Archive for the ‘Trade Statistics’ Category

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

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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China rejects DPRK coal shipment (Again)

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DPRK-Russia trade in 2014

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

UPDATE 1 (2015-3-18): Although overall trade volume between the DPRK and Russia was down in 2014, North Korea’s exports to Russia were up. According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s exports to Russia soared nearly 32 percent in 2014 from a year earlier, a report showed Wednesday, amid Pyongyang’s efforts to bolster ties with Moscow.

According to the report by the Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency, North Korea’s outbound shipments to Russia reached US$10.17 million in 2014, up 31.9 percent from a year earlier.

By item, textile exports came to $4.7 million, or 46.2 percent of the total, followed by machinery with $1.6 million, musical instruments with $1.37 million and electrical equipment with $670,000.

Pyongyang also sold $250,000 worth of cars to Russia last year, 2.3 times more than the previous year, with shipments of optical devices soaring more than 60 times to $190,000.

Bilateral trade volume, however, fell 11.4 percent on-year to $92.34 million last year as Pyongyang’s imports from Russia shrank 14.9 percent to $82.17 million.

Crude imports dropped 7.9 percent on-year to $33.98 million last year, taking up the largest 41.7 percent share of the total imports.

“North Korea has been striving to strengthen economic cooperation with Moscow, though it will take time for the North to diversify its trade markets due to its heavy dependence on China in the past,” said Cho Bong-hyun, a senior research fellow at the state-run Industrial Bank of Korea (IBK) in Seoul.

Last year, more than 90 percent of its exports were bound for China. Bilateral trade between North Korea and China, however, fell 2.4 percent from 2013 to $6.39 billion in 2014, marking the first annual decline since 2009, according to Seoul data.

The 2014 figure is seen as signaling that the strained political ties between the two nations, particularly after the North’s third nuclear test in February 2013, have affected their economic relations.

Amid such languid ties with Beijing, North Korea has been ramping up efforts to forge a closer relationship with Russia, with the two nations declaring 2015 as a year of friendship.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-12-4): According to Yonhap, trade between North Korea and Russia (imports and exports)dropped significantly in the first three quarters of 2014:

Trade between North Korea and Russia dropped significantly this year, despite Pyongyang’s efforts to step up economic cooperation with Moscow, data showed Thursday.

Russia’s exports to North Korea reached US$59.01 million in the first nine months of this year, down 10.1 percent from the same period last year, according to the data by the Vladivostok office of the state-run Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA).

In particular, Russia’s exports of flour to North Korea plunged 72.2 percent on-year to $770,000.

Russia’s imports from its neighbor also fell 7.9 percent on-year to $6.46 million during the January-September period.

North Korea’s imports of electronics and coal from Russia also tumbled 61 percent and 44.6 percent, respectively, according to the data.

Russia’s imports of North Korean nuclear reactors, boilers and other machinery, meanwhile, shrank 57.1 percent on-year to reach $451,000,

Bucking the overall decline, Russia’s imports of North Korea-made clothes soared 35.5 percent on-year to $3.61 million, maintaining an uptrend of recent years.

North Korea has been intensifying efforts to expand economic cooperation with Russia, recently deciding to use the Russian ruble as a trade currency as well as launching a fledgling logistics project to link Russia’s border city of Khasan to the North’s port of Rajin.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea-Russia trade shrinks this year
Yonhap
2014-12-4

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DPRK imports of smart phones in 2014

Friday, January 30th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

North Korea’s smartphone imports from China surged to a record high last year, a sign of a growing number of people there being connected to the net, according to data released Friday.

North Korea brought in US$82.8 million worth of smartphones from China in 2014, almost double the amount recorded a year earlier, according to the Seoul-based Korea International Trade Association.

It marked the largest volume since 2007, when related data were introduced.

Imports of portable data-processing devices, including laptops, also jumped 16 percent on-year to $23 million in 2014 despite a 3-percent decline in the North’s overall imports from China in the year.

Around 10 percent of the communist nation’s 24-million residents reportedly use smartphones, with its 3G network run by Koryolink, a joint venture with an Egyptian company, Orascom Telecom.

