North Korean imports of Chinese cereals spike to highest levels in years
The sharp increase follows a visit from Chinese President Xi Jinping in June
North Korean imports of Chinese cereals spiked sharply in July, rising to the highest levels seen in years, China’s latest trade figures show.
The numbers compiled by the ITC Trade Map from China’s General Administration of Customs show DPRK cereal imports rising from $3.4 million in value in June to over $19 million the following month.
The monthly spike is irregular given that DPRK imports have hovered at around the $2 million to $3 million mark for years, with average shipments rarely drifting outside a relatively modest range.
Historical data collated by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) shows the July import is the highest single monthly shipment since September 2013, when North Korea spent $25 million on importing Chinese cereals.
The July import is such a large outlier that it represents a reasonable total of recent yearly imports, and is higher than imports for the whole of 2015, when the DPRK spent just $15 million over the 12-month period.
According to a closer analysis of the figures, the increase was mainly due to a large purchase of Chinese rice totaling over $17 million, up from $3.3 million in June.
But North Korea also spent more on the trade category which includes maize and corn, increasing shipments nearly fourfold from $491,000 in June to $1.8 million the following month.
The large North Korea import overturns a recent trend of comparatively little spending on cereals produced in China, which generally show poor sensitivity to droughts, floods, and extreme weather events that can affect crop yields.
But the import also came the month following the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to North Korea, who traveled to Pyongyang in June this year.
While few details were released as to the exact content of the discussions between the two leaders during their fifth summit, the two sides did discuss economic development and ways to deepen bilateral ties.
According to China’s customs figures, the trade category encompassing cereals was also the only agricultural product which exhibited a sharp change, with other commonly imported DPRK foods like flours and seafood remaining constant or falling.
North Korea’s agricultural sector is typically not very resistant to sudden shocks in production, while planned yearly quotas often fall short of requirements.
In a recent food security report from the World Food Program (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) the UN groups highlighted that North Korea only has a limited amount of cereal imports planned.
“With commercial imports officially planned at 200,000 mt and food assistance (already received or pledged) set at about 21,200 mt, the uncovered deficit for the full marketing year is estimated at an elevated level of about 1.36 million mt,” the report reads.
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