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Jacob Fromer is NK News's Washington DC correspondent. He previously worked in the U.S. Senate.
North Korea spent more than $25 million on Alaska pollock from China in 2019, data made public this week by the Chinese General Administration of Customs (GAC) revealed.
The new numbers, which show the DPRK imported more than 27 million kg of the frozen fish last year, reveal the extent to which Beijing and Pyongyang continue to trade with each other even as much of the world has shunned any economic contact with the North.
China is North Korea’s largest trading partner by far, supplying an estimated 90 percent of the DPRK’s annual imports.
North Korea is also a seafood producer in its own right, with exports of that commodity having been banned by the UN Security Council (UNSC) since 2017.
That ban was aimed at cutting off a major source of revenue for the DPRK — seafood brought in more than $163 million in the first eight months of 2017, before the sanctions took effect.
Reports since that ban have suggested that North Korea has continued to export seafood for sale in China in defiance of those sanctions, however.
Exporting $25 million on frozen Alaska pollock — a fish native to Russia and the U.S. — is not a violation of any sanctions on the part of Beijing, though it remains unclear why Pyongyang has felt the need to import frozen seafood in bulk.
“North Korea is a major exporter of seafood, or at least was until sectoral sanctions,” Peter Ward, a writer and researcher focusing on the North Korean economy, said.
“It certainly looks rather suspicious that they are suddenly importing fish from China.”
According to the GAC’s trade data, the DPRK also bought frozen herring and frozen mackerel from China last year, but in substantially lower quantities than the frozen Alaska pollock.
North Korea still takes pride in its own fishing industry, with leader Kim Jong Un late last year having visited a newly-built military-run fishery in the country.
During the visit, however, Kim lambasted military officials at the site for their subpar work.
“Even though… countless generals are sitting there, not one person sent up a report that the equipment construction planned for the fish station, in which the party is interested, was in a bad condition,” the DPRK leader was reported to have said.
The country, too, continues to suffer from food insecurity and shortages, with international agencies reporting last year that production had fallen to its lowest levels in a decade.
Edited by James Fretwell and Oliver Hotham