Archive for the ‘Statistics’ Category

Number of defectors up by around 17 percent in 2016

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reports Yonhap:

The number of North Korean defectors coming to South Korea rose 16.7 percent on-year in the first 11 months of the year, data showed Wednesday, as more elites and overseas workers chose to flee their home country.

A total of 1,268 North Koreans came to South Korea in the January-November period, compared with 1,086 the previous year, according to the Ministry of Unification.

As of end-November, the total number of North Korean defectors reached 30,062, it showed. The ministry said that the number of North Koreans coming to the South would reach around 1,400 this year, if it grows at the current pace.

The number of defectors reaching the South peaked at 2,914 in 2009, but the pace of growth has slowed down since 2011 as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has strengthened border control and surveillance over the country’s population.

But this year, the pace has picked up, helped by a rise in defections by North Korean elites and workers toiling overseas, the ministry said.

North Korea is pressing its diplomats and overseas workers to send hard currency earnings home as it is squeezed by tough sanctions handed down by the U.N. Security Council.

Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo said that the imposition of international sanctions has promoted more North Korean elites to escape the regime.

“North Korea is showing a sensitive response to the U.N. sanctions and is being stifled (under the sanctions regime),” Hong said at a forum earlier in the day.

I wonder if there is actual quantitative evidence to back up the claim that the increase is caused by elite defections. The proportion shouldn’t be too hard to count, though I’m currently not aware of statistics on this.

Full article:
Number of N.K. defectors up 16.7 pct on-year in first 11 months
Yonhap News
2016-12-07

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Rice prices in North Korea fall due to harvest, imports

Monday, November 7th, 2016

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Says the indispensable Daily NK:

Rice prices in some regions of North Korea have reportedly fallen by approximately 1000 KPW over the last few days. The price of rice has generally hovered around 5000 KPW per kilo since Kim Jong Un took power, but recently dropped to 3500 KPW due to an increase in supply from the harvest season and rice imports.
A Daily NK source in North Hwanghae Province reported on November 3 that the price of one kilo of rice was about 4800 KPW in the middle of last month, but has now fallen to 3500 KPW over the last few days.
“People are happy about the price drop,” she said.
“Although rice prices in the markets around the northern regions (North Hamgyong Province, Ryanggang Province) are continuing to average 5000 KPW per kilo, it’s being sold at 3500 KPW per kilo in the rural areas of North and South Hwanghae Provinces. It’s believed that this was caused by a fairly good harvest in the agricultural zones of the provinces of North and South Pyongan and North and South Hwanghae, which was better than last year.”
In North Korea, rice prices fluctuate in accordance with grain production. During the harvest season, prices tend to drop when increasing volumes of rice enter the market, most of which occurs via embezzlement channels set up by officials.
“During the harvest season, officials in charge of the farms embezzle a proportion of the rice for themselves and sell it at the market, which seems to be the reason for the recent decline in rice prices,” the source said.
In addition, public sentiment towards the change in prices also has an impact on prices. Rumors have been spreading among the residents that large volumes of rice will be donated by UN agencies, prompting vendors to try and sell their own product more quickly.
There has also reportedly been an influx of imported rice into the market, further driving up competition.
Addressing this phenomenon, VOA (Voice of America) reported that since the Kim Jong regime came to power, North Korea imported the largest volume of rice from China on record (on monthly basis) in September. According to an analysis of recordings from the Chinese General Administration of Customs by Kwon Tae Jin (director of the Center for Studies on North Korea and Northeast Asia at the GS&J Institute), the volume of Chinese grain imported into North Korea in September reached a total of 18,877 tons.
“Upon seeing the imported rice being sold in the market, local merchants have dropped their prices to try and sell all of their product. The wholesale dealers and vendors in the rice trade all seem a bit confused by the rapid fluctuations in price,” added a source in South Hwanghae Province.
However, this phenomenon may only be a temporary occurrence, as rice prices in other regions remain relatively stable. As the rice influx circulates among the other regions, it is thought that prices will stabilize.
Cho Bong Hyun, the deputy director of IBK Economic Research Institute further commented that, “the regime seems to be distributing large amounts of imported rice to placate the population, but there are issues with the sustainability of this practice. Unless the total volume of incoming rice remains steady, the price declines seen will not be sustained for long.”
Full article:
Rice prices fall to 3500 KPW per kilo due to harvest season and import spike
Seol Song Ah
Daily NK
2016-11-07
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North Korean GDP per capita over $1,000 for the first time ever last year, says Hyundai

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Someone once said that if anyone ever gives you a number on anything related to the North Korean economy and they include a decimal, you can be sure that they are wrong. This almost certainly holds true for the GDP estimates for North Korea that come out every year.

Earlier this year, South Korea’s Bank of Korea estimated that North Korean GDP had contracted by 1.1%, for the first time since 2010. Now, Hyundai Research Institute claims that nominal GDP per capita in fact went above $1,000, putting North Korea roughly on the same level as South Korea in the mid-1970s. Unless North Korea’s population declined very suddenly and drastically during the last year (which it didn’t, of course), both claims cannot hold true at the same time. I am personally more inclined to believe the directionality (though not necessarily the exact figure) of Hyundai’s estimate:

North Korea’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita surpassed US$1,000 for the first time last year despite heavy sanctions imposed following a series of nuclear and missile tests, a Seoul-based think tank said Thursday.
Hyundai Research Institute estimated North Korea’s nominal GDP per capita at $1,013 in 2015, up from $930 from the previous year, based on its own income analysis model.

