Archive for the ‘Trade Statistics’ Category

How North Korea Became the World’s Worst Economy

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

Nicholas Eberstadt writes in the Wall Street Journal:

Economic history is a story of progress and success, but also of retrogression and failure. Among the latter cases, the most gruesome is surely the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK). Its signature catastrophe, the Great North Korean Famine of the 1990s, was, so far as can be told, the only famine in all of human history to beset an urbanized and literate society during peacetime.

Pyongyang’s descent into penury is all the more tragic considering that from the 1950s on into the 1970s, intelligence from Washington and Seoul suggested that North Korea’s per capita output was higher than South Korea’s. An array of public data—on urbanization and energy consumption, for instance—appears to corroborate that judgment. How the once-developing DPRK went from a rapid ascent into a stall, and then into a dreadful downward spiral, is a cautionary tale with implications far beyond the Korean peninsula.

The ruling Kim regime suppresses data about the country’s performance, but sufficient hard evidence has seeped out to describe both the dimensions and the causes of its continuing economic calamity. The most meaningful quantitative measure available comes from “mirror statistics” on the country’s international trade—reports by its trading partners on their purchases from and sales to the DPRK of various commodities. These data provide indirect but powerful evidence about productivity, living standards and technological attainment.

Despite a recent China-supported upswing in trade, North Korean per capita merchandise exports last year were no higher, after adjusting for inflation, than in the mid-1970s. By my calculations, real per capita imports in 2014 were barely three-fifths of what they were in 1974. That year marked North Korea’s all-time peak trade.

North Korea’s decline was a continuing drama, not precipitated by any particular geopolitical shock. Neither the end of the Soviet bloc, nor the reportedly disastrous flooding of the mid-1990s, nor a succession of international non-proliferation sanctions imposed since 2006, nor any other external event explains the country’s long-term deterioration. Instead, North Korea’s economic troubles are the natural consequence of the Kims’ dogged insistence on destructive policies.

North Korea appears to have the very worst business climate of any fully functioning nation state. On the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom compiled by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, the DPRK earned one point out of 100, the lowest score of all 179 countries ranked. Zimbabwe, the state with the second-worst ranking that year, came in 20 points higher.

The DPRK has no rule of law; no established property rights; no possibility for private foreign trade; no reliable currency; virtually no official social and economic information; and no internal constraints whatever upon its monumentally ambitious government.

It is difficult to overstate how much this matters. At any point in the postwar era, 80% or more of the differences between countries in per capita GDP can be predicted by human resources plus business climate (i.e., institutions and policies). Statistical analysis of North Korean trade underscores the point. In 2010 the DPRK’s global trade was only 1/20th of what we would expect for a country with its estimated human resources profile. However, when business climate is considered, North Korea no longer looks like an outlier at all.

In 1970 North Korea apparently did a better job than China or Vietnam of converting human resources into economic output. But those two countries would pursue “reform socialist” policies, including freeing up agriculture, encouraging private enterprise and promoting international trade. North Korea went in the opposite direction, shifting to a permanent war-footing economy, systematically eradicating the consumer sector, and repeatedly confiscating any outstanding cash in private hands through “currency reforms.” Simply put: Any economy that embraced the same disastrous rules as the DPRK should be expected to trace out a similar trajectory of economic failure.

There is one final, and particularly bitter, piece in the puzzle: the role of foreign aid in financing and ultimately facilitating North Korea’s ruin. Mirror statistics reveal that the DPRK has never been self-supporting. To the contrary, it has relied on a perennial inflow of foreign resources to sustain itself. Since 1960, North Korea has reportedly received more than $60 billion (in today’s dollars) more merchandise from abroad than it has shipped overseas. Nearly $45 billion of that came from Beijing and Moscow—a figure we can treat as a rough approximation of total Chinese and Soviet/Russian financial support.

