Click the chart for more detail.

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. 

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 2397 (adopted in December 2017), 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:

  • Minerals including coal, iron and iron ore, copper, nickel, silver, zinc, gold, titanium ore, vanadium ore, rare earths, magnesite and magnesia, and other earth and stone products;
  • Food (including seafood and fishing rights) and agricultural products;
  • Statues;
  • Textiles;
  • Machinery and electrical equipment; and
  • Vessels.

The most recent resolutions also prohibit third countries from renewing or granting new work authorizations to DPRK nationals, and to repatriate these overseas workers by December 2019.