Archive for the ‘Trade Statistics’ Category

DPRK – China Trade in 2016 (UPDATED)

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

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.

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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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DPRK – China trade 2015

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

According to UPI:

North Korea’s trade with China shrank for the first time in six years, according to a South Korean government think tank.

According to a report from the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, bilateral trade stood at $5.43 billion in 2015, down by 14.7 percent from 2014.

North Korea exports to China were estimated to total $2.95 billion, a decrease of 16.4 percent, and imports, excluding crude oil, were reported at $2.49 billion, a 12.6 percent decrease from 2014, local newspaper Kyunghyang Shinmun reported.

But the data from 2015 indicates North Korea was hit hard by a collapse in coal and iron ore prices in the commodities markets, according to the report.

North Korea iron ore initially remained competitive in the Chinese market, staying at a price that was 73 percent of market rates, but became less of a bargain in 2015 when it was priced at 84 percent of market rates, which also dropped precipitously last year.

The report stated China’s economic slowdown and new environmental policies targeting the coal industry played a role in the decline in North Korea coal and other exports, local newspaper Maeil Business reported.

In 2015, commodity prices dropped by more than 20 percent for coal and about 31 percent for iron ore.

Note that these trade data were recorded before new sanctions were implemented in 2016.

Read the full story here:
North Korea trade with China shrinks 15 percent
UPI
2016-5-23

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Not surprising: Inter-Korean trade to fall in 2016

Friday, May 13th, 2016

According to the Choson Ilbo:

Trade with North Korea is expected to be practically zero this year now the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex has been shut down.

According to a 2016 White Paper published by the Unification Ministry on Thursday, last year’s cross-border trade volume was a record US$2.7 billion, up 15.9 percent from 2014, thanks to an increase in trade through the industrial park.

But that accounted for 99.6 percent of all cross-border trade since other trade had already been suspended under earlier sanctions in the wake of the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan in 2010.

Now the industrial park has been closed there is no trade left, the ministry said.

Since the North’s latest nuclear test in January, Seoul has also halted humanitarian aid to the North. Last year, Seoul gave Pyongyang humanitarian aid worth W25.4 billion, up 30 percent from 2014 (US$1=W1,167).

Read the full story here:
Trade with N.Korea Falls to Near-Zero
Choson Ilbo
Kim Myong-song
2016-5-13

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North Korea’s food situation: worse, but maybe just back to normal

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Some days ago, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) sounded the alarm bells on North Korean food production. The drought of last summer, among other factors, has caused North Korea’s food production to drop for the first time since 2010. (Recall that in the past years, both North Korean media outlets and some analysts touted Kim Jong-un’s agricultural reforms — the former claimed that food production was increasing despite the drought. It seems they spoke too soon).

Numbers like this, however, matter little without context. After all, five years is not a very long measurement period. Analysts like Marcus Noland have noted that the years following 2010 were probably exceptionally good. The current downturn might be best contextualized as a return to lower but more normal levels of food production.

How does the latest food production figure look in a larger context? The short answer is: not that bad, even though the downward trend is obviously problematic. Let us take a brief look at North Korean food production figures over the past few years. All following numbers show food production figures in millions of milled cereal equivalent tons:

  • 2008/2009: 3.3
  • 2010/2011: 4.5
  • 2012/2013: 4.9
  • 2013/2014: 5.03
  • 2014/2015: 5.08
  • 2015/2016: 5.06

(Sources for all figures except the 2015/2016 figure can be found here, in a piece I wrote for 38 North late last year. It seems the calculation I made for 2015/2016 was off by 0.01 million tonnes.)

In other words, yes, the latest food production estimate represents a decrease, but it’s not that big. North Korean food production is still far larger than it’s been for most of the 2000s.

It is also interesting to note the striking variation in North Korean government food imports. Marcus Noland and Stephan Haggard wrote in Famine in North Korea that the government downsized food imports as a response to increasing aid flows. Whatever the rationale might be behind the regime’s food import policies, they tend to vary greatly from year to year. In 2012/2013, the country imported almost 400,000 tonnes of cereal. In the mid-2000s, imports were close to one million tonnes, and they dropped to under 300,000 tonnes in 2008/2009.  In 2011/2012, imports climbed to 700,000 tons.

For 2015/2016, FAO projects a gap of need versus production of 694,000 tonnes, but government imports stand at around 300,000 tonnes, a relatively low figure in a historical context. Thus, North Korea is left with an uncovered deficit of 384,000 tonnes. Presumably, this wouldn’t be prohibitively expensive to cover by doubling cereal imports. The economy seems far more healthy today than it was in 2011-2012, and still, it managed to import more than double its planned imports of 2015-2016.