See also this post with additional data on DPRK-china trade in 2014.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s smartphone imports from China hit record
Yonhap
2015-1-30

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DPRK-China trade in 2014

Monday, January 26th, 2015

According to Yonhap, DPRK-China trade drops slightly in 2014:

North Korea’s annual trade with its economic lifeline, China, fell 2.4 percent from a year ago in 2014, marking the first decline since 2009, data compiled by South Korea’s government trade agency showed Monday.

North Korea’s trade with China totaled US$6.39 billion last year, compared with $6.54 billion in 2013, according to the data provided by the Beijing unit of South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA).

The annual trade figures between North Korea and China provided a fresh sign that strained political ties between the two nations have affected their economic relations.

At least on paper, there were also no shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea for all of last year.

A South Korean diplomatic source with knowledge of the matter, however, cautioned against reading too much into the official trade figures because China has provided crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid and such shipments were not recorded on paper.

Here is coverage in the Daily NK.

I have been unable to locate the KOTRA report, but the Choson Ilbo adds this:

China’s exports to the North were down 3.1 percent on-year and its imports from the North 1.5 percent, the diplomatic source in Beijing said quoting Chinese trade statistics.

Yonhap followed up with this from a Chinese foreign ministry press briefing:

Asked about the official absence of crude oil delivery to North Korea, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, referred the question to “competent authorities.”

“You mentioned a specific issue concerning trade between China and North Korea. I would like to refer you to competent authorities,” Hua told reporters during a regular press briefing.

“But, I want to highlight that the economic cooperation and trade between China and North Korea are normal,” Hua said.

Yonhap also provided the following information on oil shipments from China to the DPRK:

In previous years, China’s official shipments of crude oil to North Korea had been absent for several months, particularly after the North’s nuclear tests. However, it was extremely unusual that, at least on paper, China sold no crude oil to North Korea for all of last year.

In 2014, China’s exports of petroleum products to North Korea jumped 48.22 percent from a year earlier to US$1.54 million, according to the data based on Chinese trade statistics and compiled by the Beijing unit of South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency.

“Although final statistics show that China’s exports of crude oil to North Korea were counted as ‘zero’ in 2014, experts suggest that the possibility of China’s suspension of crude oil exports to North Korea remains low,” the agency said in a statement.

South Korean diplomatic sources in Beijing have also cautioned against reading too much into the official Chinese trade figures because China has provided crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid and such shipments were not recorded on paper.

There has been no clear indication that the 2014 trade figures reflect China’s willingness to use crude oil as leverage to press North Korea to change course in its nuclear ambition.

Yonhap (via Korea Times) also reports that anthracite exports to China are down in 2014:

North Korea’s exports of anthracite to China tumbled nearly 18 percent in 2014 from the previous year, the first annual drop in eight years, data showed Friday.

North Korea exported US$1.13 billion worth of anthracite to China last year, down 17.6 percent from a year earlier, according to data from the Korea International Trade Association.

It was the first on-year decline in North Korea’s anthracite exports to China since 2006.

The volume of anthracite exports also decreased 6.4 percent on-year to 15.43 million tons last year, according to the KITA.

Despite the drop, anthracite accounted for 39.8 percent of North Korea’s total exports to China in 2014.

According to the data, North Korea’s exports of iron ore to China plunged 25.7 percent on-year to $218.6 million last year, the smallest amount since 2010.

For lots more data on the DPRK’s international trade, see also these eight great posts:
1. North Korea-China Trade Update: Coal Retreats, Textiles Surge
2. How Has the Commodity Bust Affected North Korea’s Trade Balance? (Part 1)
3. How Has the Commodity Bust Affected North Korea’s Trade Balance? (Part 2)
4. Nicholas Eberstadt’s “Dependencia, North Korea Style” (I would have gone with “Our Style Dependencia”)
5. NK News on coal shipments in 2014.
6. Radio Free Asia on coal shipments.
7. N. Korea’s smartphone imports from China hit record
8. China’s exports of jet fuel to N. Korea rebounds in 2014

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s 2014 trade with China marks 1st drop in 5 years
Yonhap
2015-1-26

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DPRK expands trade with China up to 2013

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

More than 90 percent of North Korea’s exports were bound for China in 2013, a report showed Wednesday, indicating that Pyongyang’s trade dependence on its main ally has deepened significantly over the past decade.