The reclusive state’s nominal GDP reached $986 in 1987, but has since declined to around $650 in the early 2000s.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the North produced 4.78 million tons of crops in 2015, a 10.7-percent fall from a year earlier, due to severe drought. The price of rice per 1 kilogram surged 5.6 percent on-year to 5,200 won (US$4.73).

Trade with China was valued at $5.71 billion won last year, down 16.8 percent from 2014, mainly due to a drop in the North’s exports of natural resources to its largest trading partner.

In contrast, inter-Korean trade rose 15.6 percent on-year to $2.71 billion in 2015, the institute said.

The international community’s aid to Pyongyang was tallied at $31.87 million last year, up 12.4 percent from a year ago, but less than 2011’s $97.11 million, it noted.

The research institute evaluated the communist state’s economic power is equivalent to that of South Korea in the mid-1970s.

North Korea’s per-capita GDP lags far behind of other Asian nations, including China ($7,990), Vietnam ($2,088) and Laos ($1,799). It is even below other underdeveloped countries, such as Bangladesh ($1,287) and Myanmar ($1,292), according to the institute.

“North Korea’s current economy is not capable of standing alone,” said Kim Cheon-koo, a researcher at Hyundai Research Institute. “The wide income gap between South and North Koreas is expected to create massive costs for reunification.”

Full article here:
N. Korea’s per-capita GDP tops US$1,000 in 2015: report
Yonhap News
2016-09-29

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DPRK – China Trade in 2016 (UPDATED)

Monday, August 15th, 2016

UPDATE 13 (2016-8-25): According to the Korea Herald, China’s exports to North Korea showed the largest on-year drop in July:

According to KITA, China’s exports to North Korea came to US$193 million in July, plunging 27.6 percent from the same month last year. Last month’s decrease is the biggest drop in China’s exports to North Korea this year.

Along with exports, China’s imports from North Korea also dropped by 5 percent from a year ago to come in at US$227 million, the data showed.

KITA attributed the changes to China’s sanctions against Pyongyang, and to North Korea’s dwindling foreign reserves.

China has been limiting trade with North Korea since April.

UPDATE 12 (2016-8-24):  According to Yonhap, China’s imports from DPRK fell in q1 2016 (before US/UN sanctions passed/implemented) compared with previous year:

China’s northeastern province of Jilin saw its imports from North Korea plunge nearly 15 percent in the first quarter of 2016 from a year ago, data showed Wednesday, dealing a fatal blow to the neighboring country’s moribund economy.

According to the Chinese customs data, Jilin’s trade with North Korea sank 14.7 percent on-year to US$176 million in the January-March mainly because of plunging imports.

Jilin, which borders the North’s three provinces, is China’s hub of trade with its ally and boasts the largest trade volume with Pyongyang among China’s provinces.

Jilin’s imports from North Korea came to $66 million in the three-month period, down 33.8 percent from a year earlier. Tumbling imports of such major items as iron ore, clothing and fisheries goods led the drop.

Imports of North Korean iron ore dipped 19.3 percent on-year to $7.28 million in the first quarter, with those of clams, T-shirts and functional clothing nose-diving 25 percent to 73 percent.

China experts said Jilin’s imports of iron ore from North Korea fell sharply in the first quarter due to sluggish demand from China in the wake of Beijing’s move to eliminate its steel overcapacity.

U.N.-led international sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear and missile programs seemed to play a part as well. Pyongyang conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and has test-fired a series of ballistic missiles in recent months.

The Chinese province’s imports from North Korea are estimated to have dropped further in the second quarter when the sanctions began to bite, they added.

“A tumble in trade with Jilin comes as a serious blow to North Korea as it relies heavily on exports of minerals to the province for external trade,” a North Korea watcher said.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s overall trade with the world’s largest economy dropped 9.3 percent on-year to $2.31 billion in the first half of this year, with exports and imports falling 3.1 percent and 16 percent each.

UPDATE 11 (2016-8-19): NK News reports on the DPRK – China coal trade:

But in April, Chinese imports of the high-quality smokeless coal anthracite from North Korea plummeted, according to data from the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) in Seoul which sources Chinese import receipts. Shipments of 1.525 million tons were down 35 percent – albeit compared to record highs in March – and 21 percent compared to the same month last year/compared to April last year.

Then, after just one month, Beijing’s toughness on Kim Jong Un appeared to dissipate. Since April, Chinese imports of North Korean coal – worth 40 percent of total export earnings – have begun to return to normal levels.

In May, imports of anthracite were up 1.7 percent on the low of the previous month but still down 15 percent on May 2015, KITA data showed.

This recovery continued into June. China’s imports of anthracite rebounded nearly 22 percent, coming out of the trough of April and May, and were down just 5.6 percent on May 2015.

While China is trying to cap and reduce coal use – consumption fell for the second year in a row in 2015 – its demand for anthracite to produce metals remains high.

China’s total coal imports slumped 30 percent last year as the government emphasized other cleaner energy sources. This, in turn, pushed down the domestic price of coal, also by 30 percent, and as a result, imports were less competitive and shipments to China dropped.

But while Chinese coal imports from key suppliers Australia and Indonesia plummeted last year, there was one source country that recorded a 25-percent surge in shipments: North Korea.

“This type of coal is in shortage and, in fact, North Korea is the largest supplier of this type of coal to China,” she said.

This complex picture has produced confusing and often contradictory reports on China’s sanctions enforcement previously, and especially since Resolution 2270 passed in March. What has become clear, say observers, is that North Korean coal is increasingly reaching China which has, at the same time, turned down negative rhetoric against North Korea. Meanwhile, China remains keen to create the impression it is enforcing UN sanctions as part of its international commitments.

