Archive for the ‘Statistics’ Category

A new defector survey about market trade in North Korea, and what it says (maybe) about Kim Jong-un

Friday, August 28th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

In Wall Street Journal, Jeyup Kwaak reports on a new defector survey by Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies (08-26-2015) (added emphasis):

The Seoul National University Institute for Peace and Unification Studies annually surveys more than 100 North Koreans who defected in the prior calendar year. The results provide firsthand insight into developments in the isolated state, though its researchers said they shouldn’t be read as generalized facts due to the small pool of respondents.

[…]

The latest survey, of 146 North Koreans who escaped in 2014, shows significant growth from the previous year in the number of people saying they conducted private business activities and paid bribes to enable them. A little more than half said they received no money from the state, down from last year’s survey but up from the one released in 2013.

Experts say between half and three-quarters of North Koreans’ income comes from quasi-illegal market activities, such as trade of basic goods smuggled in from China, but sporadic crackdowns by national or regional security officials lead to irregular business and bribery. Defectors say officials often collect fees when they set up a booth at a market.

The results themselves do not present a new trend. Several previous defector studies indicate that markets are perhaps the most important source of income and sustenance for many (if not most) North Koreans. However, a few things are interesting to note.

The links may not be entirely clear, but it is at least symbolic that the current survey, albeit with a very small number of interviewees, suggests that support for Kim Jong-un and the leadership may not be waning, at the same time as market activity continues unabated. This at least calls into question an assumption that sometimes occurs that market trade would lead people to become more critical of the regime.

Again, too much shouldn’t be read too much into a small study with participants that probably are not geographically or socially representative of North Korea as a whole. Defectors as a group rarely are. But perhaps one could imagine that market trade being so institutionalized and regulated by the regime would make it more synonymous with the regime itself. I.e., if market trading is seen as something positive, maybe this reflects positively on the regime as well — perhaps the market has been co-opted.

The article also reminds us of the rather peculiar combination of dynamics seen under Kim Jong-un. On the one hand, market trade seems to continue unabated domestically, and initiatives like the new special economic zones and the agricultural reforms show that there is at the very minimum some new thinking going on.

But on the other hand, border controls have been tightened to a degree rarely seen since the mid-1990s, according to defector reports. Just today, DailyNK reports (in Korean) that resident in the Sino-Korean borderlands have seen their access to the Amnok river, often used for laundry by locals, increasingly restricted as of late. As the WSJ writes,

Just 614 North Koreans made it to the South in the first half of this year, compared with 2,706 in the 2011 calendar year, according to the most recent ministry data.

The drop in North Koreans who visited China on legal visas so far this year should perhaps also be seen in this context.

Taken together, the tightened border controls on the one hand, and the seemingly changing (one could say “progressive”) rhetoric on economic matters on the other, paint a mixed picture.

In the early days of Kim Jong-un, the question was whether he was a reformer or a hardliner. A few years into his rule, it seems he might be neither and both at the same time.

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The drought that didn’t matter, North Korea says – thanks to agricultural reform?

Monday, August 10th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

During the past few months, the World Food Program (WFP) has made reoccurring pleas for increased food assistance to North Korea to alleviate the food shortages expected from a severe summer drought. The North Korean government made similar statements and claimed that the drought was the worst one to occur in 100 years. Aid to the country was subsequently increased from the originally planned level, due to the drought. But now, one North Korean official is saying that food production ended up increasing, after all, thanks to agricultural reforms.

A recent brief by the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University (IFES) cites a July issue of Tongil Sinbo, a North Korean state-run weekly newspaper. There, Chi Myong Su, director of the Agricultural Research Institute of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences in the country, says that

“the effectiveness of field management system (pojon) from cooperative farm production unit system (bunjo) is noticeable and succeeded in increasing grain production despite the adverse weather conditions.”