Why didn’t these massive transfers result in any appreciable measure of long-term economic advancement? The work of economists Craig Burnside, David Dollar and Lant Pritchett, published in the late 1990s under the aegis of the World Bank, suggests an answer: Aid can have a negative effect on growth when a recipient state has a bad business climate, because foreign subsidies allow the regime, in the short term, to escape the consequences of its misrule. In such cases, the greater the volume of aid, the bigger the harm.

Unfortunately, North Korea’s horrific economic performance was enabled in part by leaders abroad who sent billions of dollars to Pyongyang. Those resources allowed the Kim dynasty to continue policies so patently destructive that they would have been forced to cease, or at least to moderate, them absent subsidy from overseas.

International aid workers and humanitarian policy makers have always feared that foreign assistance, through cascading mishaps, might leave recipients poorer and worse off in the end. North Korea, bankrolled mainly by Moscow and Beijing, has gone further than any other modern state in turning this nightmare scenario into reality.

Read the full story here:
How North Korea Became the World’s Worst Economy
Nicholas Eberstadt
2015-12-29

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Rajin – South Korea water shipment

Monday, December 7th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

Containers carrying bottled water produced near North Korea arrived in South Korea on Monday via a North Korean port as part of a three-way logistics project involving the two Koreas and Russia, government officials said.

Ten containers full of bottled water produced at Erdaobaihe in northeastern China arrived at Busan, South Korea’s southeastern port city, earlier in the day after leaving from the North Korean city of Rajin bordering Russia, officials said.

The mineral water was produced at a factory run by Nongshim, South Korea’s largest noodle maker, in Erdaobaihe, a town close to Mount Baekdu in North Korea, the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula.

The shipment is part of the two Koreas’ third pilot operation of the project, which calls for shipping some 120,000 tons of Russian coal to three South Korean ports from the North Korean port city of Rajin.

The coal, which was transported from Russia’s border city of Khasan on a re-connected railway, arrived in South Korea in late November.

The so-called Rajin-Khasan logistics project is a symbol of three-way cooperation and an exception to Seoul’s punitive sanctions against Pyongyang following the North’s deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in 2010.

In November 2014, the first shipment carrying 40,500 tons of Russian coal arrived in South Korea without incident in the first test run of the project. The second test was conducted in April.

The project is also part of President Park Geun-hye’s vision for a united Eurasia, known as the Eurasia Initiative, which calls for linking energy and logistics infrastructure across Asia and Europe.

Read the full story here:
Containers carrying bottled water arrive in S. Korea via N. Korean port
Yonhap
2015-12-7

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DPRK food imports from China down

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

According to UPI:

North Korea drastically reduced grain imports from China in 2015, and a South Korean analyst said the decrease is a sign North Korea’s food situation could be improving.

Kwon Tae-jin, director of East Asia research at GS&J Institute in South Korea, said grain imports were down 71 percent between January and October 2015, Voice of America reported.

South Korean newspaper Segye Ilbo reported Kwon used data from China’s customs authorities – which indicated imports of Chinese corn, rice, flour and soybeans had fallen to 42,000 tons, down from 144,000 tons in 2014.

Soybeans, or legumes, were the only category of grain imports that did not register a decrease, tripling in volume to 5,640 tons in 2015. Wheat flour imports dropped 80 percent, but it was unclear why some imports were more in demand than others.

The value of total grain imports was down 72 percent from the prior year, to $2.04 million, according to Kwon.

Imports of fertilizer used to grow crops also were down 41 percent between January and October, a trend that shadowed overall China-North Korea trade and investment activities, which have declined for two consecutive years, VOA reported.

China is North Korea’s No. 1 trading partner, but Pyongyang has been working to move away from economic dependency.

Kwon said that inside North Korea grain prices are very stable, and the food supply situation is not bad, judging by the numbers.

“This year [North Korea] did not need to import much grain, or receive a lot of support from the international community, in order to stabilize food prices,” Kwon said.