UPDATE 10 (2016-8-14): Yonhap reports that N. Korea-China trade showing signs of revival:

Lim Eul-chul, research professor at Kyungnam University’s Graduate School of North Korean Studies said that his contacts in China have hinted that while Chinese customs offices ostensibly claim they are adhering to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution restricting transactions with Pyongyang, there has been a noticeable easing in oversight by authorities.

“Chinese companies who had held back on trading with the North, have started to ship more goods after hearing the news that Seoul-Beijing relations have taken a turn for the worse over the THAAD issue,” the scholar said.

He also said that there have been reports of greater traffic moving between the country at night and early morning hours. Lim said that taking into account the customs office operating hours, the flow of traffic at such hours could indicate the illegal movement of goods.

This view was echoed by Cho Bong-hyun, an analyst at the IBK Economic Research Institute, who said that people living in the Sino-North Korean border region are saying customs inspections have become lax along the Sino-North Korean border.

“There is even speculation that banned items are being disguised as products that are not subject to the UNSC sanctions and are being traded,” he said.

Reflecting this, two-way trade data between the neighboring countries support this.

Official customs data released by China showed bilateral trade hitting US$503.77 million in June, up 9.4 percent on-year, and the first rebound just three months after Beijing said it will clamp down on trade. The increase is significant because it took place before the THAAD deployment was announced.

According to U.S.-based Radio Free Asia (RFA), people in Liaoning Province said that the number of cargo trucks coming out of North Korea on a daily basis has jumped twofold to 20 from just 10 two months earlier.

“While trucks only arrived twice a week from North Korea to China just a few weeks ago, they are currently arriving every day, which may be neutralizing the international sanctions,” the media outlet citing a source said. The local said that the traffic involved container trucks.

UPDATE 9 (2016-8-14): Japanese media reports that oil exports to the DPRK have increased:

Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun daily says that China’s oil supply to North Korea appears to have increased.

The daily said on Sunday that freight trains traveling from the oil storage facility in Dandong to the Daqing oil field operated once a day when the United Nations sanctions against the North were imposed, but the number increased to two to three times a day from late June.

The paper speculated that the change reflects China’s concerns that the Kim Jong-un regime might become unstable under continued international sanctions following the North’s missile launches and nuclear tests.

UPDATE 8 (2016-8-12): The information should be taken with a grain of salt, but according to the Daily NK:

Thousands of tons of iron ore exports from the North are pouring into China daily, despite UN Security Council sanctions issued in April that ban states from procuring minerals from the regime unless related to “livelihood purposes”, Daily NK has learned.

“The Chinese regions facing Musan County in North Korea are teeming with thirty- and forty-ton trucks loaded with iron ore,” a source in China with knowledge of North Korean affairs told Daily NK in a telephone conversation on August 11.

Sources in North Hamgyong Province corroborated this news.

The trucks, he added, are mostly transporting iron ore to a classification yard near Helong City in China. In the past, the railways near Helong running along the Tumen River border area were not frequently utilized. But recently China added express freight trains on this route, presumably to facilitate more expedient transport of North Korean iron ore to local steel mills. More broadly, the source asserted the development indicates Beijing’s future intentions to expand trade with the North.

Connecting dozens of 100-ton freight cars, the express trains transport some 2,000 tons in a single shipment, with several round trips transpiring daily. Moreover, the source noted, “Some cargo trucks transport goods from Musan Mine across the submerged bridge on Tumen River directly to steel mills in China.”

The partially underwater bridge, made by connecting slabs of rock large enough to permit vehicular transport, was constructed in the early 2000s to facilitate the Sino-North Korean iron ore trade industry. However, following the implementation of strong global sanctions earlier in the year, iron exports plummeted, rendering the bridge obsolete.

More recently, however, this crude piece of infrastructure is experiencing a resurgence, coming as quite a surprise to local Chinese residents. The source explained that goods passing through Chilsong Customs are checked thoroughly, item by item. Customs officers at the underwater bridge, on the other hand, merely record the total number of shipments passing through, making it the preferred conduit for proscribed goods.

The general rise in trade can also be noted in Dandong, the gateway to 70 percent of trade between the North and China. A source in the city told Daily NK earlier in the month that after the reopening of the aging Sino-North Korean Friendship Bridge, after yet another round of repairs, the volume of shipments has been on a steady uptick.

“Roughly 1,000 trucks, each with a 20-ton loading capacity, are laden with diverse goods and pulling into Sinuiju daily. That’s more than a ten-fold increase,” she said.

The number of trucks coming out of the North to Dandong has also climbed, energizing trade and overall activity in the border area–so much so, in fact, that some residents have asked whether sanctions on the North have been lifted. Others speculate the reversal is a form of retaliation from Beijing against Seoul for deciding to deploy the U.S. missile defense system THAAD to the South.

UPDATE 7 (2016-8-2): N. Korea’s exports of unsanctioned resources to China jump in first half of 2016. According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s shipments of natural resources to China that are not on the United Nations’ sanctions list sharply increased in the first half of the year, nearly making up for a decline in shipments of products prohibited by the U.N., a report showed Saturday.

Shipments of five mineral resources from North Korea to China came to US$78.2 million in the first six months of the year, up 50.3 percent from the same period last year, according to the report from the North Korea Sources Institute in Seoul.

The five minerals are lead ores, zinc ores, spelter, magnesia and cooper ores, which are not on the U.N. list of goods prohibited from access to or from the communist state.

The sanctions, under the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2270, were issued in response to North Korea’s defiant nuclear test in January and a long-range missile launch the following month.

In the January-June period, China’s imports of seven mineral resources from the North that are prohibited under the U.N. resolution plunged 15.7 percent on-year to $547.2 million. Such a drop accelerated in the second quarter, plunging 25.6 percent on-year as the U.N. sanctions were put in place in March.