The article cited by IFES highlights the smaller work-team structure as key to the success of the reforms. Also, it almost outright states that greater economic incentives were the main factor (although they call it “enthusiasm” and “patriotism”):

“Despite the adverse weather conditions last year, the high grain yield was possible due to implementation of scientific farming methods and field management system to increase enthusiasm of farmers,” and “based on this experience, many cooperative farms across the country will expand subworkteam management system to field management system.”

This is interesting for several reasons.

First, the agricultural reforms seem increasingly pronounced. Though other reforms were reportedly backtracked earlier this year, the government seems eager to claim success for the road travelled in agriculture.

I have written elsewhere that the data doesn’t necessarily support a claim that reforms are working. There is still reason to be skeptical – after all, a North Korean government official claiming that his government’s policies are working is not surprising – but even the claim itself is interesting.

Second, the statement raises questions about monitoring and data gathering capacities, both of the regime and relief organizations in Pyongyang. Again, just a few months ago, alarm bells were ringing about a potential food shortage, and now, a regime official claims that food production has increased. What was the basis of the WFP and regime claims that a food shortage was imminent a few months ago, and what has changed since those claims were made?

Another recent IFES brief also deals with North Korean press reports about the agricultural reforms. It quotes a Rodong Sinmun article from earlier in the summer that brings up some adjustment problems that farmers have had, such as learning how to properly use fertilizers. The most interesting part in my opinion is the following:

The newspaper stressed that “when all farmers claim ownership of their field and subworkteam, one can create innovation in the farming operations.”

Thus, it seems like Pyongyang wants to encourage experimentation and diversity in production methods. This would be a potentially important step towards more efficient agriculture. Perhaps it is part of a pattern. Provinces have reportedly gotten significant leeway in setting up their respective special economic development zones, which could also be a way to encourage experimentation in policies and management methods.

According to the Tongil Sinbo article, reforms are set to expand further in the country given the alleged success. Perhaps it won’t be too long before we can learn more about them through assessments by multilateral organizations like WFP.

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Bank of Korea on the DPRK’s economic performance in 2014

Friday, July 17th, 2015

The Bank of Korea has published its annual assessment of the North Korean economy. The report on economic performance in 2014 can be downloaded here (PDF).  Previous years’ reports can be downloaded from my economic statistics page.

The report claims that the DPRK’s GDP increased by 1% in 2014. Nominal GNI was valued at 34.2 trillion KRW, (2.3% of South Korea). GNI per capita stood at 1.388 million KRW, (4.7% of South Korea).

Growth a number of industries was positive, but had fallen from 2013 rates. Among these industries were mining, as wells as agriculture, forestry, and fishing (combined) and heavy industry and chemical industry (combined).  Growth in light industry was higher than in 2013 as was electricity, gas and water (combined) and services. The biggest annual turnaround came in the construction industry, which saw a growth rate of 1.4% following a -1% fall in 2013.

The volume of North Korea’s external trade (sum of exports and imports of goods, excluding inter-Korean trade) amounted to $7.61 billion dollars in 2014 (up $0.27b from 2013). Exports totaled $3.16 billion (down 1.7% from 2013). Imports totaled $4.45 billion (up 7.8% from 2013).

Here is coverage in Yonhap:

North Korea’s economic growth is estimated to have slowed last year from a year earlier as its staple primary industries posted tepid performances, data showed Friday.

The North’s economy is projected to have expanded 1 percent in 2014, decelerating from the 1.1 percent on-year growth in the previous year, according to the data compiled by South Korea’s central bank, the Bank of Korea (BOK).

It has posted economic expansions for four years in a row since it contracted 0.9 percent and 0.5 percent in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

The BOK explained that the North’s construction sector lent support to the overall growth, bouncing back to a 1.4 percent on-year growth last year from a 1 percent fall the previous year.

Pyongyang’s agricultural and fishery industry, which accounts for 21.8 percent of its total output, expanded 1.2 percent last year, slowing from 1.9 percent growth in 2013.

Growth in its mining and manufacturing sector, which accounts for 34.4 percent of overall output, gained 1.1 percent, down from 1.5 percent a year earlier.

