Sharp increase in grain imports from China in second half of 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

It appears that North Korea has drastically increased Chinese grain imports in the months of July and August compared to the first half of 2014. Up until June, North Korea had imported a total of 58,387 tons of grain from China at nearly 10,000 tons per month. However, in July and August, North Korea imported 19,559 tons and 25,217 tons of grain, respectively. August showed the largest amount of grains imported per month so far this year, and the combined figures of July and August are equal to an astonishing 77 percent of the total amount of grains imported in the first six months of 2014.

The large increase in grain imports beginning in July is interpreted as an early move by North Korea to secure grain supplies for the winter after a double-crop harvest in June which failed to reach expected quantities, and a lackluster fall harvest compared to the previous year.

The grains North Korea has imported so far this year consist of flour (46.6 percent), rice (42.3 percent), and corn (8.9 percent), with flour and rice being the main imports. Compared to 2013, corn imports are down, but have been replaced by an increase in rice imports. Despite the sharp increase in grain imports during recent months, it appears that the overall food situation in North Korea has actually improved. North Korea imported a total of 103,163 tons of grain from January to August of 2014, a mere 59 percent of the 174,020 tons of grain imported during the same time period last year.

Chemical fertilizer imported from China up until August of this year has also decreased by an estimated 37 percent compared to the previous year, from 183,639 tons to 115,337 tons. This decrease in imported fertilizer is thought to be due to improvements made in fertilization equipment, leading to an overall higher rate of operation. It appears that the total amount of fertilizer used by North Korea this year should not differ greatly from the amount used last year, and fertilizer shortage is not expected to cause a major decrease in grain production.

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