Amid growing signs that Sino-North Korean trade is restarting, Daily NK has learned that the Sinuiju customs office has recently begun operations. The office, however, is only focused on quarantine and customs clearance-related duties, a development that shows that bilateral trade is restarting at a pace slower than previously predicted.
A source in the country told Daily NK yesterday that North Korean authorities have decided to restart operations at the Sinuiju customs office in two phases. The first phase began last week, with the start of imports flowing through the office.
The complete restart of trade – which would involve both imports and exports going through the office – may begin around mid-May, although this period could change depending on the COVID-19 situation and whether or not the government has issued trade certificates, or waku, to trading entities.
North Korea’s Ministry of External Economic Relations received applications regarding the issuance of new waku from Apr. 12 to Apr. 14, and the ministry is now screening those applications.
Starting from Apr. 20, North Korean trading companies affiliated with the Central Committee or military that continued to engage in state-sanctioned trade despite the closure of the Sino-North Korean border have been using their existing waku to conduct trade activities.
“While the Sinuiju customs office has begun operations and imports are flowing into the country, we can’t say that this is the complete restart of trade,” the source told Daily NK. “I think it will be possible to say that the Sinuiju customs office has fully reopened once new waku are issued.”
Initially, it was predicted that once the customs office began operations, both import and export activities would resume. However, the source told Daily NK that the North Korean authorities have delayed the start of exports over concern that customs officials would be unable to properly conduct quarantine and customs clearance-related activities on imports “paid on delivery.”
In short, the authorities have delayed exports because of worries that COVID-19 virus particles could enter the country if quarantine procedures are not followed properly.
Goods to be sent into North Korea are being stored at a storage facility in Dandong, in China’s Liaoning Province. They have been stored there for so long that North Korean authorities evidently believe that there is little chance COVID-19 virus particles are present.
These goods include manufactured goods, grains, processed foods, and fertilizer, and the authorities aim to complete their transport into North Korea by early next month.
The goods, however, have already been paid for by North Korean entities, which means that they are not considered “aid” from China.
Most of the goods are food items such as condiments, sugar, soybean oil, and flour – all products that witnessed price spikes in North Korea following the closure of the Sino-North Korean border in January 2020. Their import into North Korea will likely impact market prices for these items.
These goods will likely be sent to Pyongyang, Pyongsong, and other areas in the interior of the country after being transported through Sinuiju.
As such, it is likely that other types of Chinese food products being sold in North Korea will continue to trade at higher-than-normal prices for the time being.
Daily NK’s source also reported that the New Yalu River Bridge, which connects Dandong and Sinuiju, will open after June. “The road on the North Korean side is still unpaved,” he said, adding, “It appears [the authorities] will continue construction on the road.”