The data, meanwhile, showed that North Korea’s nominal gross national income (GNI) came in at 34.2 trillion won (US$29.8 billion) last year, which is roughly 2.3 percent of South Korea’s 2014 GNI of 1,496.6 trillion won.

Since 1991, the BOK has been releasing the growth estimate of the North based on data provided by Seoul’s intelligence agency and other institutions specializing in North Korean studies.

Here is coverage in Bloomberg (with carts!).

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-07-17/north-korea-grew-1-in-2014-is-south-s-best-guess

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Production at Kaesong Industrial Complex up in 2015

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

The value of production made at an inter-Korean industrial park rose 26 percent in the January-April period from a year earlier despite a drawn-out row sparked by North Korea’s unilateral wage hike, government data showed Thursday.

The value of production at Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North reached a combined US$186 million in the first four months of the year, compared with $148 million a year earlier, according to the Unification Ministry.

In particular, the production at the park rose 21.8 percent on-year to $51.1 million in March and gained 19.7 percent to $50 million in April, when a wage dispute between the two Koreas heightened.

In a separate report unveiled in April, the ministry said that the volume of inter-Korean trade hit a record high in 2014 on growth in exchanges at the industrial park despite Seoul’s punitive sanctions on Pyongyang.

The value of inter-Korean trade reached $2.34 billion last year, up 106.2 percent from a year earlier, it said.

Here is coverage in Arirang News.

Read the full story here:
Production at joint industrial park rises 26 pct in Jan.-April
Yonhap
2015-7-9

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DPRK emigration numbers in 2015

Sunday, July 5th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

The portion of female North Korean defectors topped 80 percent this year, government data showed Sunday, apparently because North Korean women are under less severe scrutiny by the communist country.

The number of female North Koreans who came to the South reached 444 in the January-May period, accounting for 83 percent of the 535 North Koreans who came to the South, according to the unification ministry.

The data was compiled tentatively as the government’s background checks for North Korean defectors have not been completed, it said. Around 30,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea in search of freedom so far.

Since the portion of female North Korean defectors topped the 50 percent mark for the first time in 2002, the weight has been on the rise, the data showed.

In particular, since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took office in late 2011, the portion has increased above the 70 percent mark. The corresponding data reached 75.6 percent in 2013 and came in at 78.2 percent in 2014.

Experts said that it might be easier for women to flee the communist country as they are relatively less scrutinized by North Korean authorities.

Meanwhile, the number of North Koreans who defect to the South has been on the decline since 2011, the data showed.

In 2014, the number of defectors reached 1,396, down 48.4 percent from 2011, it said.

“Regardless of sex, the number of North Korean defectors has been falling,” a unification ministry official said. “The trend is likely to continue this year as well.”

While the number of North Koreans coming south has been on the decline since Kim Jong-un came to power, there has been a flurry of media reports recently that indicate that the number of high-level defectors leaving the country is on the increase.

According to the Chosun Ilbo (2015-7-2):

About a dozen senior North Korean officials have defected in recent years because they feared for their lives in leader Kim Jong-un’s purges, a source said Wednesday.

The defectors were working in China and Southeast Asia, some charged with earning hard currency for the regime.

Several have already arrived in South Korea while others are staying in a third country.

Early this year, a mid-ranking official who had been dispatched to Hong Kong from Room 39, a Workers Party office that handles Kim’s slush funds, sought asylum in South Korea with his family.

He reportedly told investigators here he was terrified of Kim’s draconian purges, which saw senior officials executed by anti-aircraft gun, and that officials left in North Korea find it almost impossible to flee because of tight controls but those working overseas can find some opportunities to defect.

Last year, a senior official of Taesong Bank, who had handled Kim’s slush funds in Siberia, fled to South Korea with millions of dollars. Even a senior official of the State Security Department fled the North and arrived here. According to the National Security Service here, the defection particularly upset Kim.

An army general has been staying in a third country since he fled the North recently, according to sources. The general was reportedly involved in the two inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007.

The defections highlight the climate of fear among senior apparatchiks since the brutal execution of Kim’s uncle and one-time eminence grise Jang Song-taek, as well as that of former armed forces minister Hyon Yong-chol.

