North Korean authorities have begun crafting measures to acquire urea in the face of shortages following Chinese export restrictions. Pyongyang has also reportedly used diplomatic channels to ask the Chinese for “cooperation” regarding urea exports. 

According to a source in Pyongyang on Monday, the Ministry of External Economic Relations issued an order on Nov. 10 calling on “agencies that can import urea fertilizer or nitrogenous fertilizer, or raw materials related to fertilizer” to submit “trade plans.”

The Central Committee and Ministry of External Economic Relations will permit trade activities based on the plans, evaluating planned import totals, existing accomplishments and the reliability of Chinese trade partners. With their permits from the party and ministry, trade organs and individual operators will be able to take part in trade through the end of the year.

In particular, the authorities reportedly plan to complete selecting trade agencies and individuals to take part in urea imports by the end of this week and allow them to begin trading immediately. Facing an emergency with fertilizer supplies due to Chinese urea export restrictions, the authorities have scrambled to expand trade by agencies and individuals that can import fertilizer.

North Korea has long restricted trade activities, granting trade permits — or waku, as they are called — only to those entities that can import items required by the state.

Hungnam Fertilizer Complex
The inside of the Hungnam Fertilizer Complex in South Hamgyong Province. / Image: Naenara

On Oct. 15, China mandated customs inspections, or CIQ, of urea exports, and in so doing practically banned their export. This has put North Korean authorities into a state of emergency, too, as they are dependent on China for much of the country’s fertilizer and fertilizer-related raw materials such as urea, nitrates and ammonia.

Daily NK previously reported that Namhung Youth Chemical Complex and other major fertilizer factories have sharply cut production due to shortages of imported raw materials like ammonia, and that they would need to immediately suspend production if the raw material problems cannot be resolved swiftly. 

Moreover, there are predictions inside the country that restricted imports of urea fertilizer will impact next year’s harvest, worsening food shortages.

Meanwhile, North Korean authorities are also reportedly employing diplomatic channels to resolve their urea and fertilizer supply problems.

According to a high-ranking source in North Korea, the foreign ministry recently asked the Chinese government for cooperation in ensuring that “North Korean trade organs and enterprises face no difficulties in importing urea.”

The request went through North Korea’s embassy in Beijing.

The foreign ministry also reportedly ordered Chinese consulates throughout China to offer assistance to Chinese fertilizer exporters to begin actively securing urea and other fertilizers for export to North Korea.

However, as North Korea planned to import 1.5 times more fertilizer this year than last year, the country may face difficulties securing the planned amount.

The high-ranking source said securing fertilizer for next year’s farming as planned would prove difficult “no matter how hard they worked from now.” 

“We also have had serious fertilizer shortages this year,” he continued, adding, “I predict we’ll reach this year’s level only if we do well [in acquiring fertilizer].”

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.