According to the report compiled by the Beijing office of the Korea International Trade Association, North Korea exported 90.6 percent of its products to China in 2013, much higher than the 50.9 percent tallied in 2003.

North Korea’s exports to China were estimated at US$400 million in 2003, but they jumped by more than sixfold to $2.9 billion in 2013, the report said.

Despite the increase, North Korean products accounted for only a small portion of China’s imports. The ratio of North Korean products in China’s total imports inched up from 0.1 percent to 0.15 percent over the measured period.

North Korea’s investment in China grew 12.6 percent to $2.68 million, most of which consisted of small-sized spending on shops and stores, the report showed.

China’s investment in North Korea, meanwhile, expanded sharply from $1.12 million to $86.2 million over the same period.

The number of North Koreans visiting China also surged 162.5 percent from 80,000 in 2003 to 210,000 in 2013. The report said that a large number of the people seemed to have visited the neighboring country in search of work.

Additional notes:

1. It is worth noting that the figure “90%” is slightly inflated. South Koreans do not count the DPRK’s trade with them as international trade–but rather “inter-Korean trade”. If you include South Korean trade in these data, the % of total trade conducted with China drops a small amount.

2. More 2013 trade statistics can be found here.

3. South Korean trade with the DPRK dropped from $1.976 billion in 2012 to approximately $1.1 billion in  2013 owing to a temporary closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. It will be interesting to see how the 2014 numbers turn out.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea’s trade dependence on China deepens: report
Yonhap
2015-1-14

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Economic gap between Koreas grew in 2013

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

The economic gap between South and North Korea widened in 2013 with the difference in their trade volumes remaining far apart, data showed Tuesday.

According to the data from Statistics Korea, North Korea’s nominal gross national income (GNI) came to 33.84 trillion won (US$30.87 billion) in 2013 with that of the South coming to 1.44 quadrillion won, or 42.6 times larger.

In 2012, South Korea’s GNI was 38.2 times larger than the North’s.

On a per-capita basis, South Korea’s GNI came to 28.7 million won, 20.8 times that of North Korea.

As of the end of 2013, South Korea had a total population of 50.22 million compared to the North’s 24.54 million, according to the data.

South Korea also continued to greatly outperform the communist North in trade.

In 2013, South Korea’s overall trade volume came to about $1.07 trillion, 146 times larger than North Korea’s $7.3 billion.

South Korea’s overall rice production came to 4.23 million tons, while the North produced about 2.1 million tons.

The two Koreas also showed significant gaps in social infrastructure.

South Korea’s road network totaled 106,414 kilometers, compared with the North’s 26,114 kilometers.

The statistics office has been publishing general information on the North since 1995 as a way of providing an insight to the economic and social conditions of the reclusive country.

Additional reporting here.

Read the full story here:
Economic gap between two Koreas widens in 2013: data
Yonhap
2014-12-16

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DPRK oil imports from China in 2014 (UPDATED)

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

UPDATE 8 (2014-11-14): Yonhap speculates on Chinese oil exports to the DPRK:

China appears to be continuing to provide North Korea with crude oil, contrary to its customs data, officials here said Friday.

China exported not a single drop of crude oil to North Korea in the first nine months this year, according to formal data.

If true, it might reflect widespread speculation that the relations between the communist allies have been strained to some extent due to Pyongyang’s repeated provocative acts.

South Korean officials, however, believe China is continuing to send crude oil to North Korea either in hidden trade or in the form of aid.

“Without China’s provision of crude oil, the operation of many of North Korea’s industrial facilities and vehicles would be suspended. But there has been no such indication yet,” an intelligence official said.

Beijing may be deliberately excluding its crude oil shipments to Pyongyang from the customs data in a bid to give the world the impression that it is joining the international community’s efforts to put pressure on it, another government official said.

He dismissed the view that the North has replaced China with Russia as its main source of crude oil imports.

“North Korea has brought in more crude oil from Russia this year, but the total amount is still less than 100,000 tons,” he said.

North Korea used to import an annual average of half a million tons of crude oil from China. (Yonhap)

UPDATE 7 (2014-11-4): According to Yonhap, North Korea’s jet fuel imports from China have begun to rebound this year.

North Korea imported 13,000 tons of jet fuel from China between January and September, a sharp rise from 359 tons in the same period last year, the unification ministry official told reporters.