In a report to the National Assembly, the NIS claimed that the North executed more than 70 senior party, government and military officials by firing squad since Kim took power.

And According to Yonhap (2015-7-6):

North Korea may continue to see its officials desert the communist country to settle abroad down the road, but the exodus is not likely to lead to the collapse of the regime, experts said Monday.

North Korea is believed to be coping with an increased number of defections by government officials as of late with frequent fears of purging and punishment haunting North Korean officials under leader Kim Jong-un.

About 10 North Korean military and party officials have reportedly fled the communist country recently in their pursuit of asylum in South Korea or in a third country.

Those defectors reportedly included a mid-ranking North Korean party official who sought asylum in the South with his family early this year while he was managing slush funds in Hong Kong for leader Kim.

Another high-ranking military official also reportedly has been staying in a country outside of South and North Korea since fleeing the communist country.

The recent outflow may continue in the future as more officials terrified of Kim’s “reign of terror” are likely to renounce their allegiance to the communist country, experts noted.

“For the time being, North Korean officials are likely to continue to flee the communist country or seek asylum, which would weaken the regime of the North’s leader Kim Jong-un,” said Chang Yong-seok, a researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University.

Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University, also noted, “Desertion by these people may take place intermittently in the process of solidifying the Kim Jong-un regime and securing the regime’s stability.”

Since taking power in late 2011 after his father Kim Jong-il’s sudden death, the junior Kim has resorted to unusually brutal means to solidify his power base.

In late 2013, Jang Song-thaek, the husband of Kim’s aunt and once the country’s second most powerful official, was executed on charges of treason, along with many other officials with close ties with Jang.

Former defense chief Hyon Yong-chol was also purged in late April apparently due to his disloyalty to Kim.

Still, experts stressed that the terror-driven exodus may not immediately lead to a collapse of the Kim regime although it is likely to resort to military provocations outside the country in order to quell potential political instability inside.

“If Kim’s reign of terror prolongs, his governing style could bring about an instability in the communist country,” said Jung Sang-don, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA). “Then, there is a possibility that North Korea could make provocations in a bid to tide over its internal problems.”

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, also dismissed the view that a series of defections by officials meant instability in Kim’s regime, saying that there have been no signs of abnormal activities among the North Korean military power or other citizens.

Here is coverage in the Korea Times.

Read the full story here:
Portion of female N. Korean defectors tops 80 pct this year: data
Yonhap
2015-7-5

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Humanitarian aid to DPRK almost flat on-year in H1 2015

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

According to Yonhap:

The growth of humanitarian aid sent to North Korea stayed almost flat in the first half from a year earlier, a U.N. agency said Wednesday, raising concerns about food shortages in the North.

The global community’s humanitarian assistance to the North amounted to a combined US$21.3 million in the January-June period, compared to $20.6 million in the same period last year, according to data compiled by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

But the figure in the first half marked a 40 percent decline when compared to $35.6 million in the first half of 2013, it showed.

The U.N. and six countries — South Korea, Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, France and Germany — supplied humanitarian aid to Pyongyang this year.

Switzerland was the top donor with $9.17 million, or 43 percent of the total aid, followed by South Korea with $4 million and Sweden with $3.23 million, the data showed.

By type, food and nutrition aid topped the list with $9.64 million worth contributed, followed by healthcare work at $6.2 million, and the supply of drinking water at $2.4 million, it said.

A separate U.N. report showed that about 70 percent of North Korea’s 24.6 million people are suffering due to food shortages and 1.8 million, including children and pregnant women, are in need of nutritional food supplies aimed at fighting malnutrition.

Aid from China and Russia would not appear in this study.

