North Korean food imports from China throughout the month of June did not reflect concerns over a serious drought in the country, Chinese customs data indicated.
DPRK state media showed a large uptick in content focused on the drought in the month of June. The NK News KCNA Watch data tool shows the Korean Central News Agency alone put out nine English articles on the topic, as opposed to five in May and just one in April.
Korean Central Television (KCTV), and smaller outlets like the Pyongyang Times also upped their coverage of the drought in the same month. Despite low levels of rainfall, which several international aid agencies confirmed, North Korean imports across most food categories decreased.
“It is evident that their food production was hit hard, especially on potatoes and cereals … I can never be certain, but there might be some obstacle, currently unknown to us, that the North Korean government had to face while importing crops,” Kim Young-hoon of the Korea Rural Economic Institute told NK News.
Chinese exports of cereals did show a small increase in June but, as previously revealed by NK News, the numbers remain far below those for 2014 and 2013.
Totals for cereal imports from China in the first half of 2015 were nearly one-quarter of their 2013 equivalents and 60 percent of last year’s numbers.
The DPRK did buy relatively large amounts of cereals in April, but the numbers were again lower than those of previous years and followed a three-month period where imports remained close to zero.
The Seoul-based Daily NK’s rice price tracker also indicates no sharp decreases in supply throughout June. Though prices increased slightly in Hyesan along the Chine-North Korean border, they remained relatively constant in both Pyongyang and Sinuiju, showing only a slight increase since the start of the year.
“The price of food at (North Korea’s) black markets from January-May 2015 is showing a steady rise compared to data from same period of 2014 … the price did not skyrocket as many expected, but still shows a market price rise,” Kim said.
Other food trade categories including meats, animal products, fruits, vegetables, dairy and products of the milling industry also continued trending downwards in June this year.
Soybeans were the only food product which showed a marked increase in June, increasing from 187 tons to more than a thousand. The increase, however matches historical data from 2014 and 2013, which showed similarly large buys during the summer months.
June showed the DPRK again buying large quantities of gasoline, in contrast to May when levels plunged to nearly zero.
Some of the volatility could be attributed to errors in reporting however, with trade figures from one month being omitted, or carried over.
Nonetheless, the June purchase of gasoline was very similar in volume to April’s and is the only one of North Korea’s major fuel imports which appears to be increasing over time.
Aside from sharp downturn in May, North Korean gasoline imports this year have steadily increased to greater than 15,000 tons a month. The timing of the increased purchases coincides with falling oil prices, which tumbled in 2015 amidst concerns of falling Chinese demand and new U.S. domestic supplies.
The DPRK, however, appears to continue flying its jet imports of kerosene. Chinese trade figures have been markedly absent of both crude oil and jet fuel for more than a year.
Despite the apparently lack of deliveries, there have been no reports of shortages of either fuel so far.
“It’s possible some instances of some imported items are not listed for political reasons … If it has been imported for some time and stopped, than there is chance that China and North Korea are making some ‘under the table’ kind of deal for the good of the two countries,” Lee Seok-gi at the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade told NK News.
The DPRK could also be obtaining their kerosene from other sources. A recent NK News investigation found North Korea’s tanker fleet had expanded in recent years and appears to be visiting a greater number or ports. Visits to Russian terminals in particular have increased since last year, with majority of North Korea’s oil tankers dedicated to the DPRK’s eastern side.
North Korean imports of diesel also decreased again in June to just 85 tons. Overall DPRK imports of the fuel peaked during the winter months this year and have decreased steadily since.
Diesel is very similar to type 2 heating oil, indicating it may have burnt for warmth during the winter months, though this trend is less clear in 2014.
Additional reporting by JH Ahn
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 767 words of this article.
Featured Image: Rice Field with Propaganda in North Korea by Ray Cunningham on 2009-10-06 14:11:32