, the cost of food import is only about 4% out of the total amount of imports, which translates to about 46 million dollars out of 1.148 billion dollars.

The total amount of trade with China was doubled as compared with the corresponding period from last year: exports were increased by 217% and imports by 58%. The export amount is 812 million dollars while the import is 1.148 billion dollars.

In comparison, around 10 million dollars were used to purchase high quality liquor, cigarettes and others for privileged classes. The amount of cigarette imports, such as Marlboro, Mild Seven and others, is 7.5 million dollars. 2.4 million dollars were used to buy Cognac or whisky like Chivas Regal, Hennessy X.O. and other kinds of alcohol.

The amount of alcohol imported was increased by 94 % compared to the same period of last year.

It was reported that other items, such as international designer brands clothes, watches, and other items and electronic goods from SONY and Samsung were also imported.

It also showed that North Korean authorities sold wheat it had received from the international community to other countries. 200,000 tons of phosphate rock, which is materials for fertilizer, provided by Middle Eastern countries for free in 2010, were sold to some countries in Europe.

In addition, since South Korean markets have been blocked due to May 24 Measures, North Korea tried to download agricultural products, which are disguised as Chinese products, onto South Korean vessels in international waters by secretly working with Chinese traders. The South Korean government reported that there were four cases last year and 11 cases so far this year.

So apparently everyone has seen the data source but me.

UPDATE 1 (2011-7-22): The Los Angeles Times picked up on the report and offered a few more details:

North Korea’s importing of luxury goods from China nearly doubled in the first five months of this year, compared with the same time period for 2010, according to a report by Beijing customs officials obtained by the South Korean Unification Ministry.

The communist regime spent $46 million on imported corn, rice and other food staples, but it also spent $10 million on luxury items from January through May of this year. Imported through China, the items reportedly include Marlboro cigarettes, Hennessy cognac, whiskey and Japanese beer, South Korean officials said this week, quoting the Chinese customs report.

The imports included about $500,000 worth of high-grade beef, apparently for luxury meals, which North Korean leader Kim Jong Il uses to maintain the support of the power elite, Seoul officials said.

This year, the regime again requested food aid, citing reduced crop yields. Though the European Union plans to send $14.5 million in food aid, the United States and South Korea have been reticent to supply such aid.

Some scholars believe that North Korea has exaggerated its need for food, alleging that the aid is turned over to the military or stored for future use, such as a planned celebration next year to mark the anniversary of the regime.

“I do not believe these claims about mass starvation,” said Andrei N. Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul and the author of several books on North Korean history and politics.

He called the move by Pyongyang “a deliberate campaign to get free food, which will then be distributed to the privileged groups as government gifts. This will allow them to increase their legitimacy and win some popular support at the expense of the Western and South Korean taxpayers.”

I still have not seen the original Chinese source.  If anyone has it, please send it my way.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-7-20): Yonhap cites an unnamed South Korean government official (anyone want to take credit for these statistics?) who claims that the DPRK is skirting UN sanctions and obtaining luxury goods.  According to the article:

Despite years of food shortages, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has engaged in the gift politics of showering his top aides and other elites with luxury goods to win their loyalty.

Some ruling elites also enjoyed McDonald’s hamburgers delivered from China via Air Koryo, North Korea’s flagship airline, the official said, without elaborating.

The North also spent about US$7.5 million in buying cigarettes such as Marlboro and Mild Seven in the first five months, a rise of 117 percent compared to the same period last year, according to figures by South Korea and China. It also showed that the North imported $2.4 million worth of Hennessy Cognac, whiskey and Japanese beer, up 94 percent compared to the same period last year.

The trade volume between North Korea and China stood at US$1.96 billion in the first five months, twice as much as in the same period last year, according to Lee.

Since the article does not name a source or provide any way to track down the numbers, take them with a grain of salt.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea imports luxury goods for ruling elites despite food shortages


One Response to “DPRK’s import of luxury goods and estimated trade data”

  1. Casey says:

    Wow, stale Big Macs for North Korean elites while in pretty much any other country fresh Big Macs (still disgusting) are the norm.

    It reminds me of 1984, where the “luxury goods” that are the reward for loyalty are still well below today’s standards.