Read the full story here:
Humanitarian aid to N. Korea almost flat on-year in H1
Yonhap
2015-7-1

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North Korea’s trade volume in 2014: $7.6 billion USD

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2015-6-17

Last year North Korea’s foreign trade volume (excluding economic exchanges with South Korea) totaled 7.6 billion USD, a 3.7 percent increase over the previous year. According to a report recently put out by KOTRA (Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency) entitled “North Korea’s International Trade Patterns in 2014,” last year North Korean exports totaled 3.16 billion USD, while imports totaled 4.45 billion USD. This represents a 1.7 percent decrease in exports and 7.8 percent growth in imports over the previous year. As a result North Korea’s trade deficit in 2014 leaped to 1.29 billion USD, a 41 percent increase over 2013. This expansion of trade appears to be a product of growth in the import of goods such as plastics, machinery and electricity, as well as growth in the export of clothing.

Among North Korea’s main exports, mineral fuels such as coal, at 1.18 billion USD, represented 37.2 percent of total exports and was the country’s main export product. Meanwhile, exports of clothing and components saw the biggest growth rate, at 23.7 percent, and amounted to 640 million USD. In regards to other exports, iron ore totaled 330 million USD (18.3 percent decrease over 2013), fish and crustaceans totaled 140 million USD (21.9 percent increase), and steel amounted to 130 million USD (22 percent increase).

North Korea’s main imports were as follows: mineral fuels (750 million USD – 4.7 percent decrease), electric equipment (430 million USD – 54.8 percent increase), furnaces and machinery (330 million USD – 3.3 percent increase), motor vehicles and parts (230 million USD – 9.6 percent decrease), and plastic (200 million USD – 31.8 percent increase).

It appears North Korea’s main trading partner is still China. Last year its trade volume with China reached 6.86 billion USD (exports – 2.84 billion USD, imports – 4.02 billion USD), a 4.9 percent increase over 2013. This contributed to a slight increase in North Korea’s reliance on trade with China. Its proportion of trade with China went from 89.1 percent in 2013 to 90.1 percent in 2014. After China, the countries that North Korea traded most with were Russia, India, Thailand, and Bangladesh, in that order. Hong Kong and Ukraine dropped off the list of North Korea’s top ten trading partners, and Pakistan and Germany newly appeared on the list at 8th and 10th place, respectively. Trade with Japan has been nonexistent since 2009. Due to its economic sanctions against North Korea, the United States also had no economic exchanges with North Korea in 2014 outside of relief aid, mostly in the form of medical supplies and equipment.

As North Korea’s over-reliance on trade with China continued, its trade deficit widened due to the decrease in exports and surge in imports. Considering factors such as the complementary trade structure (including contract processing and natural resource trade), the protraction of North Korea’s political and economic isolation, and their highly interdependent relationship, it seems likely that North Korea’s strong reliance on trade with China will continue in the future.

[NOTE: KOTRA data excludes inter-Korean trade. If South Korean trade were included, it would be North Korea’s second largest trading partner, and the composition of trade allotted to China would fall.]

Here is coverage in Yonhap:

North Korea’s global trade expanded in 2014 from a year earlier, but its trade deficit also widened due to a drop in exports, a report showed Friday.

According to the report by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, North Korea’s trade came to US$7.61 billion last year, up 3.7 percent from a year earlier. The figures did not count its trade with South Korea.

North Korea’s exports shrank 1.7 percent on-year to $3.16 billion last year, while imports grew 7.8 percent to $4.45 billion over the same period, the report showed.

Based on the figures, North Korea posted a trade deficit of $1.29 billion last year, with its shortfall jumping 41 percent from the year before.

Minerals and fossil fuels, including coal, were among the country’s major export items as its overseas sales stood at $1.18 billion, which accounted for 37.2 percent of its total annual exports.

The report showed that North Korea continues to depend heavily on China for its trade.

Last year, bilateral trade between the two countries reached $6.86 billion, up 4.9 percent from a year earlier. North Korea’s dependence on China in trade increased slightly from 89.1 percent in 2013 to 90.1 percent last year, according to the report.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s global trade expands but trade gap widens: report
Yonhap
2015-6-5

Here is coverage in UPI:

South Korea’s trade promotion agency KOTRA stated North Korea’s trade with the outside world rose to $7.61 billion in 2014, a marginal increase from the previous fiscal year.