But the amount is still far short of past tallies: 38,000 tons in the same period of 2011 and 39,000 tons in that of 2012, he noted, citing formal data from China’s customs authorities

UPDATE 6 (2014-8-23): For what it is worth, China recorded zero oil exports to North Korea in July. According to Yonhap:

According to the Chinese data analyzed by the Beijing unit of the Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, there were no shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea from January to July.

Diplomatic sources with knowledge of the matter cautioned against reading too much into the official trade figures because China has been providing crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid and such shipments have not been recorded on paper.

In the first seven months of this year, China’s exports to North Korea rose 1.8 percent from a year ago to US$1.95 billion, while imports fell 4.3 percent to $1.57 billion, according to the data.

UPDATE 5 (2014-8-4): The Hankyoreh weighs in on Chinese oil exports to the DPRK:

However, there are also other experts who counter that suspending the supply of crude oil ought not to be read as a sign of deteriorating relations between North Korea and China. They say that, while the statistics read zero, the supply of crude oil is actually continuing. In fact, the price of gasoline and other petroleum products in North Korea remains stable, reports have indicated.

Radio Free Asia reported that gasoline was selling recently for around 10 to 11 won per kilogram at North Korea’s markets, around the same as the 11 won price from 2012. The price of diesel also remained steady at 6 to 7 won, the broadcaster said.

The South Korean government believes that while China may have reduced its crude oil exports, it is continuing to supply North Korea with oil as a form of aid. “China has been supplying North Korea with 500,000 tons in trade, along with a similar amount of free oil. It appears to be providing North Korea with enough crude oil to prevent problems from occurring in North Korean society,” said a senior Ministry of Unification official on condition of anonymity.

But many experts believe that relations between North Korea and China are not in such a bad state that China would shut off the supply of crude oil. “Relations between North Korea and China are not normal, but they should not be seen as especially bad, either. From the viewpoint of a superpower, China appears to be steadily observing North Korea’s behavior, without grief or joy,” said Lee Hui-ok, professor at Sungkyunkwan University.

Indeed, aside from interaction between senior officials, other sectors appear to be operating normally without any major disturbances. Trade between North Korea and China in the first half of the year remained at levels similar to 2013. Chinese exports to the North from January to May of this year were US$1.27 billion, down slightly from US$1.33 billion last year. But a big rebound in June brought the first half figures up to US$1.58 billion, nearly the same as the US$1.59 billion posted last year.

In the area of tourism, China also appeared to be taking a more aggressive attitude in the first half of the year than in 2013, running new tourism programs using bicycles and trains, reports said. In the area of personnel exchange, working-level contact is continuing, despite the lack of meetings between senior officials.

“There are virtually no senior political officials from North Korea visiting China. However, technical and economic officials continue to visit China for inspections and training,” said an official at the South Korean embassy in China, on condition of anonymity.

“It is dangerous to read too much into the temporary fluctuations and the sluggish mood recently affecting relations between North Korea and China. That would be a false diagnosis of their relationship,” said Lee Nam-ju, professor at Sungkonghoe University.

“Since North Korea and China understand each other, it does not appear likely that their relations will be suddenly damaged,” Lee said.

UPDATE 4 (2014-7-14): NK News reports on Chinese petrol exports to the DPRK:

China has increased deliveries of oil products to North Korea during the first five months of 2014 according to the latest Chinese customs data, which also confirms the widely reported halt in crude oil shipments.

However, data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs shows that the oil-products being delivered to North Korea only cover a fraction of the supplies of crude once shipped, with total deliveries falling by over 60 percent.

Experts were unsure over whether this constituted a warning from Beijing in response to North Korea’s regional provocations or whether the slow-down was due to the DPRK’s aging refineries. Crude oil must be refined into petroleum products such as fuel oil, diesel and aviation fuel before being used.

In total, China exported more than 88,000 tons of refined products to the DPRK between January and May 2014, with more than half of the growth caused by spikes in gasoline and kerosene shipments. Gasoline, is primarily used as a fuel for motor vehicles, while kerosene is used to power jet engines and as a heating fuel in North East Asia.

“[This] is somewhat over half of the recorded exports from China to the DPRK in 2010, and somewhat over a quarter of the net petroleum products imports that we estimated for the DPRK from all nations in 2010.  So there may be a real shift in petroleum products exports going on,” David Von Hippel a Senior Associate at the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability told NK News.

