North Korea’s trade volume in 2014: $7.6 billion USDInstitute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
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.