North Korea’s coal exports remained relatively constant over the course of 2014, and were North Korea’s most valuable export between January and November last year, according to official data from Chinese customs.
In terms of volumes, North Korea shipped on average 1.2 million tons a month, generating over a billion U.S. dollars over the course of 2014 and nearly $5 billion since 2011.
“I think coal is their most valuable single export commodity to China – at least so far as the customs statistics tell us” David Von Hippel, a senior associate at the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability, told NK News.
Historically, the figures were slightly down when compared to those from 2013 over the same period, where coal exports earned North Korea over $1.2 billion. With the exception of 2014, the last few years have seen Chinese imports rise steadily after a period of rapid growth prior to 2010.
“There was a big jump in DPRK coal exports to China between 2010 and 2011, but coal exports had generally been growing fast for several years before that, so it probably represented the opening of a new trade channel or Chinese operated/owned/subsidized mine (or more than one)” Von Hippel, added.
On the import side, volumes of coal coming into the DPRK from China were much more volatile, with Chinese customs data sometimes showing large increases in shipments, often followed by a month where very little coal was moved. It is unclear however if this is due to errors in reporting, with volumes being carried over from previous months.
Overall the DPRK imported just over 100,000 tons of coal from China between January and November last year, valued at $13 million.
North Korea is estimated to have ample reserves of coal, particularly anthracite, a form of coal with a high carbon content and few impurities. According the Nautilus Institute, the DPRK could have 4.5 billion tons of anthracite reserves.
Overall North Korea’s mineral reserves are estimated to be worth $9.7 trillion, more than 21 times the value of those in the South.
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