Kerosene, used as an aviation fuel, saw the sharpest spike in exports increasing by 5131% when compared to the same period last year. The North Koreans imported more than a hundred thousand barrels, mostly in one bulk shipment in March, amidst news published in early July by Reuters that the DPRK was looking to restart domestic flights.

Gasoline exports also rose by 84% to approximately 280 thousand barrels when compared to the  January – May period in 2013.

DPRK imports of diesel rose to 63,000 barrels and mark the first time China has exported the petroleum product since 2011, although no data is available before this point. The exports remain at a low level however, representing only a few percent of total DPRK yearly usage.

China also upped exports of Butane by 28%, which is used primarily as fuel gas or in gasoline blending. “[Butane] is more likely used as an input to bottled gas (for example, liquefied petroleum gas, LPG), which is, we have heard, increasingly used for cooking in urban households that can afford it in the DPRK.” Von Hippel told NK News.

UPDATE 3 (2014-5-24): This Daily NK article further highlights why we should be skeptical of official reports of the DPRK’s oil imports from China:

Daily NK has confirmed that China is currently supplying oil to North Korea through a pipeline running between the two. Though there have been cases where Beijing has suspended such shipments in response to North Korean intransigence, particularly over nuclear issues, but this has not happened recently.

On April 10th, Daily NK visited an oil storage and pipeline facility in Dandong. There, our team interviewed Chinese Ministry of Public Security officials guarding the facility, which is owned by a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation, or CNPC.

When asked about oil assistance to North Korea, one of the officers acknowledged, “We are continuously supplying oil (to North Korea),” but “cannot say how much we send each month or how much remains as of now.”

Oil deliveries to be transferred to North Korea are received at this facility from a larger nearby facility, Basan, and then are shipped to a partner storage facility at Baekma in Pihyun Couunty, North Pyongan Province. The pipeline is 11km long.

According to sources, these deliveries are not recorded in Chinese customs data, or in foreign trade statistics. The oil from the pipeline is rather characterized as de facto aid, either in the form of low interest loans or free of charge.

This is why, on April 24th, Korean agency KOTRA released a figure of ‘zero’ for oil exports from China to North Korea for the first quarter of 2014, basing it on Chinese customs data. The data says zero for commercial transfers; however, supplies in the form of aid and assistance may not have stopped at all.

In this regard, a diplomatic source said, “China has the ability to stop the oil supplies whenever they want, but they’ve never done so for a long period of time.” He went on, “Above all, China places as much importance on security as North Korea places on nuclearization, and it doesn’t want to see disorder in the North Korean regime. This explains why China keeps providing this assistance.”

Meanwhile, Chinese trade statistics show that 520,000 tons of oil was exported to North Korea every year from 2009 to 2012. Mostly small North Korean tankers shipped this oil.

UPDATE 2 (2014-5-26): The DPRK officially did not import any oil from China as of April 2014. According to Yonhap:

China sold no crude oil to North Korea in the first four months of this year, data compiled by South Korea’s government trade agency showed Monday, in an unusual four-month absence of oil shipments amid the North’s threats of a nuclear test.

The Beijing unit of the South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) said in a report, citing data from China’s customs authorities, that there were no oil shipments from China to North Korea from January to April this year.

A four-month absence of oil shipments from China to North Korea was also reported in 2009, when the North conducted its second nuclear test.

However, a diplomatic source in Beijing cautioned against reading too much into the official trade figures.

“The Chinese side has provided crude oil to North Korea in the form of grant aid, which is not recorded on paper,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

North Korea also appears to have been trying to diversify its source of oil imports, through countries such as Russia, the source said.

UPDATE 1 (2014-4-24): DPRK official imports from China in Q1 of 2014: zero.

According to Yonhap:

China did not export any crude oil to North Korea in the first three months of this year, data compiled by South Korea’s government trade agency showed Thursday, in an unprecedented three-month absence of oil shipments amid North Korea’s threats of a nuclear test.

Monthly shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea were absent in February, June and July last year, but it was the first time that China apparently stopped exports of crude oil to North Korea for three consecutive months.

The Beijing unit of the South’s Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) said in a report, citing data it collected from China’s customs authorities, that there were no oil shipments from China to North Korea from January to March this year.

