China’s exports of crops to North grew last month

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China’s exports of crops to North grew last month

China’s export of corn and wheat to North Korea soared last month as a severe drought crippled the nation’s agricultural production, and as the regime faces deepening economic and diplomatic isolation following multiple rounds of missile and nuclear tests.

According to statistics from China’s General Administration of Customs, China shipped 14,057 metric tons of corn to the North in August, nearly 45.8 times more than it shipped in the same month of last year, and nearly 4.5 times the amount China sent to North Korea in all of 2016.

In terms of wheat, North Korea imported 6,001 tons from China last month, 54 times more than in August 2016, making it the second largest importer of Chinese wheat after Hong Kong. Rice shipments surged about 1.8 times year-on-year, from 6,300 metric tons to 7,399 metric tons.

In light of the fact that North Korea normally imports most of its food in the second half of the year, shipments are likely to continue in the coming months. Of the 55,000 tons of food it imported last year, some 48,000 tons were delivered after June, according to local government statistics.

North Korea is known to be suffering a serious drought this year - according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this is the country’s worst since 2001, devastating the production of rice, corn, potatoes and soybeans.

“The lack of rain,” the FAO said in an earlier assessment, “is expected to have a serious impact on main season crops in the major cereal-producing areas, including the provinces of South and North Pyongan, South and North Hwanghae and Nampo city, which normally account for close to two-thirds of overall main season cereal production.” The main season runs from October to November.

A South Korean government official said Thursday that recent rice prices in the North appeared to be at a steady 4,000 to 5,000 won per kilogram ($3.49 to $4.36 per 2.2 pounds) in North Korean currency, roughly the same compared to last year.

China’s robust food shipments comes amid media reports that China imported 1.6 million tons of coal from North Korea last month, the first time since February, when it announced a suspension of the mineral for the rest of the year.

At that time, Beijing said the ban was in line with a UN Security Council resolution adopted last November, which caps the North’s coal exports at $400 million, or 7.5 million tons a year.

On Aug. 5, the UN Security Council passed a resolution that completely bans North Korean exports of coal, but member states had until Sept. 5 to comply, which means China could have made a last-minute order before that deadline.

According to Reuters, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Commerce, Gao Feng, told reporters in Beijing Thursday that the UN sanctions provided a buffer period for implementation of the ban on coal and seafood imports from North Korea, stressing that China has comprehensively implemented the sanctions.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, JEONG YONG-SOO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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