China offers large-scale food aid to North Korea from February

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2012-6-22

China began to provide large-scale food assistance to North Korea from late February, reported KOTRA (Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency) in its recent report.

The Korea Business Center (KBC) in Canton, KOTRA’s overseas branch, released a report about the details of China’s food assistance to North Korea. “China is the largest supplier of material goods to North Korea but even the major North Korean experts in China do not have the exact figures of aid provided to North Korea.” Based on the information gained from local media and interviews with experts, “North Korea requested food assistance of at least 200,000 tons, as well as assistance in construction materials. The amount is estimated at more than 600 million yuan RMB.”

According to Chian Grain Reserves Corporation and Dalian Commodity Exchange, 6,600 million yuan RMB is equivalent to 150,000 tons of rice or 26.5 million tons of corn, calculated with the wholesale price in the Northeast China region. 600 million yuan RMB of rice exported to Shinuiju from Dandong can purchase about 17.1 million tons of rice.

Old rice and flour is being gathered in Dandong from all over China, and is being sold to North Korea at a very low cost without ever entering the Chinese domestic market. The KBC report evaluates that this is a welcomed change because North Koreans are not selective about their food, since they do not have enough money to buy food. It reports, “Cheap food is considered the best food,” and “North Korean customs automatically allows the food to enter the country and small amounts of a few tons of food is not even tariffed,” said an unnamed North Korean trader.

China’s recent food aid to North Korea was conducted largely in two ways: First, it was provided quietly without the public being notified; second, it went via the World Food Programme (WFP) and other international organizations. According to the WFP China Office, the recent 600 million yuan food aid to North Korea was not related to WFP aid to North Korea.

China is careful about releasing information related to its food aid to North Korea. However, what is known is that the aid consists of selling food at a low-cost and through nongovernmental exchanges. There are several trading companies in Dandong that ships food and other materials to North Korea when charitable organizations in Beijing make the request for shipment.

On the other hand, the May 24 (2010) Measures (of South Korea) has suspended all trade between North and South Korea. This has propelled North Korea-China trade to expand and the trade volume between the two nations increased 32 percent or 1.9 billion USD from January to April, compared to the same period of the previous year, according to the Korea International Trade Association.

During this period, North Korea’s export to China recorded 793 million USD, which also jumped 33 percent against last year and the revenues from import also increased 32.8 percent equalling 1.16 billion USD.

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