BOFIT Viikkokatsaus / BOFIT Weekly 2017/36

US president Donald Trump last weekend threatened to cut trade relations with countries that do business with North Korea. According to the Comtrade database maintained by the UN, China is essentially North Korea's sole trading partner, with China accounted for about 90 % of all of North Korean goods exports and imports in 2016. Russia's share of North Korean imports was 2 % and exports even less.

With goods exports to North Korea valued at just 2.8 billion dollars last year, the country has only minor economic significance to China (0.1 % of China's total exports in 2016). Imports were valued at 2.5 billion dollars (less than 0.2 % of total imports). Broken down by category, China's exports to North Korea were quite diverse. The leading categories of goods exports in 2016 were machinery & equipment (27 % share of exports), textiles (17 %), various food products (7 %), clothing (6 %) as well as oil and refined oil products (4 %). Imports were dominated by coal (47 % of imports), clothing (22 %), ores (9 %) and shellfish (7 %). Due to the sanctions agreed with the UN, China last month banned imports of coal, iron ore, iron, lead, fish and shellfish from North Korea.

Russian goods trade with North Korea is also quite modest. Only 0.02 % of Russian exports (68 million dollars in 2016) went to North Korea. Imports were just 9 million dollars, or practically non-existent. Oil and oil products constituted 80 % of Russian exports to North Korea. While the emphasis had been on refined products in recent years, North Korea this year boosted its orders for crude oil. Other exports consisted mainly of grain products, fish and transport vehicles. The biggest import goods category was fish, which accounted for about a third of imports.

Figures on North Korean foreign trade vary depending on the source. The country itself releases no statistical data. A big part of business activities is likely never recorded.