Archive for the ‘Trade Statistics’ Category

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 684,000 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 – China Trade (2016)

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

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

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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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North Korea’s “Epic Economic Fail” in International Perspective

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

A new report by Nicholas Eberstadt has been published by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. According to the summary:

This report brings to the table new research on the dimensions of economic failure in modern North Korea, offers a quantitative view of how nations develop in our modern world, and where North Korea’s awful slide downward fits within this global tableau; offers admittedly approximate long term estimates of overall net resource transfers to the DPRK, including estimates of net transfers from the major state benefactors; and some indications about the interplay between concessionary resource transfers from abroad and the DPRK’s domestic economic performance. It concludes with some observations about the implications of these findings

You can download a PDF of the report here.

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DPRK-China trade through 2014

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

Stephan Haggard posted some charts of DPRK-China trade taken from KOTRA:

North-Korean-China-Trade-from-KOTRA

North-Korean-Trade-including-North-South-Trade

North-Korean-Exports-and-Imports-from-KOTRA

 

 

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KOTRA data on DPRK-China trade

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

Below are charts published by KOTRA of North Korea – China trade.

North-Korean-China-Trade-from-KOTRA

North-Korean-Exports-and-Imports-from-KOTRA

North-Korean-Trade-including-North-South-Trade

Here is the source.

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China slowdown hits North Korea’s exports

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

Alastair Gale writes in the Wall Street Journal:

China’s economic slowdown and a plunge in coal prices are depriving North Korea of critical foreign currency, threatening to stir discontent among the small, elite class that the nation’s mercurial dictator relies on for support.

The drain on income comes as North Korea continues to plow its limited resources into its armed forces. On Saturday, the isolated state is set to hold a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of its ruling party. It has also declared plans to launch satellites, seen by the U.S. and others as a way to test ballistic missile technology.

The value of North Korean exports to China, by far Pyongyang’s biggest trade partner, fell 9.8% through August from the year-earlier period, Chinese data show, accelerating from a 2.4% decline last year.

Adding to the pressure on Pyongyang is China’s attempt to scale back its bloated steel industry, the main customer for North Korea’s biggest export product, coal.

The scenario leaves North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, vulnerable. North Korea depends on China to buy most of its exports, but ties between the longtime allies have become strained over North Korea’s nuclear brinkmanship. To boost exports, Pyongyang has little option but to turn to its only other significant trade partner, South Korea.

All of this means Mr. Kim has less foreign currency to underwrite the lifestyles of the North Korean elite whose support is essential to maintaining his grip on power.

“Raising living standards for the North Korean apparatchik class is extraordinarily dependent on trade with China in a single commodity,” said Marcus Noland, executive vice president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a Washington research group. “A slowdown in revenues will create discontent.”

The depth of possible repercussions is hard to gauge because of North Korea’s opaque economy and political system. There are no clear outward signs of government instability, and prices of daily necessities such as rice—often an indicator of economic shocks—remain steady, said Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.

North Korea continues to press ahead with infrastructure projects, such as the recent opening of a new international airport terminal near Pyongyang. The emergence of semiprivate businesses such as taxi companies in recent years has provided the state with fresh sources of income, said Go Myung-hyun, an expert on North Korea at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, a Seoul-based think tank.

And China’s ban starting this year on highly polluting types of coal somewhat shields North Korea’s coal exports from a fall in demand because they are mostly high-quality anthracite, a type that produces little smoke.

Still, the fall in trade revenue increases the challenge for Mr. Kim, who has said economic development is a top policy priority despite his reluctance to embrace Chinese-style economic reforms, such as privatizing state businesses. In 2012, Mr. Kim said in a speech that citizens should “not have to tighten their belts again,” and North Korea’s state media frequently tout the construction of apartment buildings and leisure facilities as examples of progress.

Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, says the regime has been trying to reduce its dependence on China, which now absorbs as much as 90% of Pyongyang’s exports, compared with around 50% in the early 2000s, according to the Korean International Trade Association in Seoul. The value of those exports last year was $2.9 billion, Chinese customs data show.

One sign of that concern came in late 2013 when Mr. Kim executed his own uncle, Jang Song Thaek, an official who was widely seen as a proponent of closer trade links with Beijing. State media blamed Mr. Jang for “selling off precious resources of the country at cheap prices.”

Pyongyang’s diplomats have traveled extensively around the world over the past year, including a rare foreign ministry visit to India in April. Still, many nations remain wary of boosting trade links as North Korea continues a nuclear standoff with the U.S. and other nations.

Last year, North Korea and Russia signed an ambitious economic development agreement, but while Pyongyang and Moscow have warmed politically—reflecting shared hostility toward the U.S.—few economists see much potential for significant growth in bilateral trade; North Korea’s exports to Russia totaling just $10 million in 2014.

U.S. and South Korean diplomats say that greater international scrutiny has crimped another North Korean revenue stream: illicit arms and drugs.

Many economists say South Korea is the North’s only near-term option to offset declining trade income from China and may have motivated Pyongyang in August to reach an accord to end a confrontation after the two sides exchanged artillery fire.

“South Korea is the one potentially interested partner that could provide a significant boost to North Korea’s economy,” said Troy Stangarone, senior director for congressional affairs and trade at the Korea Economic Institute in Washington.

The South imposed economic sanctions on the North in 2010, blocking most bilateral trade, in response to the sinking of a warship that killed 46 sailors. Trade has since edged up and Seoul says it is willing to discuss increasing economic cooperation if progress is made in other areas, such as reuniting families separated by the Korean War.

Lee Jong-kyu, a research fellow at the Korea Development Institute in Sejong, South Korea, said the North may also seek new revenue by ramping up its exports of manual laborers to places such as Russia and the Middle East, try to boost tourism or build up light industry. North Korea also has tried to reboot plans for foreign investment in special economic zones—with little success, say foreign officials.

Ultimately, while Chinese diplomats express frustration with the regime in North Korea, it is unlikely that Beijing would allow its volatile neighbor to become destabilized by a fall in trade and spark a humanitarian disaster on its doorstep, observers say.

“If Beijing is a generous uncle, this will not prove to be a perilous problem because uncle will send more allowance,” Mr. Eberstadt said.

Read the full story here:
Cash Crunch Hits North Korea’s Elite
Wall Street Journal
Alastair Gale
2015-10-8

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China – DPRK open new shipping route

Friday, September 25th, 2015

According to Xinhua:

A bulk cargo and container shipping route between China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has been put into operation, focusing on coal import from DPRK and grocery export from China, authorities said on Friday.

The route, linking Longkou port of east China’s Shandong Peninsula to Nampo port of western DPRK was the first scheduled shipping line for bulk cargo and container between the two countries. It is serviced by seven ships, which complete one circuit of the ports every ten days, according to Longkou Port Group.

The route was jointly established by Longkou Port Group, Liaoning Hongxiang Industrial Group and a shipping company in DPRK in a bid to promote international trade under China’s “Belt and Road” initiative.

Located at the Bohai Sea coast and built in 1914, Longkou port handled 75.07 million tonnes of cargo and 550,000 TEU of containers last year.

“The opening of the route can help improve the service function of the port and is of great significance for the port’s transformation and upgrading,” said Zhang Haijun, general manager of Longkou Port Group.

Read the full story here:
Bulk cargo and container shipping route links China, DPRK
Xinhua
2015-9-25

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