Archive for the ‘Trade Statistics’ Category

Nw York Times reports on sanctions enforcement, at Sino-DPRK border

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full article here:

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

Jane Perlez and Yufang Huang

New York Times

03/01/2016

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Trade between North Korea and China fell 1.2 percent in January

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Inter-Korean trade at all time high in 2015

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

According to Yonhap:

Trade volume between South and North Korea reached an all-time high in 2015 despite strained inter-Korean ties over the North’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, a trade association here said Thursday.

Trade between the two Koreas came to US$2.71 billion last year, up 15.8 percent from a year earlier, according to the data provided by the Korea International Trade Association. The figure was the largest ever on record.

South Korea’s shipments to the North grew 11 percent on-year to $1.26 billion, while its imports from the communist country expanded 20.3 percent to $1.45 billion, the data showed.

Inter-Korean trade surpassed the $1 billion mark in 2005, when the industrial park built in the border city of Kaesong went into operation in full swing. The amount neared $2 billion in 2012.

The trade, however, has been swayed by the ups and downs in relations between the two countries, which technically remain at war after the 1950-53 war ended in a truce.

Recently, the North claimed that it has successfully conducted a hydrogen bomb test, rocking relations with the South.

Read the full story here:
Inter-Korean trade hits record high in 2015 despite shaky ties
Yonhap
2016-1-21

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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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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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