The prohibited items include coal and iron ores.

An institute official, however, noted the drop in China’s imports of North Korean minerals may have come from a dip in China’s own demand for the said natural resources, adding the cut in imports may not necessarily indicate that China is faithfully implementing U.N. sanctions.

China is the North’s largest communist ally.

Meanwhile, the think tank estimated North Korea’s total coal production for 2015 at 33.8 million tons, up 12.2 percent from a year earlier. It put the estimate of the country’s iron ore production at 4.26 million ton for 2015, down 25 percent year-on-year.

UPDATE 6 (2016-7-25): Leo Byrn wrotes about DPRK-China trade in NK News:

Volumes of anthracite shipped to China in June increased from 1.5 million tonnes to 1.8 million. The number is higher than both January and February export totals and consistent with a recent trend which saw North Korea export more coal to its neighbor in order to combat low commodity prices.

Chinese traders paid their North Korean counterparts over $88 million for the coal in June, a $14 million increase over the previous month. While the figures are down compared to their March equivalents, those were record exports for the DPRK at 2.3 million tonnes.

Shipments of North Korean iron ore showed an even more pronounced rise after the UN passed Resolution 2270. While volumes are smaller, North Korean iron ore exports increased more than 100 percent between April and May.

June’s exports also increased, but at a slower rate to over 221,000 tonnes. The number is more than double the March export figure, and continues a theme of month on month increases beginning in April.

Exactly how Beijing has set about enforcing the new sanctions is currently unclear. Resolution 2270 contains an exception allowing iron and coal imports provided the revenues do not contribute to the North’s weapons programmes.

But how the process works is currently vaguely defined, and it is unknown how authorities would ensure cash flows from commodity exports go where intended.

The increasing exports could also be the result of traders playing out existing contracts, or arise from the difficulties in rapidly shutting down large scale trade.

UPDATE 5 (2016-06-22): China’s imports of North Korean goods fell 12.59 percent on-year in May

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Says Yonhap, citing KOTRA data:

China’s imports of North Korean goods fell 12.59 percent on-year in May, data showed Wednesday, amid tougher U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Imports from North Korea declined to US$175.6 million last month, compared to $200.9 million for the same month last year, according to Chinese customs data compiled by the Beijing unit of South Korea’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA).

Imports of North Korean coal, which accounts for nearly half of the North’s annual exports to China, plunged 28.3 percent on-year to $74.7 million in May, the data showed.

China’s exports to North Korea also fell 5.9 percent on-year to $239.3 million last month, according to the data.

However, these numbers suffer from the same problems that often plague trade data on North Korea. We don’t know 1) how much of the decrease is caused by a general, global drop in world market prices for North Korea’s export goods, and how much is an actual, quantitative import decrease, and 2) how much of the drop would have counterfactually happened “anyway,” given the contraction of Chinese industries using North Korean coal.

Full article:
China’s imports of N. Korean goods fall 12.6 pct in May 
Kim Deok-hyun
Yonhap News
2016-06-22

UPDATE 4 (2016-6-3):  The Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) also comments on the April 2016 trade statistics.

China Decreased Imports from North Korea in April by 22.3 Percent

Last month, imports from North Korea to China plunged more than 20 percent below that of the same period last year. April is the first month for China to begin the implementation of sanctions against North Korea adopted by the UN Security Council resolution. China’s sanctions against North Korea have a notable effect.

KOTRA Trade Office in Beijing released the official DPRK-China trade statistics of Chinese Maritime Customs Service on May 14. According to this report, China’s total import volume from North Korea in this period recorded 161,380,000 USD, down 22.35 percent compared to April last year. By item, imports of coal decreased by 38.34 percent while lead imports were reduced by 16.12 percent. There were no titanium imports as China listed titanium as one of the banned exports from North Korea.

However, iron ore is one of North Korea’s main export items along with coal. Unlike lead and coal, the import of iron ore increased 19.38 percent, and zinc import jumped a whopping 685 percent. In this regard, China appears to have decreased coal imports to deal with domestic overproduction problem of coal while increasing the imports of other minerals and under the suspicion that it is imposing sanctions on North Korea only on the outside.

China’s exports to North Korea recorded insignificant decrease of approximately 1.53 percent, with a total volume of 268,000,000 USD. Refined oil including jet fuel was identified to have decreased 6.11 percent compared to the same period last year. Exports of freight cars and electronic equipment decreased 45.46 percent and 43.95 percent, respectively, while agricultural and clothing items were not much affected.

As a result, the total of DPRK-China trade volume decreased 10.54 percent compared to last year, at 429,410,000 USD. Last month on April 5, China’s Ministry of Commerce announced 25 banned items of import and export to and from North Korea. This is about a month since the resolution on North Korean sanctions was passed. Since then, China immediately began to impose sanctions.

In the list of import bans, there are a total of 20 items, including coal, steel, and iron ore, along with gold, titanium, vanadium ore and other rare earth minerals as classified by maritime customs. Prior to the sanctions, DPRK-China trade in March recorded 490,000,000 USD in trade volume, which was an increase of approximately 20 percent compared to the previous year.

As China continues to impose sanctions on North Korea, North Korea can be expected to suffer a significant setback in its foreign currency earnings.

UPDATE 3 (2016-5-25): DPRK – China trade Jan 1 – April 30 2016:

Preliminary estimates of trade volume between DPRK and China through April 30 total appx $1.597 billion ($4.791 annualized, 11.7% decrease from 2015).