In its annual report on North Korea trade trends released Friday, KOTRA noted North Korean exports scaled down while demand for outside materials was up between 2013 and 2014, Yonhap reported.

Numbers indicated North Korea’s exports decreased by 1.7 percent to $3.16 billion in 2014, while imports rose by 7.8 percent to $4.45 billion.

North Korea’s trade deficit jumped to $1.29 billion, up 41 percent from 2013.

In 2014 North Korea imported more electrical equipment, machinery and plastics than it did a year earlier, while exporting more clothing and accessories, according to KOTRA.

The country’s primary export is coal, a trade valued at $1.18 billion and comprises 37.2 percent of North Korea exports.

Clothing and accessories inched up in its share of total exports, rising to $640 million – up 23.7 percent from 2013.

The country’s primary import was fossil fuels at $750 million, followed by electrical equipment at $430 million and boilers, machinery at $330 million.

China remained North Korea’s No. 1 trading partner, reported South Korean newspaper Kyunghyang Sinmun.

In 2014 China-North Korea trade inched up 4.9 percent to $6.87 billion. North Korea imported more than it exported from China. Exports were estimated at $2.84 billion while imports totaled $4.03 billion.

A KOTRA official told Yonhap North Korea’s protracted political and economic isolation has led to a high dependence on trade with China, facilitated by a complementary trade structure between the two countries.

South Korea’s report stated North Korea’s trade dependence on China was as high as 90.1 percent, dwarfing Pyongyang’s next major trading partner, Russia, as well as India, Thailand and Bangladesh.

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s trade deficit continued to grow, says SKorea
UPI
Elizabeth Shim
2015-6-4

Here is coverage in the Joong Ang Ilbo:

North Korea’s international trade volume reached $7.6 billion in 2014, rising by 3.7 percent year-on-year, according to a report on Friday by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (Kotra).

The growth was backed by Pyongyang’s increased import of electronic devices and machinery and its rising export of clothing, according to the agency.

Kotra said North Korea’s export volume was worth $3.2 billion last year, a 1.7 percent decline from the previous year.

On the other hand, the reclusive state imported $4.5 billion worth of goods, up 7.8 percent. The widening disparity between imports and exports extended the North’s trade deficit by 41 percent to $1.3 billion.

China remained Pyongyang’s biggest trading partner in 2014, the report said, followed by Russia, India, Thailand and Bangladesh. Its trading volume with China increased to $6.9 billion, with imports from that nation accounting for $4 billion and exports $2.9 billion. The overall figure is a 4.9 percent increase from 2013, nudging up the North’s overall degree of dependence on foreign trade with China to 90.1 percent from 89.1 percent.

Hong Kong and Ukraine were no longer in the North’s top 10 trading partners, but Pakistan and Germany made their way onto the list. By contrast, Japan has not traded with the North since 2009, while the United States only provided it with aid and medical equipment.

Kotra noted that the North’s key export products include mineral resources such as coal and brown coal, which account for 37.2 percent of all its exports. Clothing and fisheries products were also among its major exports, with garment shipments recently seeing rapid growth.

The country’s other major export products consist of crude oil, refined oil, machinery, electronic devices, cars and auto parts. The value of resource imports decreased by 4.7 percent last year, while those of electronic machines surged by 54.8 percent.

Kotra expects that the North will continue to rely on its neighboring key ally going forward.

“2014 saw increasing dependence on China, while North Korea extended trade deficits due to the increase in imports and the decline in exports,” Kotra said in a statement. “When considering geopolitical factors and mutually beneficial trade structure, the North is expected to show further reliance on China.”

The Korea Development Institute, a state-run think tank, released its own report that paints dim prospects for the North’s exports.

The institute said the North’s exports of anthracite coal to China are expected to fall in the years to come due to China’s dwindling steel industry and stronger environmental regulations. Its exports of the coal to its ally have been considered the backbone of its economy, accounting for about 40 percent of its overall exports.

