Amid signs that North Korea has recently restarted freight train service to acquire goods from China, there is now speculation that the country is relaunching exports, too. 

A source in Yanggang Province told Daily NK on Wednesday that the Ministry of External Economic Relations issued an order on Jan. 10 calling on Yanggang Province’s trade bureau to secure and prepare a large amount of items for export. 

The source said provincial trading companies have begun securing export items in response to the order. Apparently, they plan to first ship items that have been held in storage. 

However, the companies must send the items to a place designated by the Ministry of External Economic Relations, rather than receiving approval for export from the customs house in Hyesan. Nampo and Sinuiju are currently being discussed as options because they both have quarantine facilities.

In fact, late last year, North Korean authorities approved a plan by North Hamgyong Province to export its pine nut supply through the port of Nampo. 

In the current circumstances, the most urgent issue for restarting trade is the opening of quarantine stations, the source told Daily NK. 

Because no progress has been made in such efforts around Hyesan, goods have to be shipped to other regions first before making their way abroad, he added. 

A ship docked at Nampo Port / Image: Wikimedia Commons

Under current conditions, the source said that trade will take place through Nampo, which has an operational quarantine facility, along with Sinuiju, where goods are now entering the country. However, he noted that people are speculating that customs houses in Yanggang Province and other areas along the China-North Korea border will open their doors once quarantine facilities are completed.

In December, Yanggang Province received final approval from the authorities to export pine nuts, red beans, mushrooms, and wild greens to China.

According to the source, the goods had just piled up without being sent across the border as neither North Korea nor China had made an official announcement about the restart of trade. The reopening of bilateral trade also looked remote at the time because of the COVID-19 situation. 

Following the news that a North Korean freight train had arrived in Dandong on Jan. 16, however, anticipation has risen again about the restart of cross-border trade. 

Interestingly, pine cones have been added to North Korea’s list of export items for the first time. According to the source, the president of an unnamed trading company in Yanggang Province said his company is gathering 400-500 kilograms worth of different kinds of pine cones to “test the Chinese market.” The head of this company further noted that only after the pine cones pass inspection at the Sinuiju customs office will he get a better picture of whether or not they are profitable.

On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in a regular briefing that ”[t]hrough friendly consultations between the two sides, the cross-border rail freight transport between Dandong and Sinuiju has resumed.”

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Lee Chae Un is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. She can be reached at