DPRK imports/Chinese exports total $862 million, and DPRK exports/Chinese imports total $735 million. So we can see a bilateral trade deficit in Jan-April 2016 of appx $127 million ($381 million at annualized rate vs $460 million in 2015).

Chinese enforcement of UNSC Resolution 2270 reportedly began in April, in which China reports it’s DPRK imports total US $161 million (down 22.3% from April 2015). Coal imports at $72.2 million (down 38.2% from April 2015 total of $116.6 million), gold imports $250k (down 91.1% from April 2015). China’s exports total $268 million in April 2016 (down 1.5% from April 2015).

It is impossible to tell from this data whether the sanctions are having any impact beyond the general downturn in the Chinese economy because this is trade based on value (Price x Quantity), and prices of North Korea’s commodity exports have been falling as well. We need to compare the quantity of the prohibited mineral exports over time to see if the sanctions are having any impact (assuming China is accurately reporting them).

It is also important to remember that DPRK – China trade is not regular, so past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. Also, the data can be revised for numerous reasons.

Finally, China stopped reporting unrefined oil exports to the DPRK in 2014, but they did not stop exporting unrefined oil itself. According to Chinese customs data, the country exported about 520,000 tons of oil to North Korea every year from 2009 to 2012. Beijing normally supplied between 30,000 to 50,000 tonnes (222,000 to 370,000 barrels) of crude oil to North Korea every month. Shipments of crude oil to North Korea rose 11.2% to 578,000 tons in 2013.

The data in the above summary comes from the articles below, starting with this in the Choson Ilbo:

China’s imports of North Korean products declined more than 20 percent last month compared to the same period of 2015 as Beijing began to implement UN Security Council sanctions against Pyongyang.

According to statistics by the Korea International Trade Association, China imported US$161 million worth of North Korean products in April, down 22.3 percent on-year.

Its imports of North Korean coal fell 38.2 percent to $7.21 million [this statistic is wrong and was corrected by Yonhap], and of gold 91.1 percent to $250,000. Imports of North Korean titanium, which is on the list of banned imports, were zero.

But imports of iron ore, which is allowed since it is thought to support the livelihood of ordinary North Koreans, increased 1.7 percent, and of zinc, which is also not banned, a whopping 685 percent to $5.7 million.

China’s exports to North Korea totaled $268 million last month, down 1.5 percent. Sales of jet and rocket fuel dropped 39.9 percent and of cars and electronic equipment 45.5 percent and 43.9 percent.

Total trade between North Korea and China last month fell 10.5 percent on-year to $429 million. If China continues to abide by UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea, bilateral trade will shrink further and dent the North’s attempts to earn hard currency.

North Korea’s state-run Rodong Sinmun daily on Tuesday complained that the sanctions are pressuring the North “beyond imagination.”

Read the full story here:
Sanctions Slash Chinese Imports of N.Korean Products
Choson Ilbo
2016-5-25

UPDATE 2 (2016-5-23): Reuters reports a drop in Chinese imports of North Korean coal:

China’s imports of coal from its neighbor North Korea reached 1.53 million tonnes in April, down 35 percent on the month and 20.5 percent year-on-year as Beijing sought to comply with a tougher sanctions regime against the country.

North Korean shipments over the first four months of the year remain 23.2 percent higher than the same period of 2015, data from China’s General Administration of Customs showed on Monday.

China’s Ministry of Commerce announced at the beginning of April that it would ban North Korean coal imports to comply with new United Nations sanctions on the country, though it made exceptions for deliveries intended for “the people’s wellbeing” as well as coal originating from third countries like Mongolia.

Mongolia was the chief beneficiary of the decline in shipments from North Korea, with the country supplying 1.98 million tonnes to China in April, up 34.7 percent on the year.

Australia remained China’s biggest supplier, though the April volume of 5.74 million tonnes was down 12.9 percent compared to last year.

Read the full story here:
China coal imports from North Korea dip 35 percent as sanctions bite
Reuters
2016-5-23

UPDATE 1 (2016-4-14): Yonhap reports on Q1 2016. Overall trade is up, but this is composed of surging Chinese exports to North Korea and falling imports. Here are the relevant parts of the report:

Trade volume between North Korea and China posted double-digit growth in the first quarter of 2016 from a year earlier despite the United Nations’ punitive economic sanctions imposed on the reclusive country, official data showed Wednesday.

The size of bilateral trade stood at 7.79 billion yuan (US$1.2 billion) in the January-March period, up 12.7 percent from the same period last year, Huang Songping, spokesman of China’s General Administration of Customs, said during a press briefing on the country’s first-quarter trade outcome.

The increased trade volume is attributable to a sharp rise in China’s exports to North Korea in the three months, which posted 14.7 percent growth to 3.96 billion yuan, according to the spokesman.

On the other hand, China’s imports from North Korea contracted 10.8 percent to 3.83 billion yuan, he said.

“Major Chinese exports to North Korea are machinery, electronic goods, labor-intensive products and agricultural goods, while imports mainly are coal and iron ore,” Huang said.

The spokesman indicated that the trade increase should not be viewed as China circumventing the U.N. Security Council sanctions because the latest figure accounts for bilateral trade volume before the sanctions took effect.

China immediately implemented the sanctions after it announced a list of banned trade goods with North Korea on April 5, the spokesman pointed out.

“The China-North Korea trade data for the first quarter has nothing to do with anti-North sanctions,” the official said, also vowing to “follow through with the U.N. sanctions resolution thoroughly.”

Another official from China’s State Council stressed any trade items that concern the public welfare or have no link to North Korea’s nuclear weapons development are not subject to the sanctions.

But the official refused to release the monthly trade figure for March, only saying that the monthly data is not available.