The report called on the North to reorganize its trade structure in order to avoid being seriously affected.

“The time has come for North Korea to reshape its external trade structure,” it noted.

Read the full story here:
North’s trade volume rises
Joong Ang Ilbo
2015-6-6

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DPRK -Russia Trade falls in Q1 2015

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

According to Leo Byrne at NK News:

North Korean trade with Russia decreased sharply in the first quarter of 2015, according to data from the ITC Trade Map, despite continued attempts to improve bilateral economic cooperation between the two countries.

Both imports and exports between Russia and North Korea fell in the first four months of 2015 compared to 2014 numbers.

Exports from North Korea to Russia fell from more than $3 million in the fourth quarter of last year to approximately $500,000.

The drop was mostly on the back of a big reduction of machine and clothes exports to Russia. While the latter group also appears to fluctuate based on the season, imports in the first four months of 2015 were also lower than those a year earlier.

Exports from Russia to North Korea account for the largest share of trade between the two countries, and also fell in the first quarter.

Overall, Russian exports fell by nearly 20 percent so far in 2015, compared to last quarter of 2014. At $17 million, the figure was 70 percent of that in the same period last year.

North Korea’s lower imports from Russia were mainly due to a large decrease in food imports.

Throughout the last six months of 2014, the DPRK imported more than $12 million in cereals from Russia, but these imports appeared to cease in 2015.

The overall numbers dropped despite an uptick in North Korean imports of Russian coal.

The figures continue a trend of decreasing trade between the two countries. From 2013 to 2014 trade values also fell, but were not as low as the most recent 2015 figures.

The news comes despite a flurry of diplomatic and political exchanges between the two countries geared towards increasing economic cooperation and trade, with Russia setting a target of $1 billion in trade by 2020.

Read the full story here:
Russia, North Korea trade drops in Q1 [2015]
NK News
Leo Byrne
2105-6-4

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Russian Railways transports 420,000 t of cargo to the Port of Rajin in QI 2015

Monday, June 1st, 2015

According to Port News:

In 2014, foreign-trade cargo transportation through the border crossing Khasan (Russian border)–Tumangan (North Korean border) increased 3.2 times over 2013. At the same time, the transportation of coal increased 24 times. In the first quarter of this year, this trend continued. The volume of transported goods increased several times—up to 432 000 t.

Such data were presented by President of Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin at the OSJD Railway Summit in Seoul.

In 2014, 280 000 t was transported, of which 238 200 t was coal. In the first quarter of 2015, 408 000 t of coal was sent to the port of Rajin.

In total, according to Mr. Yakunin, it is planned to transport 1.5 million t of coal to the port of Rajin in 2015.

Recall that Russian Railways has implemented the reconstruction of the Khasan (Russia)–Rajin (North Korea) railway section and the construction of a cargo terminal in the port of Rajin. The cost of the project amounts to 10.6 billion rubles.

“In fact, the restoration of the site is a pilot project in the reconstruction of the Trans-Korean Railway, which in the future will provide communication between North and South Korea,” said Mr. Yakunin.

Since November 2014, four experimental coal transportation runs have been carried out through the port of Rajin to South Korea.

“The main task today is to ensure the involvement of enough traffic to complete the work of the railway and the terminal and provide a return on investments,” emphasized the head of Russian Railways.

The capacity of the Khassan–Rajin site and the terminal is 5 million t of cargo a year. In the future, when a favorable situation is created, the terminal may be employed for the transport of containers.

“In cooperation with South Korean companies POSCO, Korail, and Hyundai Merchant Marine, a due diligence investigation was conducted and we are discussing the possibility of creating a joint venture for the operation and development of infrastructure. This project is the first practical step in the development of trilateral cooperation on the development of Trans-Korean Railway. In this venture, we count on the support of South Korean businesses, the government, and the President of the Republic of Korea,” said Vladimir Yakunin.

