About the Author
Jacob Fromer is NK News's Washington DC correspondent. He previously worked in the U.S. Senate.
North Korea imported more than $30 million worth of wine, beer, spirits, and other alcohol from China last year, trade data recently made public by the Chinese General Administration of Customs (GAC) revealed.
The trade data, released last month, revealed that the DPRK imported more than $1 million of wine, more than $2 million of vodka, and more than $3 million of whiskey in 2019.
The figures also recorded some smaller purchases: nearly $11,000 on rum, more than $1,200 on “liqueurs and cordials,” and $213 on 81 liters of gin, over the course of the year.
In June, North Korea paid China more than $31 per liter of whiskey — for more than 3 metric tons of the drink — according to the GAC.
The DPRK’s most popular alcoholic import in 2019 was beer, with the country reported to have imported 35 million liters from China during the year spending over $13 million total at 40 cents per liter.
The imports — whiskey, wine, rum, liqueur, gin, and beer, among others — come amid a UN ban on all luxury goods entering the North. U.S. and EU law lists alcohol as one of those luxury goods, though China, notably, does not.
DPRK leader Kim Jong Un is known to enjoy fine spirits, with South Korean visitors to Pyongyang during a summit in September 2018 having been treated to, among others, French Burgundy red wine.
His father, Kim Jong Il, was also famously one of the world’s top buyers of Hennessy Cognac.
North Korea has a thriving domestic beer brewing industry, most famous for the Taedonggang brand, and has in recent years unveiled locally-produced whiskey and wine, in addition to traditional Korean liquors like soju and makgeolli.
But while North Korea even exported some of these brands to China, the DPRK still racked up a massive trade deficit: exporting $200,000 worth of beer compared to the $13 million in imports.
One expert told NK News that the import numbers revealed that despite a burgeoning domestic market, demand for foreign alcohol remains high among more well-to-do North Koreans.
“It tells us that there are people who can afford such luxuries,” said Peter Ward, a writer and researcher focusing on the North Korean economy. “It also says that the quality of domestic produce is just not good enough to sate their thirst.”
Ward also suggested a diplomatic solution to solve both issues at once.
“Perhaps the U.S. should offer some craft brewery technology as part of a nuclear deal.”
Edited by James Fretwell and Oliver Hotham