North Korean authorities recently handed down an order regarding the issuance of waku (trade certificates) to each trade agency, suggesting that Sino-North Korean trade will soon restart after Kim Il Sung’s birthday on Apr. 15. 

A high-ranking source told Daily NK on Apr. 15 that the North Korean authorities announced that major trading agencies would be allowed to conduct official trade through customs offices from Apr. 20.

The agencies that will begin conducting trade on Apr. 20 received direct orders from the party to continue trade even after the border was closed at the end of January 2020. As companies belonging to powerful North Korean institutions, these agencies will simply have to undergo an inspection to confirm their activities. As soon as this is complete, they will be permitted to participate in official trade.

The authorities reportedly shortlisted trading companies that are a part of the Central Committee or the Munitions Industry Department (MID) to receive permission to resume trade.

Meanwhile, the authorities ordered that individual traders working for non-priority trading companies or agencies apply for new waku.

The Ministry of External Economic Relations gave each trading agency written instructions to reapply for new waku during the three days between Apr. 12 and Apr. 14. Trading agencies and companies reportedly submitted their applications and authentication materials via the North Korean intranet per the guidelines.

Even agencies and individuals who have been issued waku in the past must apply again for a new permit. If there are no issues, the firms will receive their newly-issued waku after an evaluation period of three to four weeks and be able to participate in official trade from the beginning of May. 

Materials needed for the waku application reportedly include certificates regarding partner companies in China, records of previous imports and exports, and plans for future trade.

coronavirus construction materials train
The Sino-North Korean Friendship Bridge, which connects the Chinese city of Dandong with the North Korean city of Sinuiju. / Image: Daily NK

Trading departments are busy keeping up with the influx of applications after the sudden announcement that firms must submit their waku applications before Kim Il Sung’s birthday. However, because the authorities completed administrative preparations for the waku applications last month, applicants need only submit their documents and wait for the results.

The financial department of the Central Committee, the Ministry of External Economic Relations, and the Ministry of State Security’s “customs guidance department” are all reportedly participating in the screening of waku certificate applications. Some overseas diplomatic offices belonging to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are also participating in the screening to confirm that the Chinese trading partners associated with the North Korean applicants do not have personnel with relations to South Korea, Japan, or the United States.

North Korean authorities will likely issue fewer waku than expected as they plan to closely evaluate each application by not only checking applicants’ personal information but also that of their trading partners. 

The authorities will omit as many as 20% of waku applicants from the final list of approved firms.

Meanwhile, Daily NK’s source said that the authorities did not include Yanggang Province and North Hamgyong Province in the list of regions where trade will resume. Because the parts of the Yalu River that flow past Sinuiju are very shallow and narrow, it will be difficult for the authorities to stop smuggling or defections if trade resumes in those areas. 

Official trade in Yanggang Province and other border regions will resume after construction brigades complete the erection of high-voltage wires and concrete barriers in October of this year.

*Translated by S & J

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