“To my knowledge, it is the first time that China did not export crude oil to North Korea for three consecutive months and that would impact the North Korean economy,” a diplomat at the South Korean Embassy in Beijing said on the condition of anonymity.

Also worth highlighting from the report:

China’s total trade with North Korea fell 2.83 percent to US$1.27 billion in the January-March period, compared with the same period a year ago, according to the KOTRA report.

Additional information:

1. DPRK – China trade statistics following the Jang Song-thaek purge.

2. DPRK – China trade at all time high in 2013.

3. DPRK diversifying energy sources.

4. DPRK does not import any oil from China in January 2014.

Read the full Yonhap story here:
China didn’t export crude oil to N. Korea in Q1
Yonhap
2014-4-24

ORIGINAL POST (2014-3-10): DPRK oil imports from China in January 2014: Zero!

According to Yonhap:

North Korea did not import any crude oil from China in January, marking the first absence of monthly deliveries from China in five months, a Seoul government report showed Monday.

It was not immediately clear whether the January absence of crude shipments to North Korea from China was linked to Beijing’s growing frustration with Pyongyang over its nuclear program, but it followed the execution of the once-powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last December.

Last year, monthly shipments of crude oil from China to North Korea were absent in the months of February, June and July. However, annual shipments of crude oil to North Korea from China rose 11.2 percent on-year to 578,000 tons in 2013.

Read the full story here:
No crude import from China to N. Korea in Jan.: report
Yonhap
2014-3-10

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3rd North Korea-China Economic, Trade, Culture and Tourism Expo held

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

UPDATE 4 (2014-10-23): Here is coverage in the Choson Ilbo:

North Korea signed US$1.3 billion worth of investment deals with Chinese businesses at a trade fair in the Chinese border city of Dandong last week.

China’s Xinhua news agency on Monday quoted one of the organizers of the trade fair as saying, “North Korean and Chinese businesses signed letters of intent covering 60 trade and investment pacts amounting to $1.26 billion.

“Another eight letters of intent were signed between North Korea and businesses in other countries involving $11.6 million worth of trade and $100 million worth of investments.”

Around 500 North Korean officials attended the trade fair, including those in charge of economic development.

But the amount of deals struck was smaller than last year (93 deals worth $1.6 billion), due to deteriorating relations between Beijing and Pyongyang.

Skeptics also point out there is no guarantee that the letters of intent will materialize into concrete investments.

UPDATE 3 (2014-10-20): Here is additional coverage by Yonhap:

In an apparent bid to lure Chinese investors, North Korea has publicized somewhat detailed information about its workforce during an annual trade with China, boasting of a well-educated pool of labor.

The North’s National Economic Development General Bureau released a booklet to show off its labor force at the five-day trade fair, which ended on Monday in the Chinese border city of Dandong.

According to the booklet, North Korea’s total population stood at 24.34 million as of last year. About 12.17 million people constituted a “prepared labor force that can adapt to randomly-chosen professions,” according to the booklet.

North Korea also boasted that it extended compulsory education by one year to 12 years from this year.

“In our country, the level of education is high and the potential of intellectual capability is solidly prepared,” the booklet said. “There is no unemployment, labor striking or sabotage in our country.”

North Korea sent 68 business entities to this year’s North Korea-China Economic, Trade, Culture and Tourism Expo, the third of its kind, down about 30 percent from last year.

The decline in North Korea’s participation at this year’s show underscored the continued strain in bilateral relations, particularly since the North’s third nuclear test in February last year and the execution of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s once-powerful uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who had close ties with Beijing.

UPDATE 2 (2014-10-20): Here is coverage from Xinhua:

A 500-strong trade delegation from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is promoting the country’s investment opportunities at a four-day expo in China’s border city of Dandong, Liaoning Province.

The third China-DPRK Economic, Culture and Tourism Expo, closing on Tuesday, has seen 70 million yuan (about 11.6 million U.S. dollars) of trading, agreements on eight investment contracts worth 100 million U.S. dollars, and 60 trade agreements worth 1.26 billion U.S. dollars in total.

Shi Guang, mayor of Dandong, said the expo has drawn 100 DPRK exhibitors, 96 companies from Russia, India, China’s Taiwan and Hong Kong, as well 210 companies from the Chinese mainland. About 250,000 visitors from 20 countries and regions have attended.

