Bank of Korea on DPRK economy in 2013

The South Korean central bank, the Bank of Korea, publishes an annual summary of the DPRK’s economic performance the previous year. The 2013 report is out. You can also download it on my DPRK Economic Statistics Page.

Here is a summary in Yonhap:

The Bank of Korea (BOK) estimated that the country’s economy expanded 1.1 percent in 2013, slowing from a 1.3 percent on-year expansion in the previous year.

In 2012, the North Korean economy was estimated to have grown at the fastest pace in four years, after contracting 0.9 percent and 0.5 percent in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

A BOK official explained that while the North’s construction sector shrank last year, its agricultural output improved on favorable weather conditions.

An expansion in production of coal and iron ore also lent support to growth, the official added.

Pyongyang’s construction industry contracted 1 percent on-year, compared with a 1.6 percent decline in 2012, as an increase in the number of residential buildings failed to offset falling demand for road construction works.

Its agricultural and fishery industry, which accounts for 22.4 percent of its total output, expanded 1.9 percent last year, slowing from a 3.9 percent growth in 2012.

Growth in its mining and manufacturing industries, which account for 35.7 percent of overall output, gained traction to reach 1.5 percent, up from 1.3 percent a year earlier.

The data, meanwhile, showed that North Korea’s nominal gross national income (GNI) came in at 33.8 trillion won (US$33.3 billion) last year, which is roughly 2.3 percent of South Korea’s 2013 GNI of 1,441.1 trillion won.

The Wall Street Journal’s Korea Real Time notes the following:

“North Korea has neither the capability to collect and analyze all the relevant data necessary to measure its own GDP growth nor the willingness to disclose them to the outside world,” says Mr. Cho.

Marcus Noland published a graph of korean growth rates from 1990-2013 and offered comments on the BOK’s methodology:

Noland-Koreas-GDP-growth-2013

And Noland’s comments:

According to the report, BOK constructs its national income account estimates “using basic data on North Korea’s economic activities supplied by relevant institutions…GDP at current prices is estimated with the use of South Korean prices and value-added ratios.”

What this means in non-economist speak is that someone (the NIS?) gathers data using some sources and methods which presumably put an emphasis on physical indicators that are easily countable. So that, as a practical matter, the South Korean authorities may have a better grasp of output in some sectors (like coal, where it’s easy to count railcars leaving a limited number of mines) and less on say services such as education where both the quantity and quality are more difficult to observe. Not surprisingly, the agricultural and industrial sectors of the economy show more output variability than does services. Whether this reflects reality or just problems counting physical indicators for services is unknown.

Then, having obtained these physical measures of output, we need prices and value-added weights to aggregate them into a single measure of the value of output. According to the BOK report they use South Korean prices and value-added weights. There are two problems here, though one problem may be diminishing over time. The first problem is that the relative price structures of the North and South Korea economies are not the same. However, over time it appears that the structure of domestic prices in both economies is getting more like world prices, and hence more like each other. So differing relative prices is probably less of an issue today than say 20 years ago.

Its less clear that the problem is disappearing with respect to the use of South Korean value-added weights that reflect the underlying techniques of production which remain vastly different across the two economies. Bottom line: we know there are some non-trivial problems with using the South Korean data to construct the North Korean GDP estimates.

Rumors have long circulated that the South Koreans either obtained or constructed a North Korean input-output table which they could use for these calculations, and contrary to the statement in the BOK report, weights derived from this source are used to construct the North Korean national income estimates, not the South Korean value-added weights. I personally do not know whether these claims are true or not.

Here is analysis by the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) (2014-7-4):

Real GDP of DPRK Grows in 2013, Marking Third Consecutive Year

On June 27, 2014 the Bank of Korea announced that North Korea’s real GDP grew 1.1 percent over the previous year (2013). Despite intense sanctions imposed by the international community, North Korea’s GDP grew by 0.8 percent in 2011 and 1.3 percent in 2012, showing that North Korea has been able to maintain a positive GDP growth rate for three years running.

The Bank of Korea’s “Gross Domestic Product Estimates for North Korea in 2013” report identifies favorable weather as a factor in increased agricultural production and higher crop yields, and points to the expanded production of coal, iron and other mineral resources as the keys to North Korea’s extra 1.1 percent growth.

As for individual sectors, crop production increased by 1.1 percent, the mining industry expanded by 2.1 percent, manufacturing by 1.1 percent, utilities (electricity, gas, water) by 2.3 percent, and the service industry expanded by 0.3 percent. On the other hand, due to a decrease in road construction and other public works projects, the construction sector posted a 1.0 percent decrease despite growth in homebuilding.

According to the Bank of Korea, North Korea’s 2013 gross national income (GNI) was 33.8 trillion won, approximately 1/43 of South Korea’s GNI for the same year. Furthermore, it was reported that North Korea’s GNI per capita in 2013 was 1.379 million won, approximately 1/21 of the GNI per capita of South Korea.

The scale of North Korea’s foreign trade (excluding inter-Korean trade) reached 7.34 billion USD (combined imports and exports) in 2013 — a 530 million USD increase over the previous year.

Exports saw an increase of 11.7 percent compared to 2012, reaching 3.22 billion USD, with exports of minerals and textiles seeing the highest increases of 14.4 percent and 31.2 percent, respectively. Imports in 2013 rose to 4.13 billion USD, an increase of 5 percent. Imports of machinery (-6.4 percent) and mineral production equipment (-3.6 percent) saw decreases, but North Korea saw large increases in textile (20.4 percent) and plastic products (27.5 percent) imports in 2013.

In 2013, the scale of inter-Korean trade decreased by 42.4 percent compared to the previous year, totaling 1.14 billion USD. The suspension of the Kaesong Industrial Complex was responsible for 99.7 percent of the decrease.

The Bank of Korea has estimated North Korean economic growth rates annually since 1991 by acquiring preliminary data through various affiliated agencies related to the North’s economic activities. The System of National Accounts (SNA) of the United Nations is used to estimate North Korean growth from the South.

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