North Korea has slightly increased its imports of food from China this year in comparison with last, but is focusing more and more on purchases of cheaper grains like corn over rice, a more expensive grain, according to Kwon Tae Jin, vice-president of the Korea Rural Economic Institute.
The statistics, which reveal that North Korea’s total grain imports from China in the first half of this year reached 149,173 tonnes, a 5.5% increase on the same period last year, appeared in the Korea International Trade Association’s regular ‘Trends in Sino-North Korean Trade’ on Sunday.
Broken down by foodstuff, North Korea’s 2011 imports have so far included 38.2% corn, 37.5% wheat flour, 16.9% rice and 7.2% beans, as against 34.2% wheat flour, 28.8% rice, 19.3% corn and 16.4% beans in 2010.
Looked at in terms of price per tonne; beans in the first half of the year cost an average of $661, while rice cost $538, wheat flour $395 and corn $304. Thus, North Korea spent a fraction over $63 million on food stuffs in the first half of the year, a 14.4% rise over last year’s $52.7 million.
Analyzing the figures, Kwon concludes, “the fact that food imports were higher than average last year and have increased this year is probably a reflection of the food shortage crisis,” while the import choices “appear to have been caused by difficulties earning hard currency.”
Kwon anticipates that this burden is likely to grow further in coming months , given that grain prices are expected to keep rising as a result of natural disasters elsewhere.
North Korea’s imports of fertilizer also practically doubled in the first half of this year, from last year’s level of 99,588 tonnes ($25.4 million) to 190,396 tonnes ($39.88 million), with Kwon hypothesizing a mixture of declining domestic production and concerns about future harvests as probably causes.