All in all, North Korea’s food production appears to be far from sufficient or stable, but the situation does not appear acute in a historical context. Indeed, one could argue that it’s a matter of policy choices and priorities: the regime could choose to increase imports to offset the decline in production, but its funds are spent elsewhere. And, of course, more efficient agricultural policies overall would make North Korean agriculture and food markets far more resilient to weather variations.

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DPRK – Russia Trade in 2015 (UPDATED)

Friday, April 22nd, 2016

UPDATE 1 (2016-4-22): According to the Russian Exports National Information Portal:

In 2015 North Korean-Russian bilateral trade volume decreased by 10% and reached 83.2 million USD compared to 92.2 million USD in 2014.

North Korean exports to Russia fell to 5.7 million USD (by 43%) while imports fell to 77.5 million USD (by 6%) .

Figure 1. 2007-2015 North Korean-Russian bilateral trade turnover, million USD. Source: ITC Trade Map.

DPRK-Russia-trade-2015

North Korean exports to Russia

North Korea primarily exports to Russia the following products:

▪ Fish, crustaceans, molluscs, aquatic invertebrates nes (29%)
▪ Articles of apparel, accessories, not knit or crochet (27%)
▪ Musical instruments, parts and accessories (17%)
▪ Railway, tramway locomotives, rolling stock, equipment (6%)
▪ Manmade filaments (5%)
▪ Electrical, electronic equipment (4%)
▪ Plastics and articles thereof (3%)
▪ Wadding, felt, nonwovens, yarns, twine, cordage, etc (2%)
▪ Rubber and articles thereof (2%)
▪ Machinery, nuclear reactors, boilers, etc (1%)
▪ Cereal, flour, starch, milk preparations and products (1%)
▪ Tanning, dyeing extracts, tannins, derivs,pigments etc (1%)
▪ Milling products, malt, starches, inulin, wheat gluten (1%)

In 2015 the imports of North Korean made products in Russia experienced a significant rise . The imports of man-made filaments rise by 8733%; the imports of railway, tramway locomotives, rolling stock, equipment- by 5283%.

Russian exports to North Korea

In 2015 Russia has exported to North Korea the following products:

▪ Mineral fuels, oils, distillation products, etc (83%)
▪ Wood and articles of wood, wood charcoal (4%)
▪ Cereals (4%)
▪ Milling products, malt, starches, inulin, wheat gluten (3%)
▪ Fish, crustaceans, molluscs, aquatic invertebrates nes (3%)
▪ Pharmaceutical products (1%)

2015 showed a significant rise in Russian exports to North Korea of cereal, flour, starch, milk preparations and products (+706%). At the same time the exports of machinery, nuclear reactors, boilers (-97%) showed a significant fall.

I have posted a PDF of the source web page here.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-6-4): 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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Nw York Times reports on sanctions enforcement, at Sino-DPRK border

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Just as before, China’s controls over goods flowing across the border with North Korea is spotty at best. According to a New York Times dispatch from the border, Chinese customs authorities only control a small percentage of the goods (particularly relevant parts in bold):

If recent trade here is any indication, that cooperation has been spotty at best.

Cross-border trade, legal and illegal, flows pretty much as usual, and seems to be largely unhindered by the new rules, traders and local officials said.

One of the toughest components, a requirement that countries inspect all cargo entering or leaving North Korea for banned goods, is not enforced here.

On many days, Mr. Qin’s secondhand taxis cross the bridge in a convoy of more than 100 vehicles, including trucks loaded with containers draped in shabby tarpaulins and secondhand minibuses for North Korea’s rickety transportation system. Few are ever inspected by the Chinese authorities.

China accounts for about 90 percent of North Korea’s trade. Half of that business is estimated to flow through Dandong, a boom-and-bust city whose fortunes are tied to trade with North Korea.

Virtually everything that keeps the North Korean economy afloat passes through here: Coal and iron ore come in, violating the sanctions, and crude oil flows out, exempted from them.

Smuggling is rampant. The export of North Korean rare earth minerals and gold, banned under the new rule, is one of the more lucrative revenue sources for the North Korean government, traders said. That business continues on privately owned 200-ton ships belonging to Chinese smugglers based here, they said.

The United Nations rules put the onus on customs inspectors here to judge which goods may help the nuclear program or the military, which are banned, and which are intended for civilians, which are allowed.