In early March, the U.N. adopted the toughest sanctions it has ever slapped on North Korea as punishment for the communist country’s defiant nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch in February.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea-China trade volume up 12.7 percent on-year in Q1
Yonhap
2016-4-13

ORIGINAL POST (2016-4-7): The Chinese Ministry of Commerce issues announcement on trade and UNSC Resolution 2270:

MOFCOM Announcement No. 11 of 2016 Announcement on List of Mineral Products Embargo against the DPRK
April 7, 2016 – 10:57 BJT (14:57 GMT) MOFCOM

In order to carry out relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council and in accordance with the Foreign Trade Law of the People’s Republic of China, the following products are hereby embargoed against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:

1. Imports of coal, iron and iron ores from the DPRK are forbidden with the following two exceptions:

(1) Trading that is determined to be conducted to generate profits solely for the people’s livelihood, and that does not involve the nuclear program or the ballistic missile program of the DPRK or any other profit generating activities prohibited in the Resolutions No. 1718(2006), No. 1874(2009), No. 2087(2013), No. 2094 (2013) or No. 2270 (2016) of the UN Security Council.

If the import falls into the range of the trade mentioned above, then during the import declaration, the enterprise shall submit to the customs authority a letter of commitment (See Annex 2) signed by its legal representative or principal and affixed with its official seal. If it is confirmed by solid information that the imports are not for the people’s livelihood, or are related to the nuclear program or the ballistic missile program of the DPRK, the customs authority will not clear such imports.

(2)Trading of coal that is confirmed not to be originated in the DPRK but is delivered and used to export from the Port of Rason through the DPRK, and such trade does not involve the nuclear program or the ballistic missile program of the DPRK or any other profit generating activities prohibited in the Resolutions No. 1718(2006), No. 1874(2009), No. 2087(2013), No. 2094 (2013) or No. 2270 (2016) of the UN Security Council.

If the import falls into the range of the trade mentioned above, the importing enterprise shall submit to the provincial competent commerce authority, where such enterprise is located, relevant information and application in advance, which shall then be submitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs via the Ministry of Commerce, and then notified to the Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council for record-filing before the enterprise can begin to import. During the import declaration, the enterprise shall submit to the customs authority a letter of commitment (see Annex 3) signed by its legal representative or principal of the enterprise and affixed with its official seal and the certificate of original. If it is confirmed by solid information that the trade does not fall into the exception, then the customs authority will not clear the imports.

2. Imports of gold ores, titanium ores, vanadium ore, and rare earth minerals from the DPRK are forbidden.

3. Exports of aircraft fuel including aviation gasoline, naphtha aircraft fuel, kerosene aircraft fuel and kerosene rocket fuel are forbidden with the following two exceptions:

(1) The aircraft fuel that has been specially approved by the Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council case by case to be transferred to the DPRK and verified to be used to satisfy basic human needs; however, special arrangements must be made to effectively monitor the delivery and use of such fuel.

(2) The aircraft fuel that is sold to civil airplanes outside the territory of the DPRK or is supplied solely for use in trips from and to the DPRK.
4. For details of the product embargo, please see Annex 1.

This Announcement shall be implemented as of the date of announcement.

Here is coverage of the statement in Yonhap:

China’s commerce ministry on Tuesday announced a list of restrictions on imports from North Korea and said it will ban the export of jet fuel in accordance with new U.N. sanctions slapped on Pyongyang following its latest provocations.

Backed by China, the U.N. Security Council adopted a package of fresh sanctions on North Korea earlier last month to punish the North for conducting its fourth nuclear test in January and launching a long-range rocket in February.

The new sanctions require U.N. member states to ban imports of North Korean gold and rare earth metals. But trade in North Korean coal and iron ore will be allowed if the proceeds from the trade are related to “livelihood purposes.”

The Chinese announcement said it will continue to import North Korean coal, iron, and iron ore if such transactions are involved in “livelihood purposes” and their revenues are not used for North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

“If credible information confirms that any deal is not for livelihood purposes or in connection with North Korea’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs,” the Chinese customs authorities should not release such mineral items, a statement released by the Chinese ministry said.

China accounts for nearly 90 percent of North Korea’s foreign trade, and mineral resources are a key part of their bilateral trade.

Many analysts say the reference to “livelihood purposes” in the new U.N. sanctions could allow China to continue the trade of coal and iron ore with North Korea.

The Chinese list of restrictions on mineral imports from North Korea also includes titanium and vanadium.

In line with new U.N. sanctions, China also prevents their nationals from selling or supplying jet fuel to North Korea.

But the provision will not apply if there is a humanitarian need, or for civilian passenger aircraft outside North Korea during a return flight to North Korea, the Chinese statement said.

Earlier in the day, South Korean Ambassador to China Kim Jang-soo told a group of South Korean correspondents that the new U.N. sanctions have so far left no specific impact on bilateral trade between North Korea and China.

“No specific figures, including changes in North Korea-China trade volume and (China’s) import volume of (North Korean) coal, have been reported yet,” Kim said.

Kim said China will submit a report about its implementation of the new sanctions on North Korea within 90 days of the sanctions being adopted.

The Chinese report to the U.N. will become the “standard” in assessing whether or not China is sincerely enforcing the new sanctions on North Korea, Kim said.

Here is coverage in the Hankyoreh.

Here is coverage in NK News.

On April 5, Xinhua announced the following:

China on Tuesday announced embargoes on some imports from and exports to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

In terms of imports, China has banned purchases of coal, iron ore and several other raw minerals, and exports of aviation fuel to DPRK are also no longer allowed.

The bans follow the UN Security Council’s resolutions, the Ministry of Commerce said.

