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NK’s trade with China drops 70% this year

Trade between North Korea and China (Yonhap)
Trade between North Korea and China (Yonhap)
North Korea’s trade with China shrank by over 70 percent this year, with the North shutting down borders with its main trade partner in January in hopes to fend off COVID-19.

North Korea’s trade with Russia, on the other hand, gained 15 percent.

North Korea’s trade volume with China stood at $530 million in the first nine months of this year, down 73 percent from the same period last year, according to a quarterly report on the two countries’ trade released by the Korea International Trade Association on Friday.

North Korea’s exports to China fell 70 percent from a year ago to $46 million, while its imports from China dropped 73 percent to $490 million.

Trade between the two countries showed signs of recovery in May and June, but went downhill again from July.

Their trade fell more sharply due to COVID-19 prevention measures, compared to when it went under toughened economic sanctions.

After tightened international sanctions went into effect in the latter half of 2017, North Korea-China trade shed 57 percent in the first three quarters of 2018.

By items, North Korea‘s imports of food products -- cooking oil (minus 19.3 percent), flour and starch (minus 36 percent), sugar (minus 2.3 percent) -- and medical devices (minus 24.6 percent) dropped less sharply compared to manufactured goods such as watches (minus 80.9 percent) and wigs (minus 89.8 percent).

Meanwhile, North Korea’s trade with Russia in the first eight months of this year gained 15 percent from a year ago as the North greatly increased imports of food such as flour (1,340 percent) and sugar (4,324 percent), as well as medical devices (121.3 percent).

“These items are what North Korea currently needs the most. Considering North Korea’s shortage of foreign currency due to continued sanctions over the past few years and dwindling exports due to COVID this year, the imports from Russia are believed to have been Moscow’s aid to Pyongyang,” the KITA report said.

“As the North continues to keep borders with China shut as of now in November, bilateral trade is expected to plunge by over 80 percent this year.”

According to the report, Pyongyang toughened customs clearance at its borders from July as it prepared for the Oct. 10 ceremony to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of its Workers’ Party.

The country continues to prioritize disease prevention in its “80-day battle” for the eighth party convention in January.

“North Korea won’t be able to continue border closure of this level until next year,” a KITA official said, adding that it could expand imports of food and health-related items after the eighth party convention.

By Kim So-hyun (
Korea Herald daum