On a recent day, the customs checkpoint, a large outdoor parking area adjacent to the bridge, held a collection of China’s castoffs: cheap four-wheel-drive Haval passenger vehicles, discount medicines for hepatitis and tuberculosis, old solar panels to brighten dark houses.

But the customs office here lacks the staff to open all the containers, a local government official said. Like most people interviewed for this article, he spoke on condition of anonymity since there are risks to speaking candidly to foreign media about trade with North Korea.

At peak times, up to 200 trucks a day cross the Yalu River to Sinuiju, North Korea. Before departing, only about 5 percent of the containers they carry are inspected, the official said.

[…]

Virtually everything that keeps the North Korean economy afloat passes through here: Coal and iron ore come in, violating the sanctions, and crude oil flows out, exempted from them.

Smuggling is rampant. The export of North Korean rare earth minerals and gold, banned under the new rule, is one of the more lucrative revenue sources for the North Korean government, traders said. That business continues on privately owned 200-ton ships belonging to Chinese smugglers based here, they said.

The United Nations rules put the onus on customs inspectors here to judge which goods may help the nuclear program or the military, which are banned, and which are intended for civilians, which are allowed.

On a recent day, the customs checkpoint, a large outdoor parking area adjacent to the bridge, held a collection of China’s castoffs: cheap four-wheel-drive Haval passenger vehicles, discount medicines for hepatitis and tuberculosis, old solar panels to brighten dark houses.

But the customs office here lacks the staff to open all the containers, a local government official said. Like most people interviewed for this article, he spoke on condition of anonymity since there are risks to speaking candidly to foreign media about trade with North Korea.

At peak times, up to 200 trucks a day cross the Yalu River to Sinuiju, North Korea. Before departing, only about 5 percent of the containers they carry are inspected, the official said.

[…]

There is, however, evidence of some enforcement in one important area: North Korea’s sale of coal and iron ore, two of its most important exports.

Port authorities here have been fairly vigilant in enforcing the new ban on North Korea’s ragged fleet of more than two dozen cargo ships, two local officials said. The coal they carry earns North Korea as much as $1 billion a year, according to the United States Treasury.

But that ban has been circumvented by smuggling ships and by the transfer of 12 North Korean ships to Chinese ownership, allowing them to dock at Chinese and other ports, a longtime trader, Mr. Yu, said.

A few traders interviewed here said the new rules had crimped their business.

Mr. Zhang, a trader who does tens of millions of dollars a year in business with North Korea, said customs officials had just impounded a big secondhand excavator he had bought from a coal mine in Shanxi Province and sold to a North Korean coal mine for more than $60,000.

Customs inspectors asked how he knew the equipment would not be transferred to the North Korean military. “We didn’t know how to answer,” he said.

But traders and officials expect that after some initial minor squeezing, whatever enforcement there is will be relaxed. Liaoning Province, where Dandong is a prominent city, ranked at the bottom of China’s 31 provinces for economic growth last year, and there was political pressure not to weaken the economy further.

Full article here:

A Hole in North Korean Sanctions Big Enough for Coal, Oil and Used Pianos

Jane Perlez and Yufang Huang

New York Times

03/01/2016

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Trade between North Korea and China fell 1.2 percent in January

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Note that the cause given here is not a fall in trade volume — trade in minerals jumped 35 percent in volume terms — but falling commodity prices.

BEIJING, Feb. 25 (Yonhap) — Trade between North Korea and its economic lifeline, China, fell 1.2 percent on-year in January, data showed Thursday, indicating that their trade was largely unaffected by the North’s latest nuclear test.

Bilateral trade volume declined to US$388 million last month, compared with $398 million for the same period last year, the Beijing unit of South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency said, citing Chinese customs data.

China’s imports of North Korean goods slipped 3.96 percent in January to $177 million, the data showed.

North Korea’s exports of mineral resources, including coal, to China fell 3.94 percent last month to $76.9 million, but the volume of mineral exports jumped 35 percent to 1.66 million tons for the month.

The figures showed that North Korea also felt the pinch of lower commodity prices.

Full article here:
N. Korea’s trade with China falls 1.2 pct in January 
Yonhap News
2016-02-25

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DPRK – China trade contracts in 2015, but inter-Korean trade increases

Monday, February 1st, 2016

DPRK – China trade is down. According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s trade with China dipped nearly 15 percent last year apparently due to a chilly bilateral relationship between the two neighboring countries, a report showed Sunday.

