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Data Questions: 

Where is this data from?

This chart is based on data from KOTRA (the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency), which in turn is based on mirrored Chinese customs statistics reported by GTIS Global Trade Atlas, with corrections for possible misreporting. As full KOTRA data for 2016 is not yet available, 2016 data is based on Chinese customs data reported by KITA (the Korea International Trade Association).

How are trade categories organized?

This chart is based on the Harmonized System of merchandise trade classifications, an internationally-recognized and standardized system. Categories in the chart are mostly categorized by HS section, the broadest grouping of merchandise definitions. HS sections under which North Korea has minimal exports are included in the "other or unspecified" pie slice. Clicking on an individual pie slice will bring up data on 2-digit HS chapters within that section. (HS codes are further subdivisible into 4-digit and 6-digit definitions, which are not included in this chart.)

What are North Korea's primary exports to China?

Anthracite coal is North Korea's most valuable export to China; in 2015, the quantity of North Korean coal shipped to China increased, even as the total value of North Korean coal exports declined amidst falling commodity prices. (Coal is included in the "HS 27: Mineral Fuels, Oils, Waxes, & Bituminous Substances" category.) Other major reported exports include textiles and garments, seafood, iron ore, and other minerals.

Where can I find more detailed data?

The UN Comtrade database allows users to research trade patterns based on HS codes, trading partners, and years. Additionally, the Korea International Trade Association's website, using Chinese customs data, incorporates provincial-level Chinese data on Chinese commodity trade, including with North Korea.

What do international sanctions prohibit North Korea from exporting?

Successive UN Security Council Resolutions, most recently UNSCR 2321 (adopted in November 2016), restrict or prohibit certain categories of trade with North Korea, as well as placing restrictions on the country's financial and shipping activities.

The Resolutions include an arms embargo, and a prohibition on the sale or transfer of dual use items that could be used for nuclear, missile, or WMD development. The most recent Resolutions also prohibit North Korea from exporting certain goods and commodities, including:

  • Coal, other than coal exported "exclusively for livelihood purposes of DPRK nationals and unrelated to generating revenue for the DPRK’s nuclear or ballistic missile programmes" or other prohibited activities, with the stipulation that, beginning in 2017, the total amount of such coal exported for "livelihood purposes" may not exceed 7.5 million metric tons or US $400,870,018 per year (coal that is not of North Korean origin that is being trans-shipped through North Korea's Rajin port is not subject to this ban);
  • Iron and iron ore, unless exported "exclusively for livelihood purposes";
  • Copper, nickel, silver, zinc, gold, titanium ore, vanadium ore, and rare earth minerals;
  • Statues.

In February 2017, China announced that it would cease the import of North Korean coal for the remainder of the year, in compliance with UNSCR 2321.