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N. Korea's economy suffers worst contraction since 1997 in 2020 amid pandemic: BOK

North Korea's economy is estimated to contract 4.5 percent on-year in 2020, marking the worst contraction since 1997, as Pyongyang closed its borders over the COVID-19 pandemic, South Korea's central bank said Friday.

The North's economy, which has been hit by tightened UN sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs, expanded 0.4 percent in 2019, but shrank 4.1 percent in 2018 and 3.5 percent in 2017, the Bank of Korea (BOK) said in a report.

Last year, North Korea suffered its biggest economic contraction since 1997, when the North's economy shrank 6.5 percent amid a "arduous march," a term used by the North that describes hardships of its people during the famine in the 1990s.

The North's economic contraction last year was led by "intense UN sanctions, deteriorating weather conditions and border lockdowns over the COVID-19 pandemic," a BOK official told reporters.

The BOK's annual report is based on data from South Korean institutions specializing in North Korea, which does not publish official economic data.

North Korea's foreign trade plunged 73.4 percent on year in 2020 to $860 million as shipments to China, the North's biggest trading partner, were curbed over the pandemic, the BOK said.

The North's exports totaled $90 million in 2020, down 67.9 percent from a year ago. Imports stood at $770 million last year, down 73.9 percent from a year ago, the BOK said.

North Korea's nominal gross national income (GNI) stood at 35 trillion won ($30.1 billion) in 2020. That was equivalent to just 1.8 percent of South Korea's GNI.

The North's GNI per capita in 2020 stood at 1.38 million won, equivalent to 3.7 percent of the South's GNI per capita.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who recently visited South Korea for talks on North Korea, voiced sympathy for North Korean people who face food shortages due to the pandemic.

"We all feel for the people of the DPRK, who are indeed, facing all the most difficult circumstances given the pandemic, and what it means as well for their food security," Sherman told reporters in Seoul, referring to the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"We only hope for a better outcome for the people of the DPRK," Sherman said. (Yonhap)