Yonhap reported that DPRK-china trade rose 4.6% in February:

Trade between North Korea and its economic lifeline, China, grew 4.6 percent on-year in February, Chinese customs data showed Wednesday, despite tensions over the launch of a long-range rocket following the North’s fourth nuclear test.

Bilateral trade volume stood at $323 million last month, according to the data. China’s imports of North Korean goods gained 2.48 percent on year to $162 million and its exports to the North rose 6.91 percent to $161 million.

Compared with January, however, bilateral trade fell about 15 percent.

The U.N. Security Council imposed tougher sanctions on North Korea earlier this month to punish it for the Jan. 6 nuclear test and Feb. 7 launch of a long-range rocket, both of which violated previous U.N. resolutions.

China, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of North Korea’s external trade, has vowed to fully implement the new U.N. sanctions on North Korea.

But, China has also made it clear that sanctions should not affect the normal trade between the two nations.

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North Korean defector numbers up by 15 percent from last year

Friday, August 5th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

After diminishing to relatively low numbers following Kim Jong-un’s ascension to power and tighter controls preventing people from leaving the country, the number of defectors reaching South Korea was 15 percent higher between January and July this year as compared to 2015, Chosun Ilbo reports:

From January thorough July this year some 815 North Koreans fled their country and arrived in the South, up around 15 percent from the same period last year, the Unification Ministry said Tuesday.
This suggests that international sanctions and the resulting economic straits in the repressive North are driving many away. More defectors now come from the elite, which for long thrived while ordinary North Koreans starved.
From 2006 to 2011, some 2,000-plus people fled the North every year, but when Kim took power in 2012 numbers dropped to about 1,500.
Last year the number was down to 1,276. The regime boosted border patrols, forcibly relocated the families of defectors, and meted out tougher punishment for those who aided and abetted defections.

To me, the claim that people are leaving in higher numbers because of sanctions sounds very unlikely, to say the least. Even if sanctions are hitting the economy in a way that most people feel (which is itself doubtful at this time), it is difficult to see that it would be enough to tip the scale toward 15 percent more people defecting. One could argue that the speed battles of the past year may well have done much more to lower the quality of life for most North Koreans than sanctions have, but of course, it is impossible to pinpoint a specific reason for this increase.

Full article:
N.Korean Defections on the Rise Again
Chosun Ilbo
Lee Yong-soo
2016-08-03

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Buy your own North Korean coal, through Alibaba

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Are you looking for the perfect birthday present or anniversary gift for your loved one? Look no further. It seems you can buy your own North Korean coal through the Chinese shopping website Alibaba.

One company, Dandong Zhícheng Metallic Material, states: “We are professional company of trading the North Korea Briquettes, choose us, trust us.” Buyers can choose to have their coal transported either through the Dalian or Dandong ports, and the company markets both coal briquettes and other types of coal products. The website contains information about the country and their products in both Chinese and Korean, but the text is blurry and appears in a small font, making it difficult to read. I am currently unable to find the original page where these descriptions appear, but below are a few screenshots:

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 22.05.17Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 22.05.31Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 22.05.52 Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 22.06.14Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 22.06.05

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update 2016-07-03:

Voice of America (Korean version) cites this blog post here, and Yonhap in turn cites VoA here, without citing this blog.

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North Korea summer 2016 food shortage reports

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

‘Tis the season of news reports of food shortages in North Korea. Late spring and summer is the “lean season” for food in the country, when shortages tend to become more dire as the main harvest season approaches. In an interview with Radio Free Asia, the FAO-official Christina Coslet repeated the organization’s prediction of the harvest this year being the smallest since 2011. Moreover, PDS-distribution is reportedly down to 360 grams, the lowest since 2010 (click here for a recap in English by Korea Times):

기자) 코슬렛 담당관님, 우선 북한 식량 사정에 대해 살펴보죠. 요즘 북한의 식량 사정 어떻게 평가하고 있습니까?

코슬렛 담당관) “ The food security situation due to the decreased production is expected to worsen compared to the previous years….”

지난 몇 년 간 보다 훨씬 안 좋을 것으로 보고 있습니다. 아시다시피 지난해 가을 추수한 주요 곡물의 수확량이 크게 감소했습니다. 쌀의 경우 전년도에 비해 26% 감소했고, 옥수수도 3%가량 감소했죠. 북한이 올해 외부 지원이나 수입으로 충당해야 할 식량 부족량이 69만4천t에 이르는데요, 이 같은 식량 부족분 규모는 2011년 이래 최대 규모입니다. 하지만 현재 확보한 식량은 부족 분의 3% 가량인 2만3천t에 그치고 있습니다. [Summary: rice harvests are down by 26%, corn by 3%, the import need is the greatest since 2011 /BKS.]

[…]

기자) 북한 당국의 식량 배급량을 통해서도 북한의 식량 사정을 가늠할 수 있지 않나요?

코슬렛 담당관) “Yes, it is also another way to see the food shortage situation in the country…”

그렇습니다. 식량이 적게 배분됐다는 것은 그만큼 식량 사정이 좋지 않다는 걸 의미하죠. 올해 1월부터 3월까지 북한 당국이 주민 한 명 당 하루 배급한 양은 370g입니다. 하지만 4월부터 6월 배급량은 360g으로 줄었는데요 이는 지난 2010년 이래 가장 적은 양입니다. 그만큼 식량 사정이 좋지 않다고 볼 수 있죠. [Summary: PDS distribution was 370 grams per day between January and March this year, but went down to 360 grams between April and June /BKS.]