The North-China trade volume reached US$4.9 billion in the January-November period, down 14.8 percent from $5.76 billion a year earlier, marking the first double-digit on-year drop since 2000, according to a report by state-run think tank Korea Development Institute (KDI).

Pyongyang’s shipments to its neighbor sank 12.3 percent to $2.28 billion over the cited period, while imports from China plunged 16.8 percent to $2.63 billion.

The trade between the allies has risen an average of 22.4 percent between 2000 and 2014. Only in 2009 and 2014 did it shrink on-year.

The KDI report attributed the sharp decline to sluggish raw material exports, as shipments of anthracite coal and iron ore fell 6.3 percent and 68.5 percent, respectively.

“The chilly relationship between Pyongyang and Beijing and a slowdown in the Chinese economy seemed to affect North Korea’s sluggish trade with China,” said the report. “North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s New Year message, which called for using home-made products and rejecting foreign-made ones, also had some influence on the downbeat trend.”

The alliance between Pyongyang and Beijing had been described as being “forged in blood,” since China fought alongside North Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War. China is the only country that provides crude oil to the reclusive North.

But their political relations have become strained since 2013, partly because of the North’s defiant pursuit of nuclear weapons and a series of purges of pro-Chinese officials in North Korea.

For 2016, the KDI report noted that there is a higher possibility that bilateral trade will contract further following Pyongyang’s nuclear tests on Jan. 6, as the global community including the United Nations is set to impose sanctions against the reclusive regime.

“North Korean trade will be dragged down by international economic sanctions sparked by the North’s latest nuclear test in the first half of this year,” the KDI said. ” North Korea-China trade has shrank to some extent, following sanctions by the U.N.”

Output at the Kaesong Industrial Complex is up in 2015. According to the Yonhap (via Korea Herald):

Production of companies at the inter-Korean industrial complex in North Korea exceeded $500 million last year for the first time since its opening in 2004, the government said Sunday.

According to the Unification Ministry, a total of 124 South Korean factories operating in the complex produced $515.49 million worth of goods in the first 11 months of last year, up more than 20 percent from the previous year and the highest yearly output even excluding the December tally.

The figure for the entire year is estimated to reach $560 million, given that their monthly production averaged around $50 million in the year, it said.

“The Gaeseong Industrial Complex managed to grow stably, recording more than a 20 percent increase in total output despite North Korea’s shelling in August across the border and various other incidents in and out of the country,” a ministry official said.

There were 54,763 North Korean workers and 803 South Korean managers at the factories in the industrial park located in the North’s border city of Gaeseong as of November.

Here is additional information in the JoongAng Ilbo.

Read the full story here:
N Korea’s trade with China contracts in 2015
Yonhap
Kim Boram
2016-1-31

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North Korea’s nuclear test and trade with China: no discernable impacts so far

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

North Korea’s nuclear tests aren’t usually met with any drastic economic measures from China. So far, the supposed-but-not-really-hydrogen bomb test hasn’t been an exception. According to a piece in Asia Times Online, traders in Dandong have barely noticed any impacts from the latest test. Though fewer North Korean traders appear to be present in Dandong, nothing seems to be greatly out of the ordinary:

According to Initium reporters,  two-way trade in Dandong,  a prefecture-level city China’s  southeastern Liaoning province that sits astride the Chinese-North Korean border, hasn’t been affected. Merchants in the key trade hub told Initium that fewer North Korean merchants had been seen in Dandong recently, but they said this could be tied to a change in procedures with the possibility of a rebound in trade in February.

The piece also contains a look back at what’s happened (and not happened) after North Korea’s previous nuclear tests, though I suspect that isolating the specific causes for any changes in trade is next to impossible:

The North’s second nuke test in 2009 had the gravest impact on bilateral trade. The trade volume decreased by 8.9%. In October of that same year, then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited the North and crafted a set of bilateral cooperation agreements, including the development of special border zones and the construction of the new cross-border Dandong-Yalu River bridge. These efforts led to the best 2 years for the China-DPRK relationships since the end of the Cold War, with then DPRK leader Kim Jong-il visiting China twice. Trade also surged.

After Kim Jong-il’s death in December 2011, bilateral trade lost some steam. But overall volume remained stable. Good times returned and continued until 2013, when the trade volume between the two countries reached $6.545 billion, which was 77% of the DPRK’s total foreign trade.

Read the full article here:

Weighing data: Will North Korea’s nuke test impact trade with China? 
Qin Xuan
Intium Media (and Asia Times Online)
2016-01-18

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