Read the full story here:
Russian Railways transports 420,000 t of cargo to the Port of Rajin in QI’15
Port News
2015-6-1

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China rejects DPRK coal shipment (Again)

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

UPDATE 1 (2015-4-4): For the second time this year, the Chinese have rejected a shipment of North Korean coal. According to the Korea Herald (Yonhap):

China has returned a shipment of anthracite coal to North Korea because it failed to meet standards for mercury emissions, according to a local report on Saturday.

This appears to be the second rejection by China of the North Korean mineral this year.

The shipment arrived at the Longkou port of China’s northern coastal province of Shandong late last month, but was returned as its quality did not satisfy China’s environmental regulations, iQiru.com, a local Shandong Internet news site, reported, citing an unnamed Longkou port official.

The report did not elaborate further or include the volume of the rejected North Korean coal.

In September last year, China announced strict regulations against the sale and import of coal with high toxic pollutants, including mercury and sulfur, to improve the country’s air and water quality.

Anthracite coal accounted for 39.8 percent of North Korea’s total exports to China last year.

China’s imports of North Korean coal plunged 53.2 percent from a year earlier to 16.78 million tons in January this year, according to Chinese customs data.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-3-9): Back in October of 2014, Kevin Stahler was the first person to point out (as far as I am aware) that the DPRK’s coal exports to China were in decline. Quoting Kevin:

However, this year North Korea’s anthracite exports to China are on course for a hard landing. The total value of imported anthracite is down 23 percent in the first half of 2014 compared to a year earlier. That’s an annualized $340 million hit to North Korea’s balance of payments. But North Korea is not alone: China has seen a double-digit decline in both the value and volume of its total world coal imports from January – August 2014.

On March 4, 2015, Yonhap reported that China returned a shipment of coal to the DPRK for reasons related to domestic environmental protection regulations:

China has rejected imports of some North Korean anthracite coal because the coal failed to meet domestic standards for mercury emissions, a local newspaper reported Wednesday, in what appeared to be China’s first rejection of North Korean minerals over environmental concerns.

The shipment was returned to North Korea on Feb. 27 from the Rizhao port of China’s northern coastal province of Shandong, the National Business Daily newspaper reported, citing an unnamed port official.

The report did not elaborate further, or include the volume of the rejected North Korean coal.

After three decades of rapid industrialization, China regularly sees hazardous air pollution with levels of particulate matter rising to nearly 40 times the limits set by the World Health Organization during the winter months.

In September, China announced strict regulations against the sale and import of coal with high toxic pollutants, including mercury and sulfur, to improve the country’s air and water quality.

Anthracite coal accounted for 39.8 percent of North Korea’s total exports to China last year.

In January, China’s imports of North Korean coal plunged 53.2 percent from a year earlier to 16.78 million tons, according to Chinese customs data.

On March 9, UPI reported on one of the key aspects of China’s new environmental policies and how it will affect the DPRK:

China’s crackdown on coal-related pollution will take a heavy toll on the North Korean economy, South Korean newspaper Donga Ilbo reported Monday.

China’s plan is to drastically reduce coal consumption by 160 million tons in the next five years. The plan, presented at the National People’s Congress in Beijing, aims to reduce the fossil energy use that is contributing to severe pollution in big cities, The Australian reported.

Countries exporting coal to China are all affected, but the plan could create an economic crisis in impoverished North Korea. Coal and iron-ore exports are two of North Korea’s biggest exports to China, its biggest trading partner.

According to the Donga Ilbo, more than 97 percent of North Korean exports are shipped to China*, and coal, iron ore comprise 60 percent of all North Korean exports.

China’s anti-pollution policy is affecting North Korean cargo. A North Korean ship delivering coal to China was turned away at the coastal city of Rizhao on Feb. 27. The Donga Ilbo reported the coal did not satisfy China’s environmental regulations.

The rising ban and other factors are placing the impoverished North Korean economy in a tight squeeze.

Anna Fifield also covered this story for the Washington Post and Guardian.

*The article reports that China accounts for 97% of the DPRK’s international trade. This is only true if one excludes South Korean trade–which South Korea does because they consider North-South trade as “inter-korean” trade.

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