The South Korean analyst said the stable prices could be a sign the North Korean market has confidence in the regime in Pyongyang. The drop in demand for imported grain also indicates the supply situation is quite stable in North Korea.

Kwon said that North Korea’s dry spell in 2015 could have had a negative impact on the country’s harvest, but overall the situation is “probably not as dire as many fear.”

The researcher said the market also prices in future uncertainty into grain value, and stable prices indicate buyers are less concerned about future scarcity.

Here is similar coverage in NK News.

Read the full story here:
North Korea imports of Chinese grain decline 70 percent
Elizabeth Shim
UPI
2015-12-1

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DPRK doctors earn hard currency abroad

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

According to the Joong Ang Ilbo:

North Korea is making $15 million a year from deploying 1,250 doctors and nurses in 26 nations where they perform illegal medical practices such as abortions and injections of illegal substance, South Korea’s intelligence agency reported Tuesday.

Some 1,170 North Korean medical staff are working in Africa, according to lawmakers Lee Cheol-woo of the ruling Saenuri Party and Shin Kyoung-min of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy. They were briefed by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) on Tuesday as members of a parliamentary intelligence committee. The NIS reported that North Korean doctors are engaged in illegal medical practices with a focus on earning foreign exchange. They also sell dubious medical products.

The NIS said the North was accused of bribing local officials to keep their illegal activities going. Citing a report by a local newspaper in Tanzania published on Feb. 21, the NIS said North Korea was caught trading sexual enhancer products, or aphrodisiacs, that contained mercury 185 times higher than international standards.

Dispatching medical operatives overseas appears to be part of Pyongyang’s long-running effort to earn foreign currency. The intelligence agency also reported that North Korea, which it said was accelerating its exports of labor, is earning $230 million a year on average from 58,000 workers in 50 different countries overseas. Pyongyang is also reportedly planning to export 3,000 new workers to labor in the fields of construction, medical and IT industries.

North Koreans sent abroad also work in logging, mining, construction and agriculture.

The two lawmakers also quotes the NIS as reporting a sense of disappointment among North Koreans after Pyongyang failed to deliver on its promise to improve people’s living conditions to mark the anniversary of the 70th foundation of the Workers’ Party. The Communist state is also suffering from an acute shortage of electricity, according to a NIS report.

On Choe Ryong-hae, secretary of the Workers’ Party who has vanished from the public view for nearly a month, was sent to a rural agricultural cooperative for “revolutionary re-education,” the NIS reported, citing a classified source of information.

The agency said Choe was removed from power partly to take responsibility for a partial collapse of a power plant in Yanggang Province.

Read the full story here:
Pyongyang’s flying doctors pull in $15M a year: NIS
Joong Ang Ilbo
Kang Jin-Kyu
2015-11-25

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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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China announces Longkou-Nampho container shipping route

Friday, September 25th, 2015

According to Reuters:

China has launched a bulk cargo and container shipping route connecting it to North Korea that will focus on importing coal and exporting groceries, state news agency Xinhua said on Friday, citing a Chinese port authority.

The route will connect China’s Longkou port in eastern China’s Shandong province with the North Korean port of Nampo, and will be serviced by seven ships, it said.

Though China’s coal imports have slumped 32 percent in the first eight months of the year, deliveries from North Korea have surged 33 percent to 13.4 million tonnes, making it China’s third biggest foreign supplier.

“This big rise is probably down to North Korea’s industrialisation, which should have spurred an increase in production,” said Yao Yao, a coal analyst with China’s Guangfa Securities.

The new route was established by the Longkou Port Group, Liaoning Hongxiang Industrial Group and a North Korean shipping company, Xinhua reported. It said the Longkou Port handled 75.07 million tonnes of cargo and 550,000 TEU of containers in 2014.

Here is the original story in 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:
China Launches North Korean Shipping Route
Reuters
2015-9-25

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