Full article:
FAO: Food shortages in North Korea largest in four years
Kim Hyun-jin
Radio Free Asia
2016-06-19

Of course, given the way that the North Korean economy functions today, one might question how much PDS-distributions really matter. There is quite a bit of regional variation in dependency on the PDS, and whatever the actual state of food supply, different localities will be hit differently whenever food supply is lacking.

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North Korea’s trade volume down 18 percent in 2015

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

According to KOTRA (reported by Yonhap):

North Korea’s trade volume sank 18 percent last year from a year earlier, ending five years of straight growth, due largely to a drop in the prices of its key trading items such as coal and overall shipments, a South Korean trade agency said Wednesday.

The North’s overall trade volume came to US$6.25 billion in 2015, compared with $7.61 billion the previous year, according to the state-run Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA).

The reclusive country’s outbound shipments fell 15 percent on-year to reach $2.7 billion, while imports also dropped 30 percent to $3.55 billion over the cited period, the data compiled by the agency showed.

Consequently, the communist state’s trade deficit reached $850 million last year, narrowing 33 percent from the previous year.

The North’s trade volume has been on a rising path since 2009 reaching an all-time high of $7.61 billion in 2014.

But a drop in prices of key trade items such as coal, coupled with a slowdown in China — its strongest ally — led to a decline in overall trade volume, KOTRA said.

Bilateral trade volume between North Korea and China came to $5.71 billion last year, down 16.8 percent from a year earlier,

The figure accounted for 91.3 percent of the North’s overall trade in 2015, slightly higher than the previous year’s 90.1 percent.

Two things are worth noting: first, it’s about trade volumes in dollar terms, not the amount of goods per se. Second, this would seem to add to what I’ve pointed out earlier on this blog – decreases in trade with China following the sanctions may simply be part of a pattern that began earlier, before the sanctions were put in place. In 2015, trade with China accounted for 90.1 percent of North Korea’s total trade.

Full article by Yonhap here:
N.Korea’s trade volume drops 18 pct in 2015
Yonhap News
2016-06-15

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Domestic food price dip in North Korea

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

North Korea’s domestic market prices have been behaving somewhat counterintuitively as of late. Harvest declined last year (or at least so the FAO claimed), and given the latest round of sanctions, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to expect some hoarding and anxiety on the markets, out of anticipation that China may come to control cross-border trade and smuggling more tightly.

Not so, Daily NK reports:

Despite the lean season, referred to domestically as the “barley hump,” during which grains typically get pricier in North Korea, prices are instead on a downward trend, Daily NK has learned.

Daily NK’s sources within the country believe relaxed restrictions on marketplace activity under the Kim Jong Un regime has helped create a balance in the supply and demand of food by way of imports, narrowing the range of price swings even when the local supply dips during the “barley hump.”

“People were quite worried about the economic sanctions from China but are now relieved to see that rice prices have not changed much,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK, She reported that in her region, rice, which had been selling at 5,000 KPW (a kilogram) until just a few days ago, had dropped to 4,500 KPW; corn, which fetched 1,200 KPW, slid to 1,000 KPW; and pork prices fell about 1,000 KPW to 11,100 KPW.

“More vendors now import rice, corn, etc. from China, so there’s more than enough to go around even after making up for the shortfall in local supply during the barely hump,” she added, explaining that the dip in rice prices is in large part due to the upcoming harvest of early potatoes and barley, as vendors look to offload their supplies.

Overall, it appears, judging from the stability of market prices, that both formal and informal market mechanisms in North Korea function well enough to make up for shortfalls in production.

Full article:
Dip in prices help residents surmount ‘barley hump’ 
Kang Mi Jin
Daily NK
2016-06-12

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China’s enforcement of sanctions on North Korea: a bit of perspective

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

To what extent is China enforcing the latest round of UNSC sanctions on North Korea? This question is as important and interesting as it is nebulously complicated and difficult to answer. For the fact is, like Curtis points out here, that lower coal imports by China from North Korea does not necessarily give evidence to sanctions enforcement. Some of the figures reported in the news concern the value of the imports, which fluctuates with world market prices.

Moreover, as the old saying goes, correlation does not imply causality. In other words, the mere fact that trade in coal and other goods is decreasing does not necessarily mean that it is going down because of sanctions alone. It is worth to remember that Chinese imports of North Korean coal has decreased in the past too, before the latest sanctions round, due to decreased domestic demand and other factors. A whole host of variables other than sanctions may well be at play too.

Looking back at some previous trade data gives some context to the latest reports of decreasing trade. Even though volumes may be down, to fully understand how this impacts the North Korean economy, dollar value terms may be more relevant.

To recap:

  • According to recent data, Chinese imports of North Korean coal have decreased by 20.5 year-on-year for April 2016 (in tonne numbers).
  • According to Yonhap figures, cited here, this translates into a drop from $116.6 a year ago, to $72.27 now. This represents a 37 percent drop.
  • In the pre-sanctions quarter of the year, North Korean exports to China increased by 12 percent.

To put this in perspective, consider the following changes in the past:

  • Between January and November 2014, North Korean exports to China dropped by 12.3 percent in dollar terms.
  • Between 2013 and 2015, the value of coal exports to China dropped by 24.6 percent.
  • Between January and February 2014, total trade between North Korea and China dropped by 46 percent.

The point of citing these numbers is not to show that sanctions are not being implemented by China. Rather, such flows tend to fluctuate quite heavily for other reasons as well, and it is too early to conclude that sanctions are the only reason behind the contraction. As a New York Times story from late March this year showed, Chinese border agents tend to be fairly lax in controlling goods crossing the border – NYT cited a figure of about five percent of all goods being inspected. In sum, it is too early to draw any major conclusions about Chinese sanctions enforcement, and only future data will be able to give a more conclusive picture.

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