The DPRK is developing a Special Economic Zone to help implement its opening-up policy.

Kim Jong Sik, an official with the DPRK Economic Development Association,ssaid the zone is open up to any countries interested in establishing economic and trade relations with the DPRK.

The zone will be dedicated to external trade, assimilating foreign investment and improving the country’s economy, he said.

According to the official, the DPRK has clinched bilateral trade and investment protection agreements with more than 30 countries and mapped out an economic structure including metallurgy, mining, production of construction materials, machinery, garment making, shipbuilding, agriculture and aquaculture.

Kim said the country’s human resources, environment and tourist resources are key factors to appeal to foreign investment. It has been working to optimize investment laws.

The city of Dandong faces the DPRK across the Yalu River. Construction of a bridge linking both sides has been basically completed. It is expected to help facilitate the DPRK’s exchanges with the outside world.

UPDATE 1 (2014-10-18): According to Yonhap:

North Korea is still showing off its products at an annual trade fair with China, but the number of North Korean business entities attending the event this year was about 30 percent less than last year.

The mood is subdued at the five-day trade fair in the Chinese border city of Dandong, reflecting strained political ties between North Korea and China amid Beijing’s signals of displeasure with Pyongyang’s nuclear ambition.

Organizers had said that about 100 North Korean business entities would attend the annual exhibition, but only 68 of them actually attended this year’s event. About 100 North Korean business entities attended last year’s exhibition.

The crowd was also noticeably smaller than it was last year.

“This year, we didn’t bring many products. Instead of selling products, we come here with hopes to meet with Chinese people who want to invest in our factory,” said an official at a North Korean trading firm who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The decline in North Korea’s participation at the North Korea-China Economic, Trade, Culture and Tourism Expo, which began its five-day run Thursday, underscored the continued strain in bilateral relations, particularly after the North’s third nuclear test in February last year and the execution of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s once-powerful uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who had close ties with Beijing.

In what many analysts believe was a message to North Korea, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a two-day visit to South Korea in July this year, breaking a long-standing tradition by Chinese heads of state of visiting Pyongyang before Seoul.

North Korea’s bilateral trade with China stood at US$4.05 billion in the first eight months of this year, down 1.1 percent from the same period last year, according to Chinese customs data.

Economic development, along with the expansion of its nuclear capability, has been a new focus of North Korea’s policy under young leader Kim Jong-un, who took over in late 2011 after his father, Kim Jong-il, died.

North Korea, beset by poor infrastructure and international sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs, has announced plans to set up an economic development zone in each of its provinces.

Despite sanctions that discourage foreign investment, Kim Jong-sik, an official at the North’s National Economic Development General Bureau, told an audience at the exhibition that Pyongyang would set up a “one-stop service” that makes it easier for foreigners to invest in the country.

“With regard to economic development zones, we will simplify immigration procedures and build a one-stop service, which has been widely introduced around the world, to try to fully guarantee conveniences of foreign investors,” Kim said.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-10-16): According to Yonhap:

North Korea and China kicked off an annual trade exhibition on Thursday, with about 2,000 Chinese companies attending, organizers said.

The five-day trade fair in the Chinese border city of Dandong, where more than 70 percent of bilateral trade between the two nations is conducted, suggests economic ties between Beijing and Pyongyang remain largely unaffected despite the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

About 100 North Korean business entities will attend the North Korea-China Economic, Trade, Culture and Tourism Expo, the third of its kind.

At last year’s exhibition, North Korea and China signed 93 preliminary deals worth US$1.6 billion. It has not been confirmed whether the deals usually lead to actual shipments.

Besides North Korea and China, companies from Hong Kong, Russia, Thailand and Taiwan will join this year’s exhibition, organizers said.

North Korea’s bilateral trade with China stood at US$4.05 billion in the first eight months of this year, down 1.1 percent from the same period last year, according to Chinese customs data.

North Korea’s exports to China declined 0.8 percent on-year to $1.84 billion during the eight-month period, while imports fell 1.2 percent to $2.21 billion, the data showed.

Here is coverage of the first and second expo.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea, China kick off annual trade fair
Yonhap
2014-10-16